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.
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.
Island Conservation Society, University of Seychelles’ Island Biodiversity and Conservation Centre (UniSey IBC) and SAFRING, the Southern African Region Birdringing Scheme, recently teamed up for a week on the Seychelles Nature Reserve of Aride Island to train conservation professionals in bird ringing, mist net techniques and data management.
Aride was chosen as the ideal location for the immersion course, thanks to the diversity of endemic land birds and migratory seabird colonies present, with the bonus of easy access from Praslin, good facilities and a variety of intact natural (and beautiful) habitats.
Bird ringing and marking helps researchers learn more about bird biology and ecology, estimate population size, study migrations and identify possible threats. Tagging is particularly useful for species with a global range, such as migratory seabirds. Ringing also helps identify individuals in severely threatened populations.
Participants worked intensely over the five days to ring 379 birds, mostly Seychelles Fodys, a tiny endemic bird that inhabits woodland and gardens. Other species tagged included Seychelles Sunbirds, Seychelles Warblers (Aride Island is home to over 80% of the world’s population), Madagascar Turtle Doves, White-Tailed Tropicbirds, Lesser Noddys, Brown Noddys, Fairy Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and Tropical Shearwaters. The population of endangered Seychelles Magpie Robins including a new chick, were also ringed.
The course was conducted prior to the popular Ecotourism season (November to May), to ensure minimal disturbance to the birds. Training was financed under the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) project: ‘Advancing Environmental Management Practices & Threatened Species Recovery through Partnerships with Private Sector’.
Thanks to CEPF, IBC UniSey, SAFRING and congratulations to all the participants on their new skills.
A Reef Manta Ray Manta alfredi joins the ICS Poivre Team during last week's inaugural Coral Reef Monitoring Survey. Under the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project, the team collected baseline data on coral reef health and marine biodiversity. Ongoing annual surveys will compare the extent of bleaching, resilience and recovery in this fragile system. High marine biodiversity and abundance was observed, which will help classify potential Marine Protected Areas for ongoing conservation zoning in Seychelles' Marine Spatial Plan. ID photos of the unique spot pattern on the manta's underside have been sent to the Seychelles' Manta Ray Project, as part of ICS's collaboration with the Manta Trust to build a database of sightings in the Western Indian Ocean. Stay tuned!
Silhouette Island in the Seychelles inner grantics is known as a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, one of the richest in the Indian Ocean. Many of Seychelles’ 85 endemic plant species are found here. BirdLife International recognises the island as an Important Bird Area with habitat for some of Seychelles’ iconic terrestrial species as well as migratory seabirds. Silhouette is also home to the world’s largest colony of the critically endangered Seychelles Sheath-tailed Bat.
Silhouette Island is 93% National Park, its surrounding waters designated a Marine National Park due to its abundant biodiversity and unique natural environment. New and rare species are still being discovered. New threats also are emerging. Dynamic conservation management is an urgent priority for the island.
In this vein, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) recently funded a workshop aimed at developing a new biosecurity program for Silhouette Island.
Seventeen local participants from Islands Development Company (IDC), Island Conservation Society (ICS) and Hilton Labriz Seychelles Resort and Spa recently spent a day learning about the vital role of biosecurity practices to the island.
Training focused on identifying biodiversity risks and highlighted the threats posed by invasive species. Activities included a quiz and the opportunity to design an Entry Protocol for the La Passe Jetty, the main point of arrival onto the island. Trainers Wilna Accouche and James Millet delivered the course jointly in Creole and English. Participants engaged enthusiastically and have already requested advanced training once the program is in place.
Under the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project (OIP), biosecurity training is also being undertaken for the more remote islands of Desroches, Alphonse, Farquhar and Poivre. Despite their seeming isolation, these islands are also highly vulnerable to threats from invasive species, along with unsustainable development and resource management practices. The Outer Islands Project Coordination Unit (PCU) is working in close collaboration with CEPF to produce brochures, posters, banners and signage highlighting biosecurity issues and solutions.
A big thank you goes to CEPF for funding this important work, and to Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa, IDC and ICS for empowering their staff to participate in this project for the conservation of Seychelles’ natural environment and beautiful Silhouette Island.
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Colony rediscovered on St Francois Atoll
Saint François Island, at the southern tip of Seychelles’ Amirantes chain, is a haven for thousands of migratory birds. The island hosts small breeding colonies of Black-naped Terns Sterna sumatrana (Dyanman Likou Nwanr, in Creole) and Fairy Terns Gygis alba (Golan Blan) are scattered across the island. Crab Plover Dromas ardeola (Kavalye Loulou) is without a doubt the finest wader species to inhabit the Red Mangrove Rhizophora mucronata forests (Mangliye Rouz), which are also home to uncountable numbers of Fiddler Crabs Uca tetragonon (Loulou Grangalo).
Saint François Atoll in the Alphonse Group sprawls over 5,400 hectares; one-third turquoise lagoons and two-thirds endless reef flats. The second island of the atoll, the tiny Bijoutier Island at just two hectares hosts a large breeding colony of Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica (Fouke Dezil), comprising over 50 pairs. A second smaller breeding colony at Alphonse Island is threatened with extinction by introduced rats and cats. Nests are protected by a grid of rodenticide bait stations, combined with rat and cat trapping. The colony is closely monitored by Island Conservation Society (ICS) staff, who have been resident on the island since the establishment of its Conservation Centre in February 2007.
Discovering a colony of a burrow-nesting, nocturnal seabirds is challenging. Birds feed offshore during the daytime, only returning to land late at dusk. In the early dawn they depart again to fish. In Seychelles, the breeding activity of the birds is synchronized. Late July – September are generally spent courting and establishing nest sites. During this time the adults’ eerie calls and duets punctuate the skies around the colony site, sounding strangely like the cries of a human baby. Egg laying takes place at the end September / October, the nest expertly excavated to the base of a deep burrow. Throughout incubation and fledging, young birds are inconspicuous inside these well camouflaged burrows. Some aspects of fledging behaviour still remain a mystery. Evidence suggests that parents stop feeding their fattened chick whilst still in its burrow. As its plumage develops to fledging stage, the chick’s hunger encourages it to leave the nest and fly independently to sea. Here it will rejoin its parents to learn how to fly and fish.
Wedge-tailed Shearwaters range across the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans at latitudes between roughly 35°N and 35°S. As ground-nesting birds they are particularly vulnerable. Threats to populations include loss of food through unsustainable levels of fishing by humans, predation by invasive species such as rats and cats, and predation by humans. Although illegal in many countries, birds are still captured as a food source, including occasionally in Seychelles. Breeding colonies are primarily known from Australia, Saipan, New Caledonia, Hawaii, Mexico, Mauritius and Seychelles.
Early accounts of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters breeding at St. François date from 1951 to 1959. Desiré Gendron, who managed Alphonse Island at that time, reported that the island was home to Fouke Dezil. There were no further reports until more than half a century later, when a fluttering WTS chick was found by Ralph Meyer-Rust, Alphonse Hotel Manager from 2008 to 2013. Ralph’s further investigations in 2013 confirmed the most southerly population of this species known to be breeding in Seychelles.
Since 2013, ICS’ field searches to locate breeding burrows and estimate population size had all failed. However, ICS staff refused to abandon the cause, knowing that success is often reached by walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm!
Finally, in October 2017, a breakthrough! While conducting a population census of Red-footed Booby Sula sula (Fou Bet) at Saint François Island, where that species night-roosts in spectacular numbers, the Alphonse ICS Team heard eerie calls coming from inside the Coconut Forest.
ICS Conservation Officer Pep Nogués recalls, “Intrigued, with just a couple of headlights and the omnipresent moonlight to guide us, we ventured into the forest. Five birds were sitting on the ground. On detecting our presence, two of them retreated rapidly into their burrows, excavated under fallen coconut leaves. A few other vocalizations were heard in the vicinity. After examining the area until midnight, our opportunistic survey had revealed the presence of at least five active burrows (5 pairs). To avoid further disturbance, we noted GPS coordinates and continued censusing the Fou Bet”. The ICS Conservation Team are justifiably proud of their efforts - undoubtedly, persistent dreamers are the saviours of the world!
Further surveys are now planned, which will help ICS to learn more about the breeding success and population trends for Wedge-tailed Shearwaters in Seychelles. This is a small yet important discovery for the species, and a clear sign that the wildlife of the Outer Islands is recovering thanks to the protection and surveillance that ICS and its partners of the Alphonse Foundation have established over the last decade.
Protected Areas such as these in Alphonse are essential for biodiversity conservation; and biodiversity is vital to support the two most important economies in Seychelles - Tourism and Fisheries.
Conservation efforts across the Outer Islands are benefitting from greater governmental priority under the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project to expand and strengthen the Seychelles Protected Areas system, which had previously focused on the Inner (Granitic) Islands and Aldabra. Expanding the country’s network of Marine Protected Areas within the Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone is already helping to preserve Seychelles’ natural environment and resources for future generations of Seychellois.
Aurelie Duhec and Richard Jeanne are Island Diehards. Since 2011 this tight team have tackled Conservation Management on the Seychelles Outer Islands of Desroches and Farquhar in the far reaches of the archipelago, working for Island Conservation Society (ICS). Yes, they live and work in one of the most beautiful regions of the Indian Ocean, on some days accompanied only by colonies of seabirds, turtles, sharks and rays. These they monitor daily, providing insights that excite researchers and nature enthusiasts the world over. Of course it's not all plain sailing. When Cyclone Fantala struck Farqhuar in April 2016, their newly established Conservation Centre - one of their proudest achievements for the Island - was completely wiped out, along with almost all the vegetation on the islands.
Yet they soon returned with renewed vigour and great enthusiasm to enact new programmes that now include fish catch and spawning aggregation monitoring, cetacean recording and manta ray population surveys. Then there were the beach clean ups, FAD removal operations and checking in on the giant tortoise population. The GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project targets Farquhar, along with Desroches, Alphonse and Poivre managed by ICS, as significant areas for protection, thanks, in part, to abundant marine and terrestrial biodiversity and globally important seabird colonies. With consistent conservation management and monitoring, such as Aurelie and Richard provided, these islands can continue their role of wild refuges long into the future.
As Aurelie says, "There is an end for everything, even for the most beautiful experiences. Richard and I have been extremely enthusiastic to work for ICS in the remote Seychelles Islands where we certainly have written our most exciting chapter of our life".
Thank you Richard and Aurelie, for everything you've achieved during your time with ICS, for your dedication and unfailing good humour. You will be missed. We wish you the very best in your new adventures!
Exciting Sightings of Marine Mammals in Seychelles Outer Islands of Desroches and Alphonse
The ICS Conservation Teams on the beautiful islands of Desroches and Alphonse Group have recently been treated to a natural spectacle as migrating humpback whales visited their sheltered waters and seemed in no hurry to leave.
Since mid-August affiliations of humpback whales, including at least one mother and calf pair, have been spotted playing, resting and feeding close to the islands.
Whales inhabit the ocean, but as mammals they must regularly come to the surface to breathe air, as turtles do. The huge spray of warm air produced by whales as they breathe out is called their “blow”. It can be up to three metres high and can be seen from a great distance.
On Desroches, on the morning of Sunday 20th August, the keen eyes of ICS Ranger Jean Claude-Camille spotted the blow of a whale 300 metres from the beach. Closer investigation aboard an IDC boat allowed ICS Conservation Officer Matthew Morgan to identify that it was a mother humpback with her calf. With the collaboration of two other boats, Russcat belonging to the hotel developers and the ICS boat Torti Blanc, the ICS Conservation Team identified at least three whales breaching within the lagoon in the North West and North East.
Humpback whales Megaptera novangliae leave their Southern Ocean feeding grounds each year and migrate north to breed and calve in warm sheltered waters closer to the equator. Mother humpbacks, in particular, often choose to spend time with their calves in lagoons and shallow waters where they have natural protection from predators such as sharks.
Under the GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project carried out by ICS, Conservation Teams monitor marine mammals around Desroches, Alphonse, Poivre and Farqhuar with autonomous acoustic recording devices and sightings. Close encounters are rare and very exciting for all involved. Data collected includes: GPS position, swimming direction, numbers, species and behaviour.
Regular monitoring helps to build knowledge of this important subject, which could help the Atolls gain protected status and open new areas of tourism.
Species identified in the Outer Islands in the past include orcas, sperm whales, bottlenose and spinner dolphins and dugongs, among others.
Many marine mammals are listed as vulnerable or endangered on the IUCN Red List, and the data collected in these remote areas helps to build a strong case for global conservation protection.
Last month ICS staff and volunteers and partners attended practical field training in seabird GPS tagging and data collection. Designed to enhance conservation outcomes for Seychelles’ important bird species, the data is already yielding results.
Conducting this training in the field at the height of Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern breeding season gave participants the opportunity to track movements and feeding behaviours of live birds. One interesting observation was that the Brown Noddys in this study conducted shorter, more frequent sorties to find food while incubating. This contrasted with a general pattern of longer but more occasional foraging trips of Sooty Terns.
The eager participants retained their enthusiasm from start to finish and realised practical skills in tagging, tracking, downloading and interpreting foraging behaviour data - which is vital to the ongoing conservation of these iconic seabird species and central to the Outer Island Project objectives.
This training was designed to minimise handling and disturbance to the birds. Participants were able to complete the entire procedure in under five minutes, and to observe the birds returning very quickly to their normal incubating behaviour.
Whilst Aride Island was chosen to conduct the course due to its accessibility, the skills learned will now be shared and soon in use on the other outer islands, namely Desroches, Poivre, Alphonse and Farquhar groups, all of which are home to large and globally important seabird colonies.