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Category Archives: Nature Seychelles
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
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!
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 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.
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.
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.
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Feral animals can become a problem for tourism and wildlife. Feral dogs have been found begging for food on a couple of beaches and a few restaurants. The veterinary services have had to trap these dogs because of nuisance and public health issues.
The impact on wildlife is even worse. On small islands, especially ones like Seychelles in which evolution has taken place in the absence of mammalian predators like rats, cats and dogs, the presence of these animals can be devastating. For example, domestic cats have been responsible for the extinctions of at least 33 bird species worldwide. This has often happened on small islands where domestic cats becoming semi-wild, or feral.
In the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman, an urban wetland reserve adjacent to the national sports complex, feral dogs have wreaked havoc on birds in the past. As the local association managing this Sanctuary, Nature Seychelles has turned away from the traditional control methods of trapping or poisoning and started a new initiative – re-domesticating the dogs.
A brainchild of Nirmal Shah, the Chief Executive and himself an avid dog lover, the initiative has started to reap rewards. By befriending and regularly feeding the dogs outside the Sanctuary and close to the association’s headquarters the animals are now sleeping within the office compound rather than in the Sanctuary. “They have become very protective of this space and have become excellent guard dogs since our office is in a rather isolated setting”, says Shah.
“I think we need to proceed humanely in these situations”, continues Shah. But it can’t always be possible in all situations, he admits. Shah is asking the public not to discard unwanted animals so they become feral. He says this is a danger both to humans and wildlife. He also encourages dog and cat owners to take advantage of the brilliant campaign by another association, the SSPCA, to neuter pets. This is the best way to control the population of dogs and cats, he concludes.
11 year old Iona, whom we know from this post was in La Digue recently and visited the Veuve Reserve. La Digue happens to be the stronghold of the critically endangered Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, and the Reserve, created to protect this bird is one of the places where you can see the birds easily. When she got there, Iona was told that a new nest of the flycatcher had just been spotted. She went to have a look and there she was able to observe a pair of flycatchers tending the nest. Here is her account of the experience.
I sailed to La Digue last week with dad, the boys and Liz who works with dad. We walked to La Digue nature reserve where Seychelles paradise fly catchers live. Josianna showed us a new nest which was next to the road and there was a female paradise fly catcher in the nest on an egg.
I had wait a bit for the male to come on to the nest. The males as you can see are black all over apart from the beak which is light blue and around the eyes is light blue (above) . The male has a really long tail too (below).
The female has chestnut brown wings and tail with black edges, black head and beak. the female also has a white tummy and neck. The young looks like the female. The wingspan is 23cm. The nest is made of palm spider web, sticks, feathers, leaves and moss. November – March is supposed to be the time these birds breed the most, but I think they breed almost all year round. Paradise Fly Catchers are fearless and will go for any dare, because they know people on La Digue are no threat to them. Seychelles people call Seychelles Paradise Fly Catchers vevs and there motto is ” keep our vev flying!” While I was standing on the side of the road trying to take pics of the female on the nest I was surprised that (even though there where so many tourists on bikes) no one came to see what I was taking
On 7 and 14 December, 59 Seychelles Warblers (Timerl dezil, Acrocephalus sechellensis) were transferred from Cousin Island Special Reserve to Fregate Island Private thanks to a Nature Seychelles-led initiative. The transfer was carried out to start a new breeding population on Fregate Island, making it the fifth island in Seychelles to hold this charming little bird with a story that reads like a fairy tale. The operation involved a team from Nature Seychelles, the Seychelles Warbler Research Group, and Fregate Island and the activity was funded by Disney Conservation Fund project to Nature Seychelles. Birds were transferred using what is called the “hard release” method; they were captured in the morning, transferred by Helicopter Seychelles and were released on Fregate by afternoon of the same day. Read more about the translocation on our website: The most amazing conservation success story in Seychelles
David Wright was part of the translocation team. Here he tells us what it was like to be part of this exciting conservation endeavour.
I’m a PhD student from UEA, in the UK, studying conservation genetics of the warbler. Am part of the Seychelles Warbler Research Group – a collaboration between the universities of East Anglia and Sheffield in the UK and University of Groningen in the Netherlands and working with Nature Seychelles for a number of years. The translocation of these special little birds to Frégate Island has been a fantastic opportunity for me to get involved directly in conservation at every stage of the process. It has enabled me to fulfil a lifelong ambition working in conservation.
My role has involved working both on Cousin, monitoring the population before the translocation and catching the birds to be moved, and on Frégate during and after their release. Working on a small tropical island is wonderful but often difficult; hiking up and down hills, scrambling over glacis and through mangroves in the tropical heat, carrying 45 mist nets and poles for catching birds around the island, with the ever hungry mosquitoes trying their best to drain you of blood…
Definitely not the ‘tropical holiday’ my friends back home thought it was! However, it’s not all hard work, and sitting on the beach watching the sunset with a cool drink in your hand is worth a million mosquito bites. The Seychelles is a beautiful place to work, particularly nature reserves like Cousin which offer such amazing wildlife experiences that it can be difficult to remember you have a job to do!
One of the main highlights of the translocation for me was the helicopter transfers to Frégate. What an amazing place to take your first ever helicopter flight! Seeing the coral reefs, the islands of Praslin, La Digue, Felicité and Marianne looming up from the turquoise blue ocean, Frégate island hazy in the distance awaiting the arrival of its new inhabitants – it’s a view I won’t forget in a hurry!
Releasing the birds during a translocation is perhaps one of the most fulfilling parts of the process and being directly involved in that was truly an honour. All the months of planning and hard work were worth seeing each and every warbler shoot out from its transportation box and into its new forest home.
From my experience during the translocation, I’d say the key ingredient is having a good, knowledgeable team. It’s critical you can work together and rely on each other, focussing your skills and effort to achieve your objectives. Being part of this fantastic translocation team is something I am really proud of and will look back on in years to come. Everyone brings their unique attributes and skills to the group and you really feel a part of something special. Overall, the translocation has been a phenomenal experience; the excitement, fun, anxiety, stress, hard work, sense of fulfilment and achievement – it’s been an emotional rollercoaster and an opportunity of a lifetime to be involved in something positive for conservation.
We often receive injured or lost birds picked up by concerned members of the public. Recently, someone brought a white-tailed tropicbird juvenile which they had found. Although it was quite big it was unable to fly and so it could not go out to look for food. Riaz, our science coordinator took it home to look after it until it could fly. But he had to leave Mahe and go to Cousin Island for a few days and the bird couldn’t fly yet, so he recruited Martin, our community person, and his children to do the job while he was away. Let’s pick up this story from Iona, Martin’s daughter….
Dad came home from work on Friday afternoon with a box which had ‘bird inside be careful’ written on the top. When Dad stopped moving a bird’s head popped out. It was white with a black and white beak and speckly black bits. I got to hold it on my knee while we drove to a fish stall to get some fish for it. Dad said someone had brought it into his work in a box and we got to take it home to look after it for a few days. When we looked inside we saw the bird had a white body with black speckles. We gave it some fish but it wasn’t very interested, so we left it in the corner of the dining room. This morning we heard a lot of noise from the box and it was trying to spread its wings out so we got a bigger box and gently tipped it in.
Guess what I just did… can you gess? No? ok I’ll tell you, I HAND FED THE BIRD!!!!! well, I held the bird (the bird is called a white tailed tropic bird) while dad held the beak open and Sophie fed it. We have to force feed it because it’s a baby and we have to teach it to fly too! I bet dad is thinking “I wish I hadn’t taken that bird home”. Dad thought he would have to give it some fish and it would fly away. We also have to feed it 4 times a day. this is how to hand feed a tropic bird in 5 simpe stages; 1, mash up some fish or squid with some water and put on a plate. 2, gently grab the bird directly down and tuck your thumbs under it’s head. 3, then you wrap it in a old tea towel. 4, you take 3 people one to hold the bird firmly, the other to hold open the beak ( don’t break the beak.) and the last to shove the food down it’s throat, then the 2nd to close the beak. 5, if the bird shakes it’s head it could get very messy, but if it puts it head back and looks likes it’s choking it’s swallowing. repeat until the plate is empty.
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Martin and the children also left Mahe before the juvenile flew, so they brought it back to the office to be looked after by other staff here. After a couple of days we took it down to the beach next to our office and off it went. Sadly Iona wasn’t here to see it, but she was happy with this ending. Thanks Iona!
Children love being outdoors. Playing is great and is a chance to explore outside of the boundaries of the home. Not only is it fun for the kids, it’s good for them too. Scientists have discovered that children function better cognitively and emotionally in ‘green environments’, that is places with nature vegetation, than those without. No wonder that a study of urban children discovered that 96% of them illustrated outdoor places when asked to make a map or drawing of all their favourite place.
Conversely, a lack of routine contact with nature can be detrimental to children’s health and may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This condition has been termed Nature Deficit Disorder by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. Louv says we have entered a new era of city- centred life that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, Louv argues that, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt, but those who don’t develop symptoms including attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.
Nature Seychelles’ Sanctuary at Roche Caiman is a great local green space which we use to tackle this problem head-on. Many children have visited and enjoyed the benefits of being outdoors. The most recent was a group of twenty-five children from the Presidents Village who were brought by local company Applebys Corporate Service Limited to enjoy a taste nature last weekend.
The children were taken on a tour of the nature reserve by Martin Varley, Community and Stakeholder Action Co-ordinator, where they had chance to watch wildlife at first hand and also take part in some fun games with strong environmental messages. They were also taken round the adjacent Heritage Garden which showcases a diverse range of traditionally grown Seychelles fruit, vegetables and medicinal herbs.
The experience on the reserve formed the basis of the second part of the visit which was led by Green Health Co-ordinator Robin Hanson, who used the animals on the reserve as a platform for a special natural exercise class for the children, another form of recreation with proven health and wellbeing benefits. The weather stayed kind and at the end of the morning the children were buzzing with excitement about their visit.
“We all know how good it is to be outside,” said Nature Seychelles CEO Nirmal Shah, “Kids are healthier and happier and with a good dose of exercise they can be stronger too. It’s great to be able to work with a local company like Appleby’s to provide a break for these kids from the President’s Village and show then what we have here at Roche Caiman. Everyone is a winner”.
We may not be able to prevent our children from suffering the impacts of our changing society, but it’s good to know that the remedy is close at hand.
This post first appeared in the Today in Seychelles newspaper.