Category Archives: Cousin Island

Tropicbird and chick – #inacousin minute

Here is the first of our videos that will give you a peek at the goings on at the Cousin Island Special Reserve. In this video, it takes some tricks for this tropicbird to get to the well hidden chick. Sometimes all it takes is a little limbo limbo limbo…

Video courtesy of www.liammartinfilm.com

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Powering conservation on Cousin Island, Seychelles: Please support our Indiegogo campaign

Nature Seychelles and ClimateCaring have just launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to raise much needed funds for solar installation on Cousin Island Special Reserve, Seychelles. Read More »

#islands2014 Cousin Island: A conservation Success Story

Cousin Island arial shot for who is nature seyshells-001

Aerial view of Cousin Island Specia Reserve

Cousin Island Special Reserve in Seychelles managed by Nature Seychelles  is “one of the world’s great conservation success stories.” It is no ordinary island. Read More »

Reef Rescuers Humphead Parrotfish Encounter

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Here is nice little video from the reef rescuers on Praslin. The reef rescuers say “During our coral nursery monitoring visits, we often encounter solitary or small groups of Humphead Parrotfish, Bolbometopon muricatum. These peaceful giants come for a free meal when we clean the nurseries from algae and barnacles. We feel fortunate to share our diving time with such charismatic megafauna.

The Humphead Parrotfish is the largest species of parrotfish in the world, with record size of up to 1.5 m long, weight over 50 kg and maximum lifespan of at least 40 years. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, classifies the Humphead Parrotfish as threatened due to overfishing.”

Enjoy.

And here is an article about the project from Deutche Welle: Nursing Indian Ocean coral reefs back to life

Cousin island marine monitoring – over 100 surveys done

This past week the Nature Seychelles staff of Cousin Island were hard at work completing an ambitious marine monitoring project. We began the week by acknowledging that the plan we set out would take a solid team effort to achieve. Everyone based on Cousin was involved, providing boat skipping, diving, and support, as well as the Reef Rescuer team based on Praslin, who supplied necessary equipment. The team entered this week of bi-annual reef monitoring with excitement to get underwater and determination to complete the data collection in the allocated period. It proved to be a successful week as five divers jumped right into the work with enthusiasm. The island’s science officer along with two marine research assistants and two of the Cousin Island wardens completed over 100 surveys at three different sites around Cousin island in just six dives!

Everyone based on Cousin were involved

Everyone based on Cousin was involved

The survey sites were distributed around the island, and selected to provide a sampling of various benthic composition. As such, the different locations made for quite a variety of diving conditions. Some (read, a few) dives were calm and lovely with clear waters, sunshine filtering in, and schools of friendly Parrotfish flitting about.  Others (read, most) resembled what I imagine it would be like to dive in the spin cycle of a washing machine, whirling and churning and sending Parrotfish flying. However, the divers persevered, executing their work with an excitement that was matched only by the size of the swell, rocking and rolling beneath their lovely dive boat.

The survey sites were distributed around the island

The survey sites were distributed around the island

The surveys completed throughout the week will allow the research team to compile a comprehensive report, detailing the density and diversity of target fish and invertebrate species as well as coral coverage of both adult and juvenile stages. This report can be used in comparison to a similar, more detailed report in the 2009. The results will hopefully demonstrate an improvement in the health of the marine life found in the 400-metre special reserve zone surrounding Cousin Island, which were heavily damaged in the 1998 el Nino bleaching event.  As the researchers continue to write the report, they may head back into the water to collect additional data as necessary, however this past week was a great success and a wonderful show of teamwork as the staff succeeded in their ambitious fieldwork goals.

Special Turtle lays eggs – with a little help from her friends

An exhausting but successful Hawksbill turtle nesting season on Cousin Island Special Reserve was topped by the appearance of an extraordinary turtle nicknamed “Stumpy” by island residents.

The Hawksbill turtle arrived on the island devoid of her right rear flipper and part of her carapace. But in spite of her missing flipper she made several attempts at nesting, finally succeeding with the help of the turtle team to lay not one, but two nests!

Turtles use their flippers to swim in the ocean where they spend most of their time. They also use them on land.  With the front ones they crawl out of the sea and drag themselves across the beach to nesting sites, and once there, digging what is called a body pit. With the hind flippers, they excavate the pits within which eggs are laid.

She was missing her right rear flipper and part of her carapace

She was missing her right rear flipper and part of her carapace

“Her right rear flipper was missing and a chunk was taken out of her carapace, but this did not stop her natural instinct to lay,” says Kat one of  Cousin’s Turtle Team Volunteers.

“Throughout the season we encountered tagged turtles, on average, 3 times. However she attempted to lay 10 times,” she continues, describing the persistence of the turtle.

 “At first we thought she would not be able to complete the laying process because although the damaged flipper went through the motion of digging an egg chamber, no sand was shifted. But with help from us, scooping sand out of the way, she managed to dig an egg chamber and laid her two nests.”

But with help she laid two nests

Stumpy’s flipper and the carapace is suspected to have been chomped off by a shark.

This is not the first time that the turtle has been spotted on the island. Female turtles instinctively return to the island where they were born to nest as adults and two years ago she was spotted.

“I remember helping Stumpy to nest,” says Alec another volunteer who was on the island at the time, “Sand to the face but worth it!”

Despite a late start, this season Cousin Island experienced the highest number of nesting female hawksbill turtles in recent years.

The high numbers are obviously good news for the turtle population nesting on Cousin Island, which is one of the world’s longest running hawksbill monitoring programmes, but meant a very exhausting few months for the volunteers and wardens of Cousin Island.

“But it has been incredibly interesting for me seeing the whole lifecycle happen on Cousin Island,” says Kat. “From Sighting turtles mating in the waters around Cousin and watching females emerge to lay eggs on the island to hatchlings pouring out of their nest in their hundreds and then snorkelling and seeing juvenile turtles feeding around the island.”

 “It really brings home how important this small island in the Seychelles is for ensuring the continuation of this ancient species. I can only hope in the future there are more and more bumper years like this and the same turtles and their offspring keep returning,” she says.

Coral transplantation has began!

While everyone was preparing for the holidays late last year (2012), Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuer project entered an exciting stage. After nearly two years of preparation, of growing and nurturing of corals in nurseries, the third stage of the reef restoration project is here – planting on degraded reef sites. Jim Scarborough, a Scientific Diver with the project explained.

Here at Reef Rescuer HQ, we have moved into one of the busiest and most important parts of our project. We finally get to start waving goodbye to our corals after many months of careful nurturing and care. That’s right folks, the pilot transplantation has begun!

What this entails is a careful site analysis, of both control and transplantation sites, to give us a good idea of the benthic cover, fish and invertebrate populations. Joe M.has been working hard crunching the numbers on this, and that allowed us to know what was there before we start transplanting the corals from our nurseries to the degraded site selected on the north-east side of Cousin Island.

Kevin and Jim attaching ropes of Pocillopora

Kevin and Jim attaching ropes of Pocillopora

Fuelled by heavy metal, samosas, sunscreen and coffee, we set off to move corals. 10 metre ropes of coral colonies, Pocillopora eydouxi and Acropora cytherea, are cut from the main nurseries and swum to the transplantation site by two divers, helped by a sympathetic current. Once we arrive the ropes were cut into sections for attachment. For this pilot we are trying to see the effectiveness of attachment methods, so the ropes are cut into 5 metre and 1 metre pieces as well as individual corals. These are then nailed into the bare carbonate substrate by the team using a variety of different nails, again to see which ones are the best for the job. The winner was a 2 inches concrete nail and 20cm ropes with ‘prussik’ knot were also used to stretch the 1m or 5m ropes of nursery-grown colonies and attach them as close as possible to the substrate.

Pocillopora eydouxi successfully attached!

Pocillopora eydouxi successfully attached!

Our pilot transplantation site is starting to look like a fully fledged reef now, and even has its own little community of butterfly and damsel fish. This is a great start and hopefully only a small taste of things to come!

On top of this fantastic accomplishment, we were also visited by a French film crew who were shooting a documentary about small tropical islands. After a briefing about what we do by David, they were shown most of the coral growing process, from collection and fragmentation to transplantation. It looked like they had a great time, and yours truly managed to sneak into every piece of footage they shot! Watch this space folks; I feel a French BAFTA is on the horizon!

Plenty is going on, even more still to be done and everything going well. Just the way I like it!

Jim Scarborough, Scientific Diver (September-December 2012)

Life as a Coral Nanny

The project seeks to restore damaged coral reefs

Corals in the Seychelles and the region were destroyed by bleaching caused by warming oceans. The most severe bleaching occurred in 1998. Many reefs around Cousin Island Special Reserve  simply collapsed into rubble which became covered by algae. Years later they show little sign of natural recovery. In 2010, Nature Seychelles launched the Reef Rescuers project. Financially supported by the United States Agency for International Development – USAID, the project is  the first ever large-scale active reef restoration project in the region (See Building Coral Reefs of the Future on our website). Using a method called “reef gardening” healthy corals from donor sites are raised in underwater nurseries to required size and then ‘planted’ in degraded sites. A team of 6-7 divers perform daily underwater tasks to do this. They include volunteer scientific divers such as  Joseph Marlow. Below is his account of life as a reef rescuer.   

For any young marine biologist, volunteer work is a fundamental component of the first rung of our career ladder. We all do it, some of us monitor turtle nesting sites, some of us tag whale sharks, me? I am a coral nanny and my particular choice of volunteer opportunity allows me to work every day on the world’s biggest and most ambitious coral nursery project.

Underwater nursery construction

I have worked on a few volunteer projects in my time and count myself as an experienced diver, but this project offered the chance to experience something entirely new; both in terms of marine science and diving. With so much of world’s reefs in a degraded state and the decline looking set to continue, I was curious about the potential for projects such as these to reverse the decline. The diving here is also a fairly novel experience; our normal dive kit is supplemented by a range of tools normally found on a building site and it’s not unusual to see a diver striding across the sand with a sledgehammer across their shoulder.

Life as a coral nanny isn’t easy; we dive five days a week, work starts early in the morning and the work is hard. Just like their human counterparts, corals left in a nursery unattended for too long tend to create havoc and the first dive of the day is often spent repairing whatever has been broken in the night. Our second dive of the day could entail anything from nursery coral health monitoring, nursery construction to the exciting work of actually transplanting our mature corals to their new home, the degraded site we hope to transform into a healthy reef.

By mid-afternoon, our work is done, our tanks are empty and we return to our base on Praslin Island exhausted. At base we quickly store away our kit, enter any data we need to into the project computer and then the rest of day is ours. What do you do with a free afternoon in the Seychelles? Anything you want; hang out on the beach a few strides away from the base, head into town to catch a film at the cinema or just relax at base with a beer and a book. However, the real fun starts on the weekend; Praslin Island is a fantastic island to explore and with staggeringly beautiful beaches, a UNESCO world heritage site and world class dives sites on your doorstep, you’ll never run out of things to do.

Related news: Help in deep waters

Let’s go to Cousin: students discover a biological treasure

befriending one of the island's Aldabra giant tortoises

If you are a student who likes wildlife and nature then spending a day in the outdoors rather in class must be exciting. And so it was for two groups of students who visited Cousin Island Special Reserve. The students were from the International School on Praslin, and the Banyan Tree Wildlife Club from the Anse Etoile School in Mahe. They spent their mornings on a tour of the island, interacting with staff and volunteers, learning about the biodiversity on the island  and helping to remove invasive species. Their experience on the island was perhaps best summed up by one of the students, Kelly, who said of the visit, “we were supposed to have maths!”

Banyan Tree Wildlife Club, so called after a 100 year old Banyan Tree in the Anse Etoile school compound, are already nature and wildlife enthusiasts. Altogether 33 children, aged between 8 to 17 accompanied by their teachers visited the island. The students said they wanted to become better informed about the species endemic to their country like Seychelles Magpie robins and Seychelles warblers which can be seen on Cousin.

They also  wanted to learn more about nature reserves themselves; how they function as biodiversity hotspots and their tourism attraction. Justus, 17, said he found his experience on the island very interesting and expressed the wish to work on a nature reserve in the future.

The other students were curious about what it is like to do hands-on conservation: “What birds have you touched?” they asked the wardens. Yannick, 11, said he was very interested in the giant tortoises, and wanted to find out where they nest and why they rest for such long periods. Judelca was also quite fond of the tortoises but less so of the millipedes, while Sheila fell in love with the birds on the island, particularly the white-tailed tropicbirds. Coming from Mahe, the students were also curious to find out how life is on an island. They wanted to know how the social life of the wardens differs from theirs.

The International School  students said that the proximity of Cousin to Praslin made it relatively convenient to visit and more importantly the school felt the kids should be aware of conservation in their local area. During this visit they learnt about invasive plants and helped with the removal of Canavalia cathartica.

Its long been proved that time spent outdoors in nature is beneficial for children’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional stimulation. And these students certainly enjoyed their time on Cousin.

Seychelles – a great place to be a turtle!

while she lays, data are collected (Herve Chelle)

Turtle program on Cousin started in 1972 (Herve Chelle)

Last week I was on Cousin Island Special Reserve, with a group of visitors on a guided tour of the island. On the beach we watched as a hawksbill turtle made its short journey back to the sea from laying her eggs. Laborious on land, but effortless in the sea, the hawksbill turtle lays more than 100 eggs into a small pit dug in the sand.

The Seychelles in general and Cousin Island in particular is a great place to be a turtle. Every year around this time, hundreds of female hawksbill turtles will arrive on one of our beaches to nest. The archipelago provides key nesting and feeding areas for the critically endangered hawksbill and is home to the largest remaining population in the Western Indian Ocean. This population, sea turtle experts have said recently, is among the twelve healthiest sea turtle populations globally.

A report produced by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Marine Turtle Specialist Group (MTSG) has revealed the most threatened and most healthiest of all sea turtles (there are 7 species) populations globally. It is the first comprehensive status assessment of all sea turtles. See this story here.

It shows that the hawksbill turtles populations in the Southwestern Indian Ocean (Seychelles, British and French Overseas Territories) and in Southeast Indian Ocean and Southwest Pacific Ocean (Australia) are the healthiest. But Hawksbill are threatened in the East Pacific Ocean, East Atlantic Ocean, Northeastern Indian Ocean, and West Pacific Ocean.

The report says that the most significant threats to sea turtles are fisheries bycatch, accidental catches of sea turtles by fishermen targeting other species, and the direct harvest of turtles or their eggs for food or turtle shell for commercial use. The healthiest populations are large and currently facing relatively low threats.

Hawksbill turtles were heavily exploited for many years in Seychelles, mainly for their shell. In 1994 a law that granted them complete protection was passed and harvesting was completely banned, although occasional poaching still occurs.

Turtle conservation is carried out on many islands. One of conservation’s success stories for the hawksbill turtle has been registered on Cousin Island, where a long-term monitoring programme started in 1972 is firmly established.