Tag Archives: biodiversity

What is the point of long-term monitoring in conservation?

Endemic, Enchanting, Endangered

Endemic, Enchanting, Endangered

In a recently published scientific study in the Journal of African Ornithology, the authors of the report, conservation scientists April Burt and Julie Gane collaborated in an analysis of the long-term monitoring of the Seychelles Magpie Robin (SMR) using data collected in the last eighteen years. Read More »

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

Members of the Japan-Seychelles Association visit the Sanctuary

The visitors gamely smell noni fruit

On 9 August, we played host to a group 16 people who are members of the Japan-Seychelles Association in the Kyoto City region.  Two university professors accompanied  thirteen primary school teachers most and one junior high school girl student to a visit of our sites – the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman and Heritage Garden. Martin Varley, our community coordinator conducted the group around the sites and explained their importance and the functions they fulfill.

The group enjoyed going through the garden and learning about the various traditional plants. Martin even coaxed some of the visitors into smelling Noni fruit, which has a rather pungent smell. He made up for it by crashing the leaves of some of the herbs in the garden for the visitors to take in their lovely aromas.

“Our purpose of visiting Seychelles is to learn about the environment and conservation education of Seychelles and know how it is performed, and we got many hints for the Japanese side to improve our  own here,” said Prof. Takesato Watanabe

“Our members found that your environment education has been done among all the people of the country and schools. Organization like yours are well organized and effectively working together with your government and international networks,” he said.

Other features of the Sanctuary that the visitors found interesting were the boardwalk and bird hide made entirely of recycled plastic.

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.

Man and Mosquitoes on Cousin island

DEET confuses Mozzies

DEET confuses Mozzies

“Cousin  island is a MUST see – mozzies or not” said Varun Sharma the host of  Inside  Luxury  Travel, a TV program aired to millions around  the world. Mosquitoes on Cousin Island Special Reserve are particularly voracious this year. Swarms even follow people to the boats as they board to leave! It’s a huge problem because we cannot spray the air or water bodies with chemicals as that would destroy a large part of the ecosystem. Insect species as well as the endangered birds eating them would be devastated.

Visitors to Cousin are warned beforehand to carry personal mosquito repellent, But many arriving on this award-winning nature reserve still find that they are bitten. Basically, their repellent just does not work. As a result Nature Seychelles has had to distribute free repellent containing a substance called DEET. This is the best deterrent against the “pesky mozzies”.

When applied to the skin’s surface, DEET drives away mozzies looking for a free lunch (or dinner). But it can also keep the insects from ever getting close enough to land. Scientists have not really understood how the chemical works.  It was always thought that DEET was effective because it was repulsive or toxic to mosquitoes.

Now, a newly published paper in the prestigious journal Nature has shown that DEET is so successful because it works by targeting a mosquito’s sense of smell.

“The effects of DEET are not straightforward,” Maurizio Pellegrino, one of the authors  of the  paper, told the on line magazine Science News. “We think the insect doesn’t know exactly what it is smelling.” Pellegrino is a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Mosquitoes and other insects don’t have noses. They have receptors on their antennae that can pick up the chemical signature of a smell in the air. These receptors send information about the smell to the brain by way of nerve signals.

The study showed that these receptors are affected by DEET. The nerve cells sent different signals to the brain depending on whether DEET was detected alone or together with other scents.  The repellant also affected the insects’’ ability to detect other smells. As a result DEET somehow corrupts the nerve signal sent to the brain. That means DEET doesn’t necessarily drive mosquitoes away— it just confuses them so much that they fly away, says Science News.

“It’s as if you are hungry and you love hamburgers,” Pellegrino says. “If DEET is present, it doesn’t smell like hamburger anymore, even if a hamburger is right in front of you.”   So be warned – if you are visiting a mosquito infested area make sure your repellant contains DEET.

Nirmal Shah. This post first appeared in the Author’s column in the People.

Conservation hurts!

Lately,  visitors to Cousin Island Special Reserve have remarked about the increase in mosquitoes.  Island management has noticed a swell in numbers during certain, usually short, periods in the past few years. Mosquito densities vary between seasons, and in drier seasons they are few and go virtually unnoticed. Recent heavy rainfall have contributed to the current numbers.

“After heavy rainfall they seem unavoidable,” explains Ian, Cousin’s manager. “We don’t use pesticides because this is a Nature Reserve, so we can’t control them in this manner. We however advise visitors to carry repellent, particularly that which contains a certain percentage of DEET, which is very effective. In addition we provide repellent to visitors upon arrival.”

“It is variable, some years we do not have mosquitoes at all,” echoes Riaz Aumeeruddy, Nature Seychelles’ Science Coordinator. “We have noticed a reduction as the season has began to change and we have a stronger wind blowing.”

In reality, the mosquitoes haven’t stopped visitors enjoying the 90 minutes tour of the island during this time. The wardens explain to visitors that the mosquitoes do not carry Malaria, can be controlled with repellent and when bitten, after the initial itch most people recover quickly after application of ointment. Indeed the majority of reviews and visitors’ comments recorded have one thing they agreed on completely: a visit to the island is not to be missed.

“Cousin Island is a MUST see… mozzies or not …” says Varun Sharma of the hit series Inside Luxury Travel, who began his blog post about his visit there by declaring, “I hate mosquitoes!” before proceeding to describe Cousin as filled with wonderful biodiversity.

The scientists, researchers and volunteers who arrive during this season and must contend with the mosquitoes also agree that one gets used to them. These comments are rewarding as Cousin Island and the vital conservation work done there depend largely on eco-tourism revenues.

Science officer Mary (R) and volunteer covered in mosquitoes as they tag tortoises

Science officer Mary (R) and volunteer covered in mosquitoes as they tag tortoises

Mosquitoes are common in all parts of the world. There are over 3000 species. A majority of species do not bite humans (only a few hundred do). Some are pollinators and food for animals including fish. But in the tropics where they are responsible for the spread of Malaria, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya and West Nile viruses, sentiments way heavily towards their complete eradication, although means and consensus on the impact this would have on the natural order of things have not been found.

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

Nature Watch: A whole series of stories on Seychelles wildlife..

Here is a heads up about some interesting radio programmes we have uploaded on the education pages on our website and which you and those younger ones in your life might find interesting. The radio programmes were broadcast on Radio Seychelles between 1986-1987 (!) and featured Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles CEO, explaining the wonders of the Seychelles natural world, from sea cucumbers to earthworms and to Bib Delos – the water striders. Have fun listening, many of the listeners back in those days certainly did.

They are here: http://education.natureseychelles.org/nature-watch-radio-programs/

Tell us what you think… is this something you would like to have on the blog?

World governments fail to deliver on 2010 biodiversity target

“Governments have failed to deliver on the commitments they made in 2002: biodiversity is still being lost as fast as ever”  Says Dr Stuart Butchart, of BirdLife International.

Listen to Dr Stuart Butchart being interviewed about the failure to meet the 2010 Biodiversity targets

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/l8mEr1PhHPU" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

More of this story at BirdLife