The first Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii nest observed on Bancs du Sable in 17 years has a chick! After a month-long incubation, GCT chicks hatch with eyes open and a protective, temperature-regulating coating of down. This chick will remain dependent on its parents for food and protection from predators for 38 - 40 days before fledging. Our ICS Farquhar Conservation Team are thrilled to share this news, and report that a second nest has been spotted close by. Greater Crested Terns are known to use individual and group breeding sites, so perhaps this could signal the start of a new larger colony.
A new Seabird Monitoring Protocol recently introduced under the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project is standardising data collection methods for important species across the islands of Farquhar, Desroches, Alphonse and Poivre. Building systematically on the work of conservationists over the past 10+ years, these data sets will be used to inform marine spatial planning and species management for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in the Outer Islands at Seychelles, regional and international levels.
Living in a remote location on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean sounds idyllic, and it is. Yet it can prove challenging in some respects - for instance in having regular access to supplies and equipment that some of us take for granted. Our "Can Do" Conservation Team struggled a bit when their research boat's covering began disintegrating after many years' loyal service. A replacement was some months in the offing. What To Do? Make one! By upcycling remnants of FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) which had come adrift, the team were able to fashion a hardy boat cover AND reduce environmental impacts to the reef and nearshore habitats.
,FADs wash up on Seychelles Outer Islands year round. Typically they have a floating frame which suspends curtain nets, sausage nets and rope (along with anything else which could attract fish). Most of the materials are non-biodegradable. They are a major threat to wildlife and boats. ICS staff intercept FADs to reduce the entanglement of marine megafauna; sharks, turtles, mammals etc. and to reduce coral, seagrass and beach damage.
After a FAD is collected, the teams try and recycle the materials, instead of their going to landfill. Bamboo frames and nets are used for climbing plants in the vegetable garden. Some frames however, are made of galvanised steel. These, like boat anchors, are destructive to reefs and seagrasses, breaking corals and uprooting plants as they wash ashore.
Matthew Morgan, Conservation Ranger on Desroches, explains: “After saving one frame and parts of another we had enough material to make our DIY boat cover. Two poles were welded onto an intact frame which was then mounted over our small boat. Luckily the frame was the exact dimension for the boat which made this a relatively quick job! We used shade cloth and an old boat cover salvaged by ICS in 2015 (and sitting beside our office ever since). This was mounted over the FAD frame and secured to the boat with rope. The cover has helped with marine mammal surveys, collecting sea surface temperature and coral reef surveys. If something is useful we never throw it away, when you live on an outer island you never know what you may need or where you will get it from! Awesome.
Most visitors from Europe in search of winter sunshine hop on a plane, taking a round trip of 10,000 kilometres or more to reach Seychelles. One small bird may travel three times this distance entirely through its own exertions.
At Alphonse, a pair of Northern Wheatears arrived in mid-January, both remaining for a few days. Seychelles Bird Record Committee has accepted 76 records of Northern Wheatear and around 60% of all records are in January and February, later than any other migratory land species, for which sightings peak in October to December. What could explain the lateness of these sightings?
Northern Wheatears breeding in Western Europe have spread to eastern North America in recent times while the Asian breeding population has spread to Alaska, with four recognized subspecies. However, all populations winter in Africa. To reach western Africa, birds in eastern North America travel via Europe while those breeding in Alaska go the opposite way around the globe and cross the whole of Asia to reach eastern Africa. So the pair on Alphonse Island are most likely to be birds from as far away as Alaska, using the East Asia/East Africa Flyway. Miniature tracking devices have recently shown that the Northern Wheatear has one of the longest migratory flights known - 30,000 kilometres. Birds crossing Siberia and the Arabian Desert are travelling, on average, 290 kilometres per day. This is the longest recorded migration for any songbird.
Migration is a feat of extreme endurance, driven primarily by the availability of breeding and feeding opportunities. It involves costs in terms of predation and high mortality. Timing seems to be controlled by changes in day length. The long days of the northern summer provide abundant food, extend time for breeding birds to feed their young, and thus help diurnal birds to produce larger clutches. Northern Wheatears and other migrating species build up fat reserves during this time, some even doubling their body weight, in preparation to head south for the winter. These advantages offset the high stress, physical exertion, and other risks linked to migration.
Short migrations are common in many bird species, including those made in response to changes in habitat, weather, food availability, and/or altitudinal migrations on mountains such as the Himalayas, where birds nesting at high altitudes overwinter at lower altitudes. Most birds migrate in flocks, at varying altitudes, to reduce the energy cost. Even penguins migrate, swimming routes of over 1,000 kilometres.
There are many fascinating theories - and equally fascinating questions - about this seasonal, predictable occurrence. Bird migration was first recorded 3,000 years ago by the ancient Greeks. We now know that birds navigate using celestial cues from the sun and stars, the earth’s magnetic field, and inbuilt genetic “mental maps”. One theory gaining ground is that birds and many other land species follow a “green wave” of spring plant and insect emergence; however, much is still being learned today.
Alphonse is one of the best places in Seychelles to see rare visiting birds. Its isolated location in the vast Indian Ocean provides an attractive target for tired migrants seeking a stopover to rest and refuel. During recent months, we have recorded many interesting species that included Alphonse Island in their flyway to make their seasonal migration. In fact, it has been surprising to see the diversity of species that passed through. They include Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva, Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola and Black-winged Pratincole G. nordmanni, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava and White Wagtail M. alba, Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus, Amur Falcon Falco amurensis, Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus, Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus, Common Swift Apus apus, and many others.
Happy World Wetlands Day! Protecting and enhancing wetlands biodiversity on Seychelles beautiful islands is one of our missions.
Wetlands are some of Earth’s most biodiverse and productive ecosystems, providing rich habitat and acting as wildlife nurseries, filtering nutrients and pollutants, preventing erosion, offering storm and flood protection and encouraging nature recreation. Swamps you say? But Wetlands are so much more!
Wetlands are places where the land is covered by water, either salt, fresh or somewhere in between. Wetlands include lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.
Seychelles is rich in many types of Wetland, from the high altitude freshwater wetlands recognized under the Ramsar Convention right through to our coral reefs and the connected patchwork of systems in between.
Seagrass meadows are abundant yet poorly studied wetland habitats in Seychelles. Seagrasses are flowering aquatic plants that grow and spread their pollen and seeds underwater in marine environments. Seagrass meadows are biodiverse habitats, providing important grazing grounds for Dugong, and for Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles, both of which nest in Seychelles. They offer protected nursery environments for many of our important fish species and macroinvertebrates. They offer foraging and staging opportunities for migratory shorebirds, and help reduce the impacts of climate change by acting as carbon sinks.
Under the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project, an ICS Expedition Team recently visited Poivre to survey its seagrass communities and collect baseline data. Using a new world’s best practice protocol, standardized across the Outer Islands, they made some encouraging new discoveries. This data will contribute to submissions to Seychelles’ proposed Marine Spatial Plan, recognising the importance of protecting and preserving these fascinating communities into the future.
31st January marks an important day on the Seychelles Eco-Calendar – on this day each year we focus on the amazing biodiversity and beauty of Seychelles’ natural environment, and we strengthen our resolve to nurture and protect it for the well-being of current and future generations of Seychellois and visitors to the islands.
The first Protected Area in Seychelles was established in 1979 with the creation of the St Anne Marine National Park. By 2017, over 47% of Seychelles’ total land area is protected under the categories of Strict Nature Reserve, Ecological Reserve, National Park, Protected Landscape/Seascape or Sustainable Use Area. The Government of Seychelles has also committed to designating Protected Areas in over 30% of its marine EEZ.
The GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project is targeting four islands in the Outer Islands of Seychelles, namely Alphonse, Desroches, Farquhar and Poivre, to be declared National Protected Areas. Currently researching and collecting data on species biodiversity and abundance in these pristine terrestrial and marine habitats, ICS is instrumental in presenting a strong case for their ongoing conservation management and sustainability.
Whose Egg Is That? You guessed it – a Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii stands guard by its egg on Bancs du Sable of the Farquhar Atoll in the Outer Islands of Seychelles.
Greater Crested Terns prefer offshore islands for nesting, where they choose a flat open site to create a shallow scrape in bare sand, rock or coral. . A single egg (very occasionally two) is incubated for 25 – 30 days. Chicks fledge at 30 – 40 days but remain dependent on their parents until 4 months.
Foraging generally in the shallow waters of lagoons, coral reefs, estuaries, bays and inlets within 3km of their breeding site, they feed predominantly on pelagic fish, supplemented by cephalopods, crustaceans, and opportunistically for insects and even sea turtle hatchlings. No wonder this one has chosen pristine and biodiverse Farquhar.
The last confirmed breeding at this location was in 2000, so we are very encouraged by this fresh siting by the ICS Conservation Team. Stay tuned!
Our Farquhar Team were excited to discover this nest on Bancs de Sable recently. Can you name the species? Hint: It's the first confirmed record for this area in 17 years!
A long year of school learning is finished, you are ready for holidays – how do you relax and recharge? By spending another week learning in the best outdoor classroom ever – a remote island of the Seychelles archipelago.
Eight lucky Seychellois students aged 11 to 16 years did just that from 11 – 15 December 2017, when they were chosen as EcoSchool Ambassadors to visit the outer island of Desroches, at the invitation of Islands Development Company (IDC). It was a week of amazing new experiences – lifechanging, they say.
Chosen for their dedication to protecting our natural environment, students were apprenticed to ICS and IDC staff to learn about conservation, sustainable development, outer island management and daily life.
From beach patrols to tortoise feeding, coral spotting to native plantings, the ICS Conservation Team were impressed with the students’ enthusiasm, knowledge and willingness to try many new activities throughout the week.
Whilst night beach patrolling, the students mimicked the calls of nesting Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna pacifica and were delighted to hear the birds respond, helping to locate nesting burrows. Large numbers of Horned Ghost Crabs Ocypode ceratophthalmus were night-scavenging on the retreating tide, running around and over and around the students’ feet. They were surprised yet undeterred from their patrol!
Students participated in a turtle stranding recovery and autopsy. “We were impressed with the high level of understanding and maturity displayed by the students. This whole experience was a good example of why turtles need protection, as this was an apparently healthy individual which died of an unknown cause. We were able to discuss the natural vulnerability of such wildlife, even without the threat of poaching”, said Conservation Officer Matthew Morgan.
Rubbish was collected on daily morning beach walks and some was recycled as Christmas tree ornaments. Students also loved helping in the native tree nursery and planting their own native trees as part of the island’s Vegetation Restoration Management Plan. “Even though the kids were very tired after their hectic schedule they still came out and planted their trees (in the rain!). Everybody learned a lot about why conservation is important for the island, and we have mounted the documents they created on our wall as a display”.
The successful EcoSchools Educational Trips Programme continues with the first group of students for 2018 arriving this week on Silhouette Island for their own Nature Adventures with ICS and IDC. Stay tuned for their dispatch!
Fisheries throughout the world are in crisis. The protection of fish spawning aggregations is a global conservation issue. Many of the world’s most productive fisheries are operating in less than optimal conditions. Certain stocks have already collapsed. Why?
One major cause is that some fishing operations specifically target spawning aggregations, where fish are readily located in large numbers and easy to catch while distracted by spawning. This makes some species more susceptible to overexploitation. In extreme cases, it leads to the disappearance or effective reproductive failure of aggregating populations. It is thus imperative that good local fisheries management protocols are put in place to ensure the sustainability of global fisheries.
Fishing in the Outer Islands of Seychelles is often described as amazing, with large specimens of grouper, snapper and emperor being common in the catch. Many of these fishes are slow growing and late maturing, and their population can be quickly decimated by increasing fishing effort. With key species in the demersal fishery on the Mahé Plateau considered as already over-exploited, many local fishing vessels are venturing further afield into the Outer Islands.
Increased pressure by local fishing fleets and foreign-flagged vessels engaged in illegal fishing in the Outer Islands, a lack of harvest control rules and an effective monitoring, control and surveillance programme can easily lead to a situation of overfishing and a loss of Seychelles’ key species.
Sustainable environmental management is a main focus in the operation of Islands Development Company (IDC). IDC partner with Island Conservation Society (ICS) to lead their conservation efforts. One of the tasks of ICS is to monitor the subsistence fishery that takes place in the Outer Islands. However, to date monitoring methods have varied among islands. A new Subsistence Fisheries Monitoring Protocol has been developed which will standardise subsistence fisheries monitoring across the Outer Islands and ensure that data is collected in a uniform way. This standardisation will allow for more detailed analysis and pave the way for greater and more meaningful research and sustainable management decisions to be enacted.
A 3-day training session was held in September 2017 to build capacity in monitoring subsistence fisheries on the Outer Islands and document spawning aggregations. The training was led by local marine expert, Dr Jude Bijoux, who was assisted by Ms Aurelie Duhec and Mr Richard Jeanne from ICS. The ICS Team has spent the past six years working at Alphonse and Farquhar with the IDC fishermen, and helped to design the subsistence fisheries monitoring protocol with their assistance. Dr Bijoux was also assisted by Ameer Ebrahim, a Seychellois PhD Candidate with the University of Queensland in Australia and in affiliation with the Seychelles Fishing Authority. Mr Ebrahim’s research is specifically focused on the role of herbivorous fish species such as rabbitfish and parrotfish and the influence they have on the resilience of coral reefs in Seychelles.
The 15 participants from ICS, Green Islands Foundation and the Seychelles National Parks Authority undertook theoretical sessions to master the protocols and statistical data analysis, as well as practical sessions at the SFA laboratory and diving practicals at Baie Ternay with Underwater Centre.
Participant Licia Calabrese (ICS) shared her views on the training:
“This was a great and very effective training opportunity. The procedures were clear and well explained. Working on islands, there are lots of logistical difficulties – I found it very clever how the protocol is designed so you can collect meaningful data very quickly and simply. Then if you have enough resources, you can collect more details later to achieve a deeper level of complexity. Building on our theoretical training with the practical sessions really helped our learning. The diving was fun of course, and we could actually experience and practice our skills, like estimating fish size and transect lengths - first on land and then in the water. Finally, the data analysis training using R gave everyone the chance to manipulate what we had collected, and we are now able to confidently do it ourselves. It’s a really useful approach – all protocols should be designed like this!”
The production of the subsistence fishery monitoring protocol and a protocol for the monitoring of spawning aggregations in the Outer Islands is an activity under the Government of Seychelles (GoS), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded “Expansion and Strengthening of the Protected Area Subsystem of the Outer Islands of Seychelles and its Integration into broader Land and Seascape” project.
FAD-Watch partner organisations Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), Islands Development Company (IDC), Island Conservation Society (ICS) and the Spanish Purse-seining organisatioon AGAC-OPAGAC met in Seychelles last month to review progress over the last 18 months since the FAD-Watch Programme’s inception.
Fish aggregating devices (FADs) are man-made floating platforms set in the ocean by fishing vessels to attract fish and make them easier to catch. When this purpose drifts, as do the FADs, fragile marine life, coral reefs, lagoons and beaches can suffer.
The FAD-WATCH project has developed a system which enables ICS Conservation Teams to monitor FADs entering 5- and 3 nautical mile buffer zones around Seychelles islands managed by IDC. FAD monitoring software, provided to ICS by FAD manufacturers SatLink and Marine Instruments, can report FAD positions at very short intervals. This means ICS can constantly track FADs and monitor their movements as they approach reef and land. If a FAD has drifted inside the 5 mile zone, ICS can then intervene to retrieve it prior to beaching. This prevents damage to coral reef, seagrass and beach habitats, as well as stopping the FAD becoming marine pollution or worse, a death trap for non-target marine species such as turtles, sharks and billfish.
The objective is to obtain information on the impacts from FADs in Seychelles using real data, rather than theoretical estimates obtained from past studies. This will enable us to accurately quantify the number of potential FAD beaching events and evaluate the efficiency of the Project to date in preventing such destructive beaching events. ICS will be offering suggestions for more environmentally friendly and biodegradable FAD designs to further mitigate the issue.
A Report on the number of FAD beaching events that have been avoided thanks to ICS intervention in 2017 will be published in early 2018. The report will also estimate the total number of potential FAD beachings which would have occurred in the absence of ICS interception.
The first of its kind in the world, FAD-WATCH is a great example of successful collaboration between a coastal state administration, local NGOs, and the fishing industry. It is now time for other fleets to join the Project to help Seychelles achieve reef and beach environments that are totally free from FAD debris, by 2020.