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Coral bleaching, again!

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This is how a healthy coral reef should look like

It is official, our oceans are experiencing a coral bleaching event on a global scale. Since October 2015, scientists of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been reporting high ocean temperatures across Hawaii and the Caribbean, causing widespread coral bleaching. The phenomenon has now reached the Western Indian Ocean, which has been on coral bleaching alert since the 4th of January this year. Read More »

Seychelles Warbler downgraded from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened

Seychelles warbler (by Martijn Hammers)

Seychelles warbler (by Martijn Hammers)

Once you could barely hear the chirping of this songbird with its only 25 individuals left in a mangrove swamp on a small island in Seychelles, but now the singing is louder with a symphony that comprises over 3000 birds. The population of the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis), which once had the dubious distinction of being one of the rarest birds in the world, is now 115 times what it was over three decades ago with a population spread over 5 islands. Intensive conservation efforts have ensured this endemic bird did not vanish completely. Read More »

Volunteering: an appreciation for nature and enthusiasm are all you need!

Lindsey re-acquaints herself with old friends

Lindsey re-acquaints herself with old friends

Medical student, Lindsey Zhao (pictured) has just spent two weeks on Cousin Island volunteering. This is the second time she is volunteering having spent 3 months here last year. This is what she says of her second stay on the island.

“I still remember my first experience on Cousin like it occurred just yesterday.  And this time when I returned, it felt as if I had just left yesterday as well. While I never had too much experience with or exposure to nature conservation as a field, I have always been charmed by nature, animals, birds and marine life in particular, from an early age.  Really what brought me back to Seychelles and Cousin Island is the island lifestyle and being surrounded by nature and beauty and of course, the wonderful friends I made in the wardens and researchers on the island.

I spent the last year studying my first year of medical school and while I learned more than I ever have in one year’s time, it really made me miss being outside surrounded by nature.  During my time on Cousin last year, I learned more about appreciating the natural world and the environment than I ever could have in any classroom.  I also learned a lot about myself through my experience of living in an international community of individuals within the Research House on Cousin Island.

As a volunteer on Cousin Island, I assisted the wardens with their conservation efforts, which included monitoring of the island’s biodiversity and ecotourism.  In the mornings, I assisted the wardens with transporting all the tourists onto the island as well as getting them off the island after their tours.  In the afternoons, I assisted with some of the bird monitoring efforts as well as eliminating invasive species around the island.

Although I had very little prior involvement with environmental and nature conservation before my first experience on Cousin Island, I did not feel like that deterred me from contributing to the island’s conservation efforts. The wardens were more than happy to share their world with me and to teach me how to help.  For other people who have no prior involvement with the environment but would like to help, I would say that all they really need is an appreciation for nature and the environment as well as enthusiasm to learn.  Volunteering on Cousin Island is truly a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity and I would encourage anyone who loves nature and the environment to experience it.  Any little bit of help is useful and goes a long way!

Project launched to restore reefs after new damage

A project to save coral reefs from the effects of climate change has been launched at Nature Seychelles’ headquarters, Roche Caïman.

The work will involve growing corals and planting them at various sites, and follows the worst damage to Indian Ocean reefs from bleaching for more than 10 years.

US ambassador Mary Jo Wills and Nature Seychelles’ chief executive Nirmal Shah signed an agreement for the funding of the $513,825 project by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Mrs Wills and Mr Shah sign the agreement for the funding of the project by the USAID

Among those present on Tuesday were Minister for Investment, Natural Resources and Industry Peter Sinon, principal secretary for Foreign Affairs Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, vice-chancellor of the University of Seychelles Dr Rolph Payet, members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of government and civic organisations.

Mr Sinon said there is an immediate need to seriously consider mitigating the effects of climate change, or adapting to them as this new project will seek to do.

While coral reefs continue to act as our first defence from rising ocean levels that threaten our shores, they also remain the most important habitats and spawning grounds for fish which are our main source of protein and a key part of our daily diet, he said.

Mr Sinon addressing guests at the signing ceremony

Mr Sinon said the loss of the reefs would be very worrying. The time has come to stop talking about the problem of climate change and start taking action against it.

“Here I’m very happy to see an innovative solution being offered,” he said.

“Finally a project to restore the reefs that have been destroyed by climate-induced bleaching is being launched. This is indeed a breath of fresh air.”

Mr Sinon noted that the project will train many people who will be able to restore corals in other parts of the region, for example through the Institute of Marine Sciences based in Zanzibar and the Mauritius Oceanography Institute.

Mrs Wills said the US is happy to partner with Nature Seychelles in the three-year project, called Reef Rescuers – restoring coral reefs in the face of climate change.

“Coral reefs in the Indian Ocean are now dying from the worst bleaching effect in more than a decade,” she said.
“The bleaching, triggered by a large pool of warm water that swept into the Indian Ocean in May this year, has caused corals from Indonesia to Seychelles to whiten and die.”

She noted that Seychelles had been badly affected by bleaching in 1998 caused by the warming of the seas in the El Nino effect.

“The Nature Seychelles-led coral reef rescue and restoration project contains balanced and practical activities for the conservation of important coral reef ecosystems on Cousin and Praslin islands,” said Mrs Wills.

“This project is a component of the US government’s strategic global commitment to partner with governments, civil society organisations and other relevant stakeholders to address the impacts of climate change.”

Noting that Seychelles’ economy depends 100% on the ocean, Mrs Wills said President Barack Obama and the people of the US recognise the huge value of the oceans, islands and coastal communities to the nations of the world.

Dr Shah said the project will involve restoring reefs in Seychelles by growing corals and planting them at various sites.

He said no healthy corals will have to be broken. Many are already broken, and from those they will select the right ones to propagate.

Experts from around the world, including Israel, will be involved in the project, he added.

Mr Shah also said it is time not just to talk about coral bleaching but to do something about it.

Source: Seychelles Nation

Press Release: Cousin Island Special Reserve, Carbon Neutral

Cousin_Carbon NeutralCousin Island has become the World’s 1st carbon neutral nature reserve. This exciting success story for Seychelles and the conservation and eco tourism world in general is the result of a rigorous  carbon footprint assessment, assurance process and investment in high quality carbon credits to offset the footprint.

Nature Seychelles the national NGO that runs the Reserve will reveal this status at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Tourism Expo to celebrate Tourism and Biodiversity during World Tourism Day and week to be held on Monday 27 September 2010 at the ICCS, Victoria. In attendance will be Mr. Matthew Forbes the British High Commissioner to the Seychelles, the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board Mr. Alain St. Ange, who will be opening the Expo, and other invited guests. The British High Commission in Seychelles funded the assessment.

The Special Reserve welcomes thousands of eco-tourists each year. In recognition of the environmental impact of  these visitors to Cousin, most of whom fly from Europe and reach the island by boat, and after media reports in Europe urging citizens  not to  travel to long haul destinations like  Seychelles, Nature Seychelles  took the decision to make the Reserve carbon neutral. “We initiated a process  that involved measuring all the emissions associated with the island, reviewing opportunities for on-going reductions and investing in carbon credits from a clean cook stove project in Sudan.” Kerstin Henri, Nature Seychelles’ Director for Strategic Operations says.

“After seeing European media reports and one in particular  which was reported on locally and  had as  title “Sylt not Seychelles” we wanted our eco-visitors to come to Cousin conscience free, knowing their carbon footprint has been neutralised .” said Nirmal Shah  Nature  Seychelles Chief Executive

Carbon Clear – a leading carbon management company – measured the Reserve’s carbon footprint by looking at various activities associated with visitors arrival to Cousin and its operations. The calculations of the footprint however also recognized the contribution of the reforestation programme on the island.

Since 1968 the island has been restored with the result that 85% is covered by natural tropical vegetation (based on GIS). Based on available scientific information, the amount of annual carbon that the island can absorb was netted off against the footprint. The remainder of the footprint was offset using carbon credits purchased from a carefully selected and independently verified clean cook stove project in Darfur, Sudan thus reducing the island’s emissions to net zero. Offsetting by purchasing carbon credits is internationally accepted as a way of reducing carbon footprints

“We did not want to purchase credits over the internet or  invest in just any generic scheme. The process we initiated lasted about 15 months but provided a verifiable and assured result.”  Nirmal Shah, says.

And although this activity was voluntary, an assurance was undertaken with Nexia, Smith and Williamson, a European assurance and audit firm, to certify that both the measurement and offsetting process had been conducted to the highest standards.

Congratulating the organization on the steps it has taken to make Cousin Island Special Reserve carbon neutral, Mark Chadwick, CEO Carbon Clear said, “Nature Seychelles has taken an unprecedented step in not only taking conservation to the next level by going carbon neutral but also in conducting an independent audit of its footprint by Carbon Clear and then having the process independently assured.  This commitment speaks volumes about the integrity and care which the team at Nature Seychelles and Cousin Island goes about protecting and enhancing the environment.”

Nature Seychelles is a multiple award winning non-profit environmental organization in the Seychelles involved in a wide range of exciting  activities to improve environmental standards. Conservation activities on the Reserve include monitoring of the island’s biodiversity, research, re-introduction of endangered species such as the Seychelles Magpie robin, ecotourism and education.  Cousin has received international awards for its conservation and ecotourism efforts.

A day out on Cousin Island

On Saturday 29 May, I was on Cousin Island where I joined wardens in hosting visitors from the Committee for the Disabled, La Digue District. La Digue is the fourth largest island in Seychelles and is roughly 30 minutes away by boat.  I accompanied the group on a tour of the island which was led by Olivier Nibourette, himself a Diguios (someone born in La Digue). We spent the morning exploring Cousin, having encounters with wildlife and assisting in light work.

Here is a still video of the trip:

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