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

New Research shows no link between mercury exposure and autism

fishing is an important industry and a primary source of nutrition

Fishing is an important industry and a primary source of nutrition

The potential impact of exposure to low levels of mercury on the developing brain — specifically by women consuming fish during pregnancy — has long been the source of concern and some have argued that the chemical may be responsible for behavioral disorders such as autism. Read More »

Rare sighting of the pelagic sea snake at Baie Ternay

The sea snake was spotted at Baie Ternay (Photo courtesy of GVI)

The sea snake was spotted at Baie Ternay (Photo courtesy of GVI)

GVI Seychelles have reported a rare sighting in shallow coastal waters of the Pelagic Sea Snake (Pelamis platura). Members of the volunteer organisation caught sight of the snake when returning from a dive at Baie Ternay on the main island of Mahe. Found in open seas at depths of about 10m, and helpless on land, these sea snakes are not ordinarily seen. And when they are, its usually because they have drifted ashore after rough weather or when sick or injured. This was probably the case with this individual as it was found after a sustained period of strong winds and rough seas, Chris Mason Parker the GVI Seychelles Country Director told Today in Seychelles.

usually found in deep waters (Photo courtesy of GVI)

usually found in deep waters (Photo courtesy of GVI)

“The individual we saw in Baie Ternay briefly attempted to sliver up the beach, but after struggling for a few minutes, turned back to the water and was last seen heading back to see,” he said.

More info on the species can be found on the IUCN species list

The Orchid and the Hotel

Image source: http://angraecums.blogspot.com/2013/02/oeoniella-polystachys.html

The Orchid

Recent plans for a proposed resort development at Police Bay ( see: http://goo.gl/hVe5N  and    http://goo.gl/tM5Sw) has attracted negative public comments. The findings of the “Assessment of Areas of High Biodiversity for Informed Decision Making in Future Land Use Planning and Management” a government of Seychelles project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has revealed that areas above the coastal strip of Police Bay, especially sites above 100 metres deserve to be protected. An orchid occurring in the Western Indian Ocean islands, Oeoniella polystachy (and probably not O. Aphrodite as was reported)  has been found there in an area known as Mont Corail. This orchid has been known from Seychelles but is uncommon.  It can be cultivated quite easily (and indeed has been all over the world) and Nirmal Shah of Nature Seychelles has  recommended that its propagation forms part of a conservation plan for the area.. Information on the two species of these orchids can be found below courtesy of the Mauritius Herbarium via MWF.

Oeoniella aphrodite (Balf. & S. Moore) Schltr.

Distribution: Rodrigues (Mauritius)

Flowering Period: Late October to mid-November

This is the most endangered of the remaining Rodriguean orchids. Small populations are found on rock faces and, occasionally as an epiphyte, at Grande Montagne, Mt. Cimetière and on Cascade Pigeon. Fruiting success is extremely low, as is recruitment from seed. A specimen of this taxon is recorded having grown at Conservatoire Botanic de Brest, France, but it seems no more; another formerly grew at the Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin, Ireland.

Oeoniella polystachys (Thouars) Schltr.

Distribution: Mauritius, La Réunion, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles

Flowering period: Late July to late November (rarely April)

This species was considered synonymous with Oeoniella aphrodite, but its inflorescence and flower structure are different. Oeoniella polystachys is endemic to the Western Indian Ocean islands, bearing white flowers of about 2-3 cm across, blooming for about a month. It is a common species on Madagascar, occurring mostly in the east coast. In Reunion is found on the northern dry forests, where it is populations are declining.  In Mauritius, the best population is found on Ile aux Aigrettes, another large population is found at Bras D’Eau. Scatter plants exist in  other areas.

Image source: http://angraecums.blogspot.com/2013/02/oeoniella-polystachys.html

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.

The Seychelles Terrapin never existed

Seychelles black mud terrapin (Pelusios subniger parietalis)

Seychelles black mud terrapin (Pelusios subniger parietalis)

By Nirmal Shah

The torti soupap or terrapin (also known as mud turtle) is well known in Seychelles. Actually, biologists said that there were 3 species in Seychelles. One became extinct – the Seychelles terrapin Pelusios seychellensis is  known from only 3 specimens collected in the 19th century and  kept at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Zoological Museum in Hamburg. Despite recent searches for this species no further specimens have been found. “Consequently, it was assumed the species had been exterminated”, says Professor Uwe Fritz, director of the Museum of Zoology at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

In a study published in the open source  journal PLOS ONE, Heiko Stukas, Richard Gemel and Fritz  have demonstrated that actually the species was never an endemic.  Genetic analysis of the original specimen from the museum in Vienna proves that the terrapin was another species, Pelusios castaneus, widespread in West Africa.

The species Pelusios seychellensis has therefore never existed.  Taxonomists had always been puzzled that the supposed Seychelles species looked so similar to the West African mud turtles.

Last year, another team led by Fritz published a study that showed that another terrapin species, Pelusios subniger, was not endemic to the Seychelles but had been introduced by man.  So now 2 species of terrapins are off the list of Seychelles endemic animals.

A couple of biologists have been very keen in labelling terrapin and tortoise species as endemic. The French taxonomist Roger Bour resurrected Pelusios seychellles as an endemic species in 1983. In addition, Bour renamed the Seychelles population of Pelusios castanoides and Pelusios subniger as the new Seychelles subspecies Pelusios subniger intergularis and Pelusios subniger parietalis. However , based on the genetic evidence we now know that at least 2 species are not endemics, with the third probably the same as well.

The museum specimens of Pelusios seychelles are now believed to have been mislabelled. As for the other species they could have introduced from the African mainland as food sources.  Perhaps traders or slavers brought them. Torti soupap was, in fact, eaten by Seychellois in the past.

Conservation programmes for these terrapins in the Seychelles will now have to be revised, and scarce conservation funding  used for species that are clearly native and are in danger.  I think that since the terrapins are protected by specific legislation even this needs to be reviewed.
Journal Source, PLOS ONE: http://goo.gl/SDhlq

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

Turning bad dogs into good dogs

Re-domesticating the dogs

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.