Category Archives: Nature Seychelles

Zwazo No. 23 is here! This issue is on Sustainable Living

Zwazo (Creole for bird) is published twice a year

Zwazo (Creole for bird) is published twice a year

The latest Zwazo, our long running, full colour conservation magazine published twice yearly  is on ‘Sustainable Living’.

Several authors in and outside Seychelles explore aspects of sustainable living for this issue including green architecture, alternative energy, bio-fuels, sustainable tourism, organic farming and sustainable livelihoods. Examples have been drawn from small island developing states and the western Indian ocean region. As always the issue also carries news of what we have been up to.

Download it via this link on the Nature Seychelles website or read it online at on Issuu.

How many tortoises hang out on Cousin Island?

Tourists meet the island's Giant Tortoises (James Luxton)

Tourists meet the island's Giant Tortoises (James Luxton)

Most visitors to cousin would be familiar with the Giant Aldabra tortoises that lumber out near the visitor shelter to meet the tourists when they arrive. And more are to be seen as one walks through the forest and in the wetland area, a nice cool place to hang out. But how many more tortoise are on the island?

This is the question that two volunteers Sarah and Dale  recently helped Nature Seychelles to answer. Sarah and Dale helped to tag the Giant Tortoises on Cousin Island Special Reserve to monitor the population with a scientific approach. They  worked tirelessly to find all the tortoises, tag them for a population census, answer a few burning questions and train the wardens so that they can continue with future tagging.

tortoises of all sizes were tagged

35 tortoises were tagged

Sarah and Dale found and tagged 32 tortoises and 3 more were tagged by wardens after their 5 day stay.  We now know there are 35 tortoises.  However it is likely they did not find all the smaller sized tortoises and Sarah and Dale are thus estimating that between 40 and 45 tortoises reside on the island.  Over the course of coming months (and years) wardens will continue to tag tortoises and the additional data will be added to the database to ensure increasing accuracy of the population estimation and up to date records.

From the Census we have also learnt that the majority, 69% of tagged tortoises on Cousin Island, are greater than 90 cm long with the next largest grouping at 26% in the 46-90 cm long category.  Only one (3%) in each of the: 15-45 cm; and less than 15 cm long categories were found.

all sizes

in different sizes

The tortoises roam freely and likely enjoy a fairly diverse diet and fresh water. The wardens, who inform tourists about the island and the conservation work, had been reporting that there were 28 tortoises but thanks to this project they can update that information and raise awareness about the growing population of tortoises on Cousin Island.

This post is extracted from an article for Zwazo magazine by Sarah Bunce

Nature Explorers brings benefits to Children

When Robin Hanson is teaching the Nature Explorers class at Nature Seychelles it sounds exactly like what it is – children having fun. Who wouldn’t have fun jumping like a frog, standing like a tree, and balancing like a heron? Or walking on a fallen tree and listening to the sounds of nature? But apart from having fun the children are exploring their bodies and their minds while cultivating an empathy for nature.

Nature Explorers is part of the Nature Seychelles’ Green Health programme, which is combining yoga and fitness in natural surroundings with activities that help the environment.  Robin, a yoga teacher and conservationist started the programme mid-last year. And now he has began running a dynamic programme for children combining yoga, general fitness and self-discovery.

Classes increase flexibility, strength, discipline, confidence, general positivity and calmness. They encourage children to be ready to learn, create, and develop. “The children are of course having fun. But the core is education,” says Robin. “Children are generally more willing to learn. Adults you have to persuade to do handstands – children have to be persuaded to do the warm up first,” he quips.

A typical class allows for exploration and using one’s imagination. Everything is exercised – from eyes to arms and legs. And classes are non-competitive: every child works at the level they find themselves in. This builds self-esteem and confidence.

the props...

the props...

The setting of Nature Explorers classes within the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman helps in the discovery of nature and various natural materials lend themselves as ready tools to be used for classes. Robin has fashioned pieces of wood as balance beams, stepping stones, toad tokens, basically anything he and mainly the children can imagine to use them for to exercise and have fun. Learning the animal poses, where they live, how they move, how they live together also educates children about nature. Learning the other nature poses such as mountain increases awareness and appreciation of the wonderful healing world around us.

Nature Seychelles will soon be expanding this programme to include children from vulnerable environments.

Check out Robin’s  blog here: http://greenhealthseychelles.wordpress.com/

Zone Australe discovers Cousin

The Reunion TV programme Zone Australe produced by Serge Marizy last year journeyed through Seychelles discovering its magical islands that included the Cousin Island Special Reserve. The programme was aired in Reunion earlier this year and can be seen here in its entirety. Its about 32 minutes and is in French (Reunion Island is a department of France).

With the permission of Serge Marizy, we have extracted the part on Cousin. See Eric, J’elle and David explain its attractions (also in French):

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube DirektCousin Island Courtesy Zone Australe

Photographing the elusive Syer

Well hello Mr. Owl

Well hello Owl

One of the things I like about working in conservation is taking pictures of wildlife. As challenging as it can be, it is an absolute delight to see the results when a good picture is taken. In Seychelles and on Cousin Island Special Reserve especially there are great opportunities for taking bird pictures. The birds make it easy on the Reserve because they are so unafraid of people and do not move away when approached. Cousin is predator free, so the birds have hardly anything to fear. We have in our database now hundreds of pictures taken by staff, volunteers and visitors. We have shared some of them and I love it when I get a good reaction to a picture.

But although its relatively easy to get pictures of the bird life, sometimes its near impossible to get pictures of some birds. The Seychelles Scops Owl (Syer, Otus insularis) comes to mind. This is a nocturnal bird restricted to forests at mid and high altitudes of Mahe, the main island of Seychelles. The population is fewer than 360 birds so it is still on the endangered list. It is a rarely seen bird and in fact it was not until 1999 that a nest was found. But a few people know its whereabouts and can help in locating it. Camille Hoareau is one of these people.

Last year we had French photographers Herve Chelle and Jean Phillipe Vantighem helping us add to our photographic database. JP and Herve work for the NGO Le Sternes, which provides photography expertise to protected areas on a voluntary basis. During their time on Mahe we asked them to help us get pictures of the Scops owl and the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat another elusive species. We called on Camille who lives up in the hills for his help. Using the Scops Owl call,  a double frog-like croak that resembles a saw – thus its Creole name meaning sawyer, Camille was able to attract a pair for Herve to take pictures of at dusk (see above). In between, we stood there awed for over an hour just watching them, feeling lucky.

Turtles, Tortoises and Torti: a voluntary week on Cousin Island

The following account of Sarah Bunce’s voluntary time on Cousin Island during the turtle season appeared in Zwazo, Issue 22, which is available for free download.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week on Cousin Island where the boat ride up onto the beach is just beginning of the rush of things to do and see as a volunteer.

As the Hawksbill sea turtle egg laying season is just peaking my friend and I were able to lend some hands to the sea turtle monitoring programme.  Cousin Island Special reserve has been collecting data about sea turtles since 1972 so Gilles-David Derand, the Nature Seychelles Science Coordinator from Mahé, showed us the ropes of this well established programme.

We had a bit of time to settle into our digs and meet the 3 students from the Seychelles Maritime School who are on Cousin for a month of work experience before their graduation; plus a volunteer from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK.  It was a fun group of young women living away from home for the first time and generally enjoying one another’s company.

Then it was off to find turtles on our first patrol.  As hoped, the turtles were out and about.  I had the great pleasure of watching the process from body pitting to returning to the sea.  During body pitting the turtle settled herself into the sand, under some vegetation for shade, by using her front flippers and body to create an impression of her body while clearing away the surface leaf litter.  Once she seemed comfortable, she started to dig the egg chamber.  This fascinating process involves the use of her back flippers in a highly agile and manipulative way.  She is able to create a long scoop with her flipper to dig sand from as deep as 60cm.  It looks like she scoops the sand up with one flipper dumps it and then pushes it away with the other flipper.  Alternating flippers she achieved her goal.  Between sessions of flying sand there were lovely pauses when she seemed to catch her breath and worked up her resources to recommence the dig.

flying sand as this turtle digs her chamber (Herve Chelle)

flying sand as this turtle digs her chamber (Herve Chelle)

Then, the laying began, peering down into the depths; I could see the light yellow ping pong ball size eggs dropping into the chamber.  Again there were little pauses in the process, when she would raise her head a bit and seem to take a deep breath before more eggs would drop.  After about 45 minutes she was finished with the hard part.  Now she pushed the sand over the eggs and proceeded to gently pat the mound under which her babies would incubate for the next 65 days, again with her rear flippers.  Finally, she camouflaged the mound and nest to prevent the ghost crabs or other predators from digging up the eggs for supper.  Camouflaging seemed to involve a lot of flying sand and generally stirring up the surface near the nest to spread vegetation.  She created a clear crescent with her front flippers maybe to infer the nest was located a bit further away. Read More »

Zwazo 22 tackles climate change

Zwazo 22 carries stories on climate change adaptation and mitigation

Zwazo 22 carries stories on climate change adaptation and mitigation

It’s difficult to talk about climate change without a touch of desperation. The news we hear is grim. From failed talks, to extreme warming events in our seas, species in danger, floods, droughts and crop failures. The world is indeed in peril.

But slowly this harsh reality is beginning to be tempered with stories of hope. We hear now about activities to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The latest Zwazo – number 22 – brings you some of these stories.

The end of year even came with a ray of light from the climate talks in Cancún, Mexico. For although progress was not made on emissions reductions, there was still enough steps forward to warrant optimism for the next round of talks in South Africa. These talks it is hoped will finally nail down a globally binding agreement on long term actions to address climate change.

Outcomes from Cancún such as REDD+, which is a deal to protect tropical forests, the Cancún Adaptation Framework, which was established to enhance action in adaptation, and financing adaptation and mitigation through the establishment of the Green Climate Fund, were widely applauded.

With regards to biodiversity and climate change, many steps are being taken at home and in the region to help species and ecosystems respond to climate change. We bring you some of these stories.

Some of them have been engineered by ourselves such as the project to re-stock dead corals in selected sites in Seychelles and to make the nature reserve we manage carbon neutral. We hope these steps will inspire others to respond with more action.

Concern has also been raised about the effects of climate change and its impacts food security in the Seychelles. We highlight Seychelles response in this issue.

A free copy is available for download from our e-library and from Issuu.

The above is part of the editorial from Zwazo Number 22. Zwazo is the Creole word for Bird.

Saving wetlands

This year’s theme for World Wetlands Day, celebrated on 2 February, is Forests for water and wetlands. The theme has been chosen to correspond with 2011 as the  UN International Year of Forests. The theme asks us to look at the ‘big picture’ of forests and wetlands in our lives. So today we’ll tell you something small about the wetland we manage.

The Sanctuary at Roche Caiman is a 2.9 ha freshwater wetland close to the sea. The site which  resulted from reclamation works on the East Coast of Mahe in the 80s is popular as an outdoors classroom, for bird watching and is now the site, alongside the Heritage Garden, of our green health activities started to increase public interest in conservation.

The site’s vegetation consists of native and introduced coastal trees such as Casuarinas, Badamier (Indian Almond, Terminalia catappa), Kalis Dipap (Tabebuia pallida) and a small number of Takamaka (Calophyllum inophyllum), with invasive reeds such as Typha javanica (Zon) and other dense emergent vegetation. There are two species of mangroves in some parts of the wetland.

Abundant invertebrates dominated by dragonflies and damselflies inhabit the area; they include palm spiders, water skater and crabs. Vertebrates include four species of freshwater fish with an endemic species, frogs, skinks and eleven species of birds mostly herons and some natives and migrants.

The Sanctuary provides school children with a valuable outdoor classroom for their curricula. It is also a recreation area for the general public. Schools and the community around Roche Caiman as well as from elsewhere on Mahe, tourists groups looking for a natural spot within the city limits, and religious groups seeking for the solace granted by nature have been hosted by staff at the wetland. We view this as an opportunity to raise public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general.

discovering pond creatures

discovering pond creatures

Nature Seychelles has undertaken extensive restoration on the site in order to enhance the pre-existing habitats and to create additional habitats so that the wetland can benefit from more species. A boardwalk runs through the Sanctuary with wayside panels and signboards displaying text and illustrations of the ecosystem and facilitating guiding.

wayside exhibtry is used for teaching

wayside exhibtry is used for teaching

The recently constructed Nature X centre is used for our green health activities and has been the meeting point for enthusiasts of our yoga classes.

Originally we had envisaged the Sanctuary as an ‘open air classroom’ to cater for the practical needs of students. But interests have both grown and been varied and a full programme that will cater to these needs, will soon be launched.

From Boise with love: American students get a taste of the islands

On a tour of Cousin

On a tour of Cousin

A group of graduate and undergraduate biology students from Boise University, Idaho were recently in the Seychelles on a course to learn about the uniqueness of our islands biodiversity. They were accompanied by Profs. Marc Bechard and Massimo Pandolfi of Boise and Urbino University respectively. Prof. Pandolfi, who has a long association with Nature Seychelles, has organised similar courses in the past four years.

The course that began on Monday 10 January 2011 and lasted a week, included field activities that saw the students visit Seychelles conservation hotspots of Cousin Island Special Reserve, Curieuse Island Marine Park, Vallee de Mai, La Digue and beaches around Praslin. The visits gave students the opportunity to observe plants and animals and to collect data for assigned field projects.

The training held at our Centre on Praslin brings attention to Seychelles and is also an avenue for future collaboration. Indeed past graduates of the course have returned to the islands to visit as students – at Masters and PHD level, and have also contributed as volunteers on sites like Cousin.

Lectures on the flora and fauna of the Seychelles, its geology, human settlement history, the extinction of endemic species, and current conservation efforts to preserve the biological diversity of the Seychelles were given.

Although heavy rainfall interrupted some of the planned activities, the students were happy they made the trip. In between learning, the students found time to take in local culture.

Zwazo: celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity

The latest issue of Zwazo – Nature Seychelles bi-annual conservation magazine – commemorates 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

Zwazo" is Creole for Bird

Zwazo" is Creole for Bird

Zwazo’s feature articles  are written by people who are proposing solutions based on field research and who are experimenting with solutions on site. In a thought provoking article, “Can people be trusted with Biodiversity,” IUCN’s Regional Director Ali Kaka draws on experiences from eastern and southern Africa to show why there is a return to embracing communities in conservation for the benefit of biodiversity. Chris Feare’s “Exploitation and Conservation of Sooty Terns in Seychelles” demonstrates the usefulness of robust data for species management, while Rudy van der Elst of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association discusses a programme that documents the diversity of fisheries and their resources in the region. Saving albatrosses from extinction by working with fishing industries and providing innovative and win-win solutions to seabird bycatch is the way to go, says Ross Wanless. Nirmal Shah remarks that sharks are worth far more to the economy alive than they are on a platter served up with chips. Christopher Kueffer brings us lessons learnt in the management of invasive alien species in Seychelles and Wayne Meyer talks about vegetation management on Cousin Island.

A free copy of Zwazo is downloadable via the Nature Seychelles website http://natureseychelles.org and at http://issuu.com/natureseychelles/docs/zwazo21iyb