‘Desroches taught me many things,’ says Priya Didon, a student from the University of Seychelles after a 7-week internship
My recent trip to Desroches was not my first and I am hoping it will not be my last. Five years ago; in 2017, I was allowed to visit the island with the eco-school club whereby I and other students spent a week during the December holidays visiting and learning about the work that ICS, as well as IDC, does around the island.
This year I was given the chance to return to the island as an intern with the Island Conservation Society and my experience has been a fruitful and enlightening one. Certain things were familiar while others were not as there have been a few changes that have occurred during the past five years, especially with the opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Desroches that was still under construction back then.
Seasonality also played an important role in my most recent trip as the weather during the South East Trade Winds is not as kind as during the Northwest Monsoon. The weather was seldom on my side during my 7-week stay as I would find myself having to take out my raincoat whilst on the 11km or 9km turtle patrols on a fair amount of days and even on some occasions having to stop halfway due to bad weather. This was the major difference between my two experiences on the island as rough sea conditions prevented any marine-related activities.
However, that did not prevent me from making the most out of my internship. I was able to work on my bird identification techniques as part of the morning patrols consisted of many sightings of different species. Some were new to me, while others were familiar from my previous internship with ICS on Aride Island last year. I am now able to identify certain key differences such as juveniles from adults, or for certain species those that are breeding and the non-breeding ones, as well as the distinct calls of the most recurrent species. Even now while being back on Mahe I get the thrill of knowing a particular species of bird when I see it flying by.
The morning patrols were full of other interesting findings such as sightings of sea turtles, namely, Green Turtles that are currently in the breeding season which meant that there were lots of turtle tracks to be recorded as well as measured on the beach and also juvenile Hawksbill turtles swimming around close to shore. Sharks and rays were always the highlights of my mornings, however, as I would always get excited whenever I would see a pup or a new species of ray that I had not seen on previous patrols.
Part of the internship also consisted greatly of taking care of juvenile Aldabra Giant Tortoises from hatchlings that are under 1kg to big juveniles ranging up to 9kg who are then released into the wild when they weigh beyond 9kg. These hatchlings are vulnerable to numerous threats such as predation from birds and rats, the vehicles on Desroches also pose a threat as the hatchlings may unintentionally get crushed due to their small sizes but it is also important to note that they are being protected from humans as well as small individuals are likely to get stolen to be sold off or to be kept as pets. Thus, the tortoise sanctuary is a safe space to ensure their growth and safety while ICS does their best to reduce possible threats through constant monitoring of rat and feral cat traps as well as the replenishment of rat poison among other methods of pest control.
I find comfort in nature therefore island life is soothing and comforting due to the peacefulness of being in a serene and undisturbed environment. It does however have its disadvantages, because loving field work made me dislike being in the office, especially on rainy days whereby fieldwork was out of the question.
Pursuing a career in conservation is and has been on my mind for some time as I am keen on not only playing a role in preserving and conserving the environment but also discovering and exploring the beauty hidden in most, if not all of Seychelles’ islands. However, it is surely not for everyone as it is far from the comforts of the Mahe life, far from entertainment and certain facilities depending on which island you go to.
Special thank you goes out to ICS for this amazing opportunity and the IDC team on Desroches as well for all their help during the 7-week stay. I would surely encourage other nature lovers to venture into conservation and uncover nature’s secrets.
The 10th annual Seychelles Sea Turtle Festival took place on Silhouette Island on Saturday, 20 August 2022. The Island Conservation Society (ICS), Hilton Labriz, the Island Academy, and Sea Turtle Friends of Seychelles (STFS) joined hands to create a phenomenal day for both adults and children. 2022 is the 10th Anniversary of the formation of Sea Turtle Friends of Seychelles, an NGO whose primary objective has been to organize the annual Sea Turtle Festival. The purpose of the Festival has been to raise awareness amongst children and their families about sea turtle natural history and the need to protect these wonderful, but endangered species. Sea turtles are an important part of the natural heritage of Seychelles and a great attraction for the thousands of tourists who visit Seychelles every year.
The day began with morning refreshments, followed by a turtle patrol, guided by the ICS Team led by Ms Nasreen Khan (ICS Conservation Officer, Silhouette) and Dr Jeanne Mortimer of STFS (also known as “Madamn Torti”) a turtle expert with 41 years of experience in Seychelles. The crowd learned what turtle conservation involves, including all the Do's and Don'ts when encountering sea turtle adults and hatchlings on the beach.
Then the children moved on to the Hilton’s Kids Island Academy Centre where they engaged in face painting and took part in an “Amazing Race” that taught them about the natural environment within the Hilton Hotel grounds.
After lunch, an energetic parade of children of all ages and adults made its way along the Silhouette roads adjacent to the hotel. The parade featured the Hilton Labriz Kids Train, with children riding inside its three cars. The children waved sea turtle posters that they had created during the previous week. They also shouted their enthusiasm for sea turtle protection while accompanied by the tunes “Baby Shark” and “Yellow Submarine” which were broadcast loudly from the first car of the train. Adults marched alongside the Kids Train in solidarity with the children, and the air was filled with a passion for the protection and conservation of endangered sea turtles.
Legal protection was afforded to all sea turtles in Seychelles in 1994. Unfortunately, sea turtles within the inner granitic islands continue to face pressure from people who poach them for meat. Another threat is damage to foraging and nesting habitats in areas of poorly regulated coastal development. Educating the public about these issues and the importance of protecting sea turtles is crucial to conserving the sea turtle populations of Seychelles, which are a vital part of the marine ecosystem.
Since its inception in 2013, Sea Turtle Friends of Seychelles has coordinated the Sea Turtle Festival every year. In the early years (2013-2017) it took place on Mahé, then on Praslin in 2018, and on La Digue in 2019. During 2020 and 2021 the Sea Turtle Festival was celebrated online due to Covid.
“Now that Covid is in retreat, it is wonderful to see that Silhouette Island has revived the tradition in force! STFS is grateful to Hilton Labriz and Island Conservation Society (ICS) for hosting the event this year. We hope that the Seychelles Sea Turtle Festival will continue every year moving forward!” said Dr Mortimer.
During November to December 2021 two researchers from the University of Oxford, in collaboration with SeyCCAT, the German Aerospace Agency, ICS, UniSey and other local entities/persons conducted extensive ground work around Mahe, Praslin, Desroches and D’Arros, these were under the ‘Seagrass Mapping and Carbon Assessment' project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
At this stage the main objective of the project has been to map the distribution of seagrass beds and to collect coring samples which will be used to calculate the amount of carbon stored in our seagrass meadows.
The information gathered will help build the scientific baseline necessary for the Seychelles government to include the protection of seagrasses as a nature-based solution for our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).
Nationally Determined Contributions - What are they?
In December 2015, 196 parties adopted the Paris Agreement. This agreement includes commitments from all countries to reduce their emissions and to work together to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Its goal is to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.
In November 2016 when the agreement came to force, it was a landmark achievement in the multilateral climate change process, being the first binding agreement bringing all nations into a common cause to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.
Under the treaty, every 5 years, countries are required to submit their plans for domestic mitigation measures, also known as Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs), which will be taken to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures, for climate change actions. Seychelles submitted its updated NDC in July 2021.
For more information about the Paris Agreement follow the following link and see video below;
What are Seychelles commitments to the NDC?
"Blue carbon sinks" are habitats associated with the marine environment that they are known to store carbon. In other words, they are reservoirs that absorb more carbon than they release. Previously, the NDCs and Seychelles did not not include listings of blue carbon habitats in the national greenhouse emissions inventory. Quantifying our blue carbon sinks will help Seychelles to reach its commitments and targets.
The 2021 NDC includes the following commitments and targets, focused on safeguarding the Blue Economy and Blue Carbon ecosystems, which are especially relevant to the ‘Seagrass Mapping and Carbon Assessment project’:
Seagrasses in Seychelles
Seagrass meadows are perhaps the most under-appreciated marine habitats. In Seychelles, all marine plants including both 'Seagrasses' and 'Algae' share the name ‘Gomon’, although these are distinctly different types of marine plants (stay tune to the work being conducted by SeyCCAT’s Coastal Wetlands & Climate Change project to bring forward Creole names of our different seagrass species!).
At least 10 species of seagrass have been identified in Seychelles. the following pictures compiled by SeyCCAT highlight some of the differences between the various species..
Importance of seagrass
Carbon stored in coastal and marine ecosystems is called Blue Carbon. Mangroves, tidal marshes and seagrass meadows sequester and store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests.
For more resources on Blue Carbon click the link below for the downloadable document ‘COASTAL BLUE CARBON- Methods for assessing carbon stocks and emissions factors in mangroves, tidal salt marshes, and seagrass meadows’.
Activities conducted so far
Seagrass mapping and fieldwork training workshop
During 26-29 October 2021, SeyCCATs’ Coastal Wetlands and Climate Change Project, in partnership with Oxford University, UniSey and BERI ran a 4 days’ workshop at the University of Seychelles.
The participants were taught about blue carbon and its corresponding ecosystems, how to identify the seagrass species, and about the different methods that will be used to collect and analyse field data that will be used by the Oxford researchers.
The workshop also included practical sessions whereby the participants mapped the seagrass distribution and collected core samples at Anse Royale- Bougainville region.
Immediately after the workshop the Oxford University team with local partners led a number of expeditions to collect data and soil cores around Mahe, Praslin, Desroches and D’Arros.
The main aims of the expeditions were two-fold;
- Conducting ground truthing exercises in order to accurately map the locations of seagrass meadow.
This was done mostly by snorkeling or SCUBA diving teams, which conducted underwater photographic transects of the benthic zones while closely towing a GPS device at the surface. The data collected will be analysed relative to satellite images and used to accurately map the distribution of the seagrass meadows(and other undersea features).
Another device used was the 'Drop Cam' or Tethered video recorder that was deployed in deeper waters, it involved pulling an underwater video camera from the boat to record characteristics of the substrates.
- Collect soil cores at mapped sites. These sediment samples are sent to the laboratory where their density and organic carbon content are measured.
*By quantifying the area of Seagrass distribution and the soil carbon content a first-time estimate of carbon stock for seagrass meadows in Seychelles will be generated.
Here are some of the highlights from the field work conducted by the teams on Mahe, Praslin and Desroches
Mahe (30th October- 7th November)
Field work around Mahe (including the Ste Anne Marine Park) took about 9 days and had the participation of numerous organisations such as ICS, BERI and SPGA
Praslin (9th November- 15th November)
Field work around Praslin (including sites at La Digue) took 7 days
Desroches (19th November- 26th November)
Field work on Desroches consisted of a smaller team made up of ICS staff and the Oxford researchers only
Why is Island Conservation Society involved?
ICS is working closely with the Islands Development Company, and with particular reference to all the outer islands of Seychelles. The objectives of ICS are to conserve, restore and enhance island ecosystems and their associated marine environment in order to protect their natural and cultural assets.
As many of the outer islands, support large seagrass communities, ICS is well positioned to provide the logistical and technical support needed to actualize the necessarily activities at these remote sites.
ICS has completed the groundwork on Desroches Island and trained its staff to be able to undertake similar work for Cosmoledo, Farquhar , Alphonse and St. François. Stay Tune for more information on how the work progresses in February 2022.
The data collected will enable Seychelles to quantify its ‘blue carbon’ storage capacity and will provide the Government of Seychelles, with the information they need to update and include the protection of seagrass in their NDCs as a nature-based solution to climate change.
ICS would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the whole team of partner organisations who have been active on the Seychelles Seagrass Mapping and Carbon Project, notably: the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Oxford University, the SeyCCAT Coastal Wetlands and Climate Change Project team, the Blue Economy Research Institute team from the University of Seychelles, IDC, the ICS island teams, SPGA, the Atoll divers and Octopus dive centers. Not forgetting the many individuals who participated in the research at one point.
We look forward to seeing the fruit of the work we have done so far and look forward to your continued support to the continuation of this project.
Below is a short video on the Seagrass outreach campaign led by SeyCCAT as part of the Coastal Wetlands and Climate Change Project supporting the Seagrass Mapping exercise and Carbon Assessment Project.
Jean-Claude Camille, a Senior Conservation Ranger from Desroches, features in an online magazine article managed by Grand Luxury hotels. Jean-Claude shares an interesting story about his previous work experience and his dedication to the protection and promotion of the wonders of nature.
Click here to read more.
An intern's story
As a student currently completing a Bacherlor’s degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of Seychelles, it is required that I attain work-based experience as part of the University programme. With my passion for conservation, I joined the Island Conservation Society’s (ICS) team on Silhouette Island for a month-long internship from mid-July.
It was the experience of a lifetime! I would not only put into practice what I had learned at university but would now acquire new skills. The first week of work was quite exhausting as I had never worked full-time in conservation, but as the second week rolled in, the morning routines and daily patrols began to feel like clockwork.
Although daily monitoring is consistent, like each sunrise is a bold, new experience, such was my experience during the daily monitoring on each day - fresh and adventurous. I quickly became agile in the regular, and vigorous hikes across the island. Each hike would be fresh new learning of our amazing endemic plants on Silhouette. I felt more than lucky to sight the sheath-tailed bats, (Coleura seychellensis) a critically endangered species found only on Mahe and Silhouette as their only habitat in the world. They roost in quiet caves, that only catch glimpse of sunlight throughout the day. The experience beguiled me to fall in love with conservation even more.
I was struck at how the island community is devoted and willing to protect the environment. On the journey to Grand Barbe, the hardest trail on the island, which is a 12km walk to the other side of the island, I was in wonderment to meet a couple in their 80s, Abdul Jumaye and Elvire Dubois, residing there. I was amazed that they chose to live in such isolation, secluded in the quiet life, in the company of the wondrous flora and fauna of the surrounding forest. They still live in a wooden A-frame house, a solid remnant of the last ones of the old village that used to exist at Grand Barbe, surrounded by breadfruit trees, typical to Silhouette’s history. Of course, being residents of over 30 years I had just met a treasure of stories. I sat down with them, mesmerised by stories I would never read from any book and anecdotes about how life used to be when the village existed. Of course, they would proudly account on how they can still walk, at their age for three good hours to La Passe and how they can still catch fish and octopus for their dinners.
A short and sweet month working alongside the ICS rangers, who were more than ready to teach all they could, I quickly learned how to collect and enter data and the long-term monitoring techniques that come along with it. After a month-long exposure, I can proudly say that my knowledge of flora and fauna species has deepened.
I had many highlights during this short experience but the honour of assisting in feeding a small baby Blue Pigeon (Alectroenas pulcherrimus), that had fallen out of her nest is one I would remember always. We named the distressed Blue Pigeon, Teroline. That was a cherishable moment.
Maryssa Samedi, UniSey intern
POSITION STATEMENT OF ICS
Island Conservation Society (ICS) recognises that:
Therefore, to assist conservation actions and informed decisions, ICS calls for:
The full paper can be downloaded here
Many thousands of FADs are dumped in the Indian Ocean each year and in most cases are not recovered. This has increased the productivity of the fishing fleet but has brought significant environmental costs. The average FAD-caught fish is smaller and the catch includes a substantial number of juveniles. There is a relatively large bycatch including several species of pelagic sharks. The Indian Ocean FAD-based purse seine fishery has the highest percentage of bycatch in the world, 25%, compared to a global average of 16% (Daghorn et al 2013). Turtles also become entangled by ropes and netting beneath FADs and drown. FADs inflict considerable damage when they wash ashore at coral reefs.
ICS will actively engage with the relevant parties to carry out a review and revision of (i) the existing FAD MANAGEMENT PLAN and (ii) the new FAD WATCH Agreement during this calendar year. Discussions should focus around:
It is proposed that ICS should commence and lead discussions with the relevant parties with a view to achieving a comprehensive revision of the two agreements mentioned. It is intended that these discussions should start in July this year with a view to finalisation and execution in 2022.
The full paper can be downloaded here
THE INDIAN OCEAN IS IN CRISIS: ICS issue position papers on FADs & Sooty Tern egg collection
The Indian Ocean is in crisis. Coral reefs are dying because of coral bleaching and damage from human activities. Some seabird populations appear to be in a state of massive decline. Plastics are being dumped at alarming levels. The widespread use of Fish Aggregation Devices has increased fishing yields at considerable environmental cost. Coastal erosion is impacting every island of Seychelles, threatening the very existence of some.
ICS Trustees met on 28 June and unanimously agreed to issue two position papers, ringing alarm bells on two of the major issues we are facing:
The cropping of Sooty Tern eggs in Seychelles
ICS has already given full support to the 2021 National Sooty Tern Census. Initial results are alarming. ICS calls for future annual population assessments to better understand long-term population trends.
ICS is calling for research into changes in the marine ecosystem, renewed government support to make legislation effective and a reassessment of the sustainability of egg collection. Above all, ICS calls for a national debate on the relevance and justification for Sooty tern egg cropping in Seychelles in the 21st century.
Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs)
Many thousands of FADs are dumped in the Indian Ocean each year and in most cases are not recovered. This has increased the productivity of the fishing fleet but has brought significant environmental costs. The average FAD-caught fish is smaller and the catch includes a substantial number of juveniles. The Indian Ocean FAD-based purse seine fishery has the highest percentage of bycatch in the world. Turtles also become entangled by ropes and netting beneath FADs and drown. FADs inflict considerable damage when they wash ashore at coral reefs.
ICS calls for acknowledgment and enforcement of the principle that that the polluter must pay for the environment damage and the subsequent clean-up. Serious on-going research into minimizing the environmental impact of FADs is required. ICS calls for discussions with the relevant parties with a view to achieving a comprehensive revision of agreements on FADs.
More news will follow soon.
As part of a research project implemented by Dr Annette FAYET (University of Oxford) and ICS co-founder Dr Gérard ROCAMORA (Island Biodiversity and Conservation centre of the University of Seychelles), in collaboration with the ICS-Aride Island Nature Reserve team, 30 tracking loggers called geolocators (GLS) were deployed in February-March 2020 on as many White-tailed tropicbirds nesting on Aride. Each GLS (weighing little more than 1g) was attached to a metal ring identifying each tropicbird individually. These GLSs have been recording the bird's movements at sea first during their fishing trips to feed themselves and their chicks on Aride, and later after these seabirds left Aride (after their chick fledged or because their nesting attempt failed) for a long migration. GLS measure every day the time at which daylight starts and at which night falls, something that is unique to any particular location around the planet, which allows an estimate of geographic coordinates (Latitude and Longitude). Although these measurements are not precise (up to 180km of uncertainty) they can provide an approximate position of these seabirds and an insight of their movements.
After 8 to 10 months spent at sea, six of these birds have returned to Aride to breed, almost all at the same nests. Conservation rangers Ricky ADELINE, Vanessa DUFRENNE and Annie GENDRON have been monitoring the nests every week since last December, assisting Dr ROCAMORA in retrieving the devices. These first retrievals allow us to visualise the amazing movements and huge distances covered by Aride tropicbirds during their non-breeding season, one of them having reached the Chagos, the Maldives, and up to the India's coast, whilst another remained within a radius of 2,000km around Aride. The figure below shows how the movements of two single tropicbirds actually cover much of the North-West Indian Ocean. This illustrates how each of these birds is vulnerable to any negative factors occurring at wide scales across the ocean, such as changes in food supply due to global warming, El Nino events, reduction in prey due to overfishing or pollution from chemicals and plastics. We look forward to retrieving the remaining devices and discovering more of these spectacular movements of the White-tailed tropicbirds that breed on Aride Island.
Text and photos by Gerard Rocamora
Over the last 15 months the ICS Alphonse team has been working with the @Alphonse Fishing Company on 'accelerometer trials' on the Giant Trevally, a species which is resident within the lagoon. The tests assess reflex impairment and post-release condition to uncover the physiological and behavioural effects of catch-and-release. Last month the desired sample size of 40 was achieved. We would like to extend our gratitude to the many fishing guides who assisted ICS, in particular Trevor Sithole and Warren Graham for their enthusiasm. The data will be analysed by our partners at @UniMassachusetts and the results will help to further define the Fly-fishing Code-of-Conduct. Collaboration has been key to this @SeyCCAT funded project, and we are excited to continue working with our partners towards scientifically supported sustainable practices.