Friday, November 19, 2010

Turtle nesting season 2010

The hawksbill turtles (kare) and the Green Turtles (torti ver) are the most common marine turtles known by most Seychellois. On rare occasions the loggerhead (torti nanmkoyo) and the leather turtles (torti karanbol) can be seen as passers-by in our waters.

Is it true that time is running out for our turtles?

For us to understand this question, let us ask ourselves few simple questions: When was the last time you saw a turtle nesting on beach? When was the last time you saw turtle hatchlings rushing down the beach to the sea? What has been done to ensure that time is not running out for these charismatic creatures which wander our underwater world?

The turtle nesting season this year started quietly for many important nesting beaches in the Seychelles. The friends of the turtles all over our islands have been actively gearing up for this year’s nesting season and have been on the lookout to monitor the turtles coming ashore with the egg clutches. In some areas, sightings have been few; some beaches have been graced by the presence of the tracks while some have sheltered the eggs freshly laid by the females. Some females can come up several times to lay up to eight clutches during one nesting season.On Denis Island, turtles have been sighted numerous times; green turtles have been seen once late afternoon nesting and other times only the tracks and huge pits have been observed all around the island. Amazingly, over 10 pits were seen on a narrow stretch of the beach close to the lighthouse. Since early October, active monitoring for the hawksbill turtles have started; some walks have been spectacular as the turtles were found up the beach front. Other times, only the tracks could be seen. For the avid nature lovers who happened to be on the beach early Tuesday 2nd November, they were able to experience first hand a hawksbill turtle coming up on the beach, searching for the ideal spot, nest and returned back to the sea.

There were lots of “WOW”, “C’est merveilleux” as well as interesting questions about the biology and ecology of this charismatic organism. Early that same day, a nice couple happened to have their own private show of another turtle nesting and they videoed it as souvenir to take home.
Active monitoring is still ongoing and we are all patiently waiting for the first batch of hatchlings to emerge hopefully within the next month or so. Whether you are just a picnicker, a beach bum or just happen to wander around on a beach, keep an eye for any tracks and your ears open for any sand throwing all over the place, especially among the Scaevola sp. Inform a local who will take note of this organism’s status, as such information is valuable to further enhance its protection as well as provide additional knowledge of its ecology.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Eradication of Common Mynas from Denis Island, Seychelles, 2010 (Courtesy Prof. Chris Feare)

An attempt to eradicate Common Mynas Acridotheres tristis from Denis Island, Seychelles, began in late May 2010. The justification for the present control is evidence that mynas are directly and indirectly impacting negatively on the populations of some of the introduced endemic birds. An earlier attempt had been made, mainly using Starlicide (a toxicant that demonstrates some specificity to certain bird families, including mynas) in the early 2000s but this attempt was abandoned after a contemporaneous rat eradication attempt had failed; a subsequent rat eradication was successful. Now that four species of Seychelles endemic bird have been introduced to Denis, this toxicant is considered too dangerous for the endemics to be used as a primary control measure and the current attempt to remove mynas is centred on trapping.
In the initial stages two kinds of trap were built and tested: funnel traps, which rely on attractive food to entice mynas into the traps, and decoy traps, which use a live decoy myna in a central compartment to attract nearby mynas. Mist nets were also used in initial trials where flocks of mynas concentrated, as were fine nylon nooses placed on the ground among bait. In trials, only decoy trapping proved effective and the eradication attempt now relies almost entirely on decoy traps, although other techniques may be used later in the project.
Achievements to date

1. Demonstration of the effectiveness of decoy traps in Denis Island’s habitats (and of the poorer performance of funnel traps, mist nets and ground nooses).
2. In the first two and a half months of the project over 500 mynas have been caught, out of a population estimated at about 1000 birds before trapping began (Jildou van der Woude).
3. Discovery that when groups of traps are placed together, catch rate among traps is variable. Experimental manipulation showed this not due to trap location or possible variation in trap structure or operation, but was due to presence of a specific decoy myna. Elucidation of what constitutes a “super-attractive” myna could improve trapping success.
4. Discovery that iris colour changes as juveniles mature, and that it is variable in adult mynas. Whether this variation represents continuing maturity, and is therefore related to age, or whether it is part of an annual cycle, or reflects mood of an individual, is unknown. Data are being recorded routinely among other features of all mynas caught. If a relation is found between iris colour and attractiveness as defined in section 3 above, this could be a pointer towards selecting attractive decoys.
Throughout May, at the beginning of the eradication, adult mynas were in wing moult, indicating that they were not breeding. In June wing moult was completed and breeding began. This was accompanied by a reduction in the rate at which birds were caught in decoy traps. A number of possibilities could explain this: requirement for different foods by nesting birds, reduced attraction to decoys and traps due to over-use of the decoys and lack of trap maintenance and cleaning, and reduced motivation of the trapper. Decoys were replaced with new birds and traps were overhauled, leading to a recovery in trapping rate. It appears that food choice of the birds did not change and that reduced motivation of the trapper led to lack of attention to the detail of trapping.
6. Comparative failure of funnel traps due largely to occupation of these by turtle doves (especially where food concentrations occur – see below) and crabs, mainly hermit crabs, when traps placed near the beach crest. Denis Island’s populations of Madagascar turtle doves, and also moorhens and mynas, are very high, indicating that the island provides abundant sources of food for them. The main food source concentrations identified are the pig farm, the food store on the northern coast, and the food offered to birds in the garden at the restaurant. Limitation of these food sources to birds would help to reduce the bird populations and would also help to reduce food wastage and its costs.
Lessons learned
We have within two and a half months removed almost half of Denis Island’s population of mynas and have additionally learned much new information about mynas and their behaviour in relation to trapping, including some insights into improvements that may be made. This success suggests that a major reduction in myna numbers on the island is feasible and that eradication should not be ruled out as a possibility and should remain the long-term goal. Decoy trapping is likely to remain the main tool but other techniques may need to be employed as numbers decline, with shooting at the nest being particularly important in the later stages.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sooty tern project

Previously, sooty terns Onychoprion fuscatus(formerly Sterna fuscata) nested on several island in the Seychelles group but on most islands, especially the smaller ones, colonies became extinct as a result of excessive egg and adult harvesting by people, introduction of exotic predators, and alteration of the habitat Following the successful eradication of rodents and felines early in 2000, Denis island proved to be an ideal site for such re-introduction as these characteristics coupled with food availability and proximity to the supplies proved key aspects that will cater for possible settlement. In addition, an area of ~2ha of open ground with attractant stimuli is available to encourage sooty terns to nest.

As part of Denis Island’s conservation effort, a sooty tern re-colonization programme was initiated in 2008, under the supervision of Professor Chris Feare. Sooties started to arrive on Denis early in June. The ‘wide-awake’ calls could be heard from the lighthouse area, all the way to the dive centre and the sooty tern area. For the month of June, every day was exciting as the situation with the sooty terns was unpredictable. There were days when hundreds of sooties flew over the island, to and fro in search of the ideal landing site and times when several birds landed for minutes and even hours. In the week of June, the island was a marvel to look at; high above in the sky as the colony moved from one end of the island to the next. There was one occasion where hundreds of sooties landed for hours, while some flew around trying to locate the perfect spot on the ground (see photo in side bar).

Friday 2nd July was particularly special to a lot of us who were present on the island. Though it was a rainy morning, there was excitement on the beach in front of the dive centre. More than 300 sooty terns landed on that beach, from the tip in front of the restaurant, right to the high water mark in front of the dive centre. It was unbelievable; having volunteers constantly monitoring their behaviour and movement at the designated area when the birds chose a different spot was quite disheartening for them. Helena and I were very lucky to be at the right place at the right time (See videos below and photos in side bar). It was amazing just to stand and admire those birds which not much is known of their migratory routes and behaviour post nesting season. Since then, the numbers have reduced considerably, with a handful being observed flying around every now and then.

Click on links below for footage of the sooty terns on the beach:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Coastal zone workshop on Denis Island

As part of the ReCoMaP’s funded coastal zone project, a stakeholder workshop was carried out in the first week of May on Denis Island. The main aim of the workshop was to introduce the stakeholders of Denis Island to the ReCoMaP project and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) processes The setting up of the beach profiling points and the turtle monitoring protocol as well as training on beach profiling methods, turtle identification and tagging were the key workshop outputs.. After the initial stakeholder consultations on Denis Island in April, GIF staff also included presentations on coastal erosion and turtle monitoring. Concerns on these aspects of the island were raised during the initial stakeholder consultations. A steering committee was set up as well on the island to ensure that the project is being implemented and at the same time promote conservation initiatives within the island community.
The potential steering committee members had already been shortlisted previously on Mahe with following discussions with the Managing Director of the Denis Island Development Pty Ltd. This was the more realistic approach to use when staff movement, shifts and the island’s everyday operations are taken into consideration. A large number of the proposed members included front office staff because they are generally the first point of contact with visitors of Denis Island and it was found that the selected members were very keen to participate in the project. A list of equipment which includes a desktop computer, turtle tags and an applicator, GPS, beach profiling poles and an abney level were given to the chairperson of the steering committee to assist in the monitoring of the key coastal indicators.
The first part of the workshop involved the various presentations on the key coastal indicators of the island, which pertain mostly to coastal dynamics and biodiversity. Great levels of interests were generated from the participants, following the theoretical aspects of the training. The level of enthusiasm for the field survey surely surpassed our expectation. The photos on the side bar illustrate this clearly. Setting up the beach profiling reference points: The project team decided to use the standard Seychelles beach profiling method that was officially launched in July 2003. The method was developed by Dr. Gillian Chambers and is simple and easy to use. GIF adopted this method so as to enable data comparison between islands as this method is the Seychelles’ standard. The GPS reference of each point was also recorded.
At the end of the workshop and during the island visit, the monitoring stations for the beach profiles were established (see map above), the first data set was collated and a group of keen volunteers was identified to partake in data collection.

Figure 1:Map of Denis Island with the location and number of the reference points for the beach profiling monitoring exercise and the 6 different turtle monitoring sections.
For more information on the workshop for the Grand Anse Praslin site, do check the Green Islands Foundation blog on:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

ReCoMaP project

The last three months have been very interesting with project implementation for the GIF team, on both Grand Anse Praslin and Denis Island. The project in question is related to integrated coastal zone management (ICZM), funded by the European Union under the Regional Coastal Management Programme (ReCoMaP).

Entitled “Modelling coastal zone management scenarios in Seychelles using Denis Island and Grand Anse Praslin as pilot sites” this project aims to.address the management issues and user conflicts so as to develop Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) models and technical tools for application on other coasts of Seychelles.

Initiation of this project has been interesting as it allows us to work very closely with local communities dealing with several coastal zone issues, which range from sand movement, coastal hydrodynamics, beach cast and turtle nesting grounds. One of the key aspects of this project which was greatly considered in stakeholder workshops (See next post) is the identification of key community members to form the steering committee at each pilot site. The steering committee will assist greatly in the project implementation, namely in data collection which in the end, will provide the tools to develop an ICZM model and its functioning mechanism at the end of the project. This essential tool will provide the management framework that ensures stakeholders’ operations, meet government policy objectives and at the same time respect the rights of other stakeholders in the community. In the end, it will also provide guidance on environmentally-friendly operations.
There is also a wide array of overarching national stakeholders, namely Ministry of National Development (GIS Unit), Ministry of Environment Natural Resources and Transport (Environmental Engineering and Wetlands Section) and the Planning Authority. At the end of the project, we hope that such key model developed will be adopted at national level, in order to better understand and hopefully manage our coastal zone and its abundant resources.

Please click on the link below to read the full Newspaper article produced prior to the stakeholder workshop for each site:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

GIF Staff and work progress

It has been a while since you last read our blog-a lot has happened in terms of project initiation and ongoing activities. I thought it is high time to spare a few hours just to put thoughts on paper so as to share our experiences of the past few months. Several; exciting activities and projects have kick-started and hence, I have not had the time to put everything in writing. I apologise for the delay and I do hope that you will enjoy reading this update.

Following the submission of the first blog by a new person for the year 2010, I find it necessary to introduce myself as well as the other new staff of Green Islands Foundation (GIF). My name is Michelle Etienne and I am the new General Manager of Green Islands Foundation. I graduated from James Cook University in Townsville, Australia with a BSc in Marine Biology and aquaculture. My childhood dream of working within the marine realm came true indeed, and coupled with my work experience from the marine research section of the Marine Parks Authority, I felt equipped with the necessary tools to take up this post. One thing which drew me to GIF is the fact that I am tackling conservation biology and management from a different perspective that is on islands which have made great initial progress in conservation on both national and international fronts. Moreover, these islands have so much to offer in terms of potential research and conservation initiatives. My background is mostly concentrated on marine conservation biology and also broad coastal zone management research. With this job, I am hoping to share my knowledge at the same time enhancing it, to gain maximum in all aspects pertaining to the natural environment of Seychelles.

GIF has also welcomed its Project Manager Mrs. Helena Francourt in March, to assist in the implementation of various projects, notably the newly initiated ReCoMaP project, which started in the 2nd week of March on the Island of Praslin, one of the pilot project sites.
This is what Helena has to say about herself:
“From a very early age I felt drawn to the music of the oceans that surround the Seychelles islands. This is not hard to imagine as I am sure many who have visited the Seychelles Islands will understand. For those who haven’t, our islands are characterised by turquoise waters, golden strands, striking reefs which are bursting with life of all shapes and sizes and all colours of the rainbow. It is particularly the reefs that drew me to explore the marine world. The Seychelles’ reefs are where the coral gardens absorb the intense light from our tropical sun, and the most striking of colours and combinations burst out and are revealed. It is always a gobsmacking experience to dive in the Seychelles.
By the age of 12, I was adamant that I would pursue a career in marine conservation. I started diving as soon as I was old enough to do so and by 18 years of age I was a qualified PADI dive master, working in dive centres during the school holidays. As a student I was also a very active environmental campaigner, participating in many environmental activities such as nature trail clearing, essay writing and public speaking competitions and so on. In the year 2000 my environment club won the prize of all environment club’s dreams; a trip to Aldabra! I am also therefore, one of the very few Seychellois and people of the world in fact who have had the opportunity to visit and dive on this atoll. It is in fact the most beautiful place I have ever visited and the experience is etched within me.
Not long after this life changing experience, I was off to Australia to study Marine Biology! No surprises there! I aced my way through my university exams and was accepted into the Marine Biology Advanced Programme which is designed to mould students for independent research and honors year. Upon my return to the beautiful Seychelles, I worked as a research officer at the Seychelles Centre for Marine Research and Technology (SCMRT) in the Marine Parks Authority. The experience I gained there was very fulfilling. To further diversify and gain different experiences, something which is very important to do here in the Seychelles, I moved to the Green Islands Foundation (GIF) this year (2010). I believe that this will provide endless opportunities to grow and learn about other aspects of conservation other than marine. These include endemic bird introductions and habitat restoration to name a few. I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead and I am ready to tackle them head on!”

GIF also has an environmental officer, namely Mr. Phil Greenwell working on Denis island, our key project site where we conduct numerous projects, such as the coastal zone management. Phil joined us in April to oversee the magpie robin programme and at the same time getting geared up for Professor Chris Feare’s visit for the sooty tern season and the mynah eradication projects. The two projects started in mid-May. (More details on these projects will be provided in the next post). Phill is based on Denis Island working on a variety of conservation projects. His main responsibilities are myna bird control; feeding & monitoring of the endangered Seychelles Magpie Robin and turtle monitoring.
Since graduating from Reading University in 2009 with his MSc in Wildlife Management & Conservation Phill has lectured BSc students in Animal Management before undertaking his current role with G.I.F. With extensive experience in captive animal management Phill has also gained conservation experience with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in South Wales and the Department of Conservation & Land Management in Western Australia. Avian behavior and management are his main areas of interest, with academic work looking at invasive species (Rainbow lorikeet in Western Australia); preening behavior (inhibitory role of uropygial oil on feather bacteria) and impacts of wild bird trade on conservation. Born and raised in Wales, Phill has travelled widely for work, volunteer, pleasure and education purposes.
The months of March and April were mostly to initiate the ICZM project sponsored by the EU through the ReCoMaP, on both Denis Island and the Grand Anse- Amitie coast of Praslin, two key representative areas of ICZM scenarios in the country (see newspaper article in next post). A list of equipment was purchased to facilitate project implementation, notably in identifying and monitoring of key indicators on each site. Stakeholder analysis and consultations were carried out to assist in the key indicator identification that is, finding the key issues that seem problematic to the local community. A stakeholder workshop was organised at each pilot site with the aim of disseminating information about integrated coastal zone management and also provide training to the residents on the ways to monitor their key indicators, notably turtle monitoring and beach profiling (See photos in side bar).

In May, Denis Island welcomed Professor Chris Feare, who arrived for this year’s sooty tern re-colonisation project as well as to initiate the mynah eradication programme.The first Sooty Tern to be recorded over the ‘sooty tern area’ in 2010 was seen on 1st June, and on 3rd June the first landing was observed. In the mornings and afternoons Sooty terns are now seen frequently over the area and several birds have landed for short or longer periods (one for 40 minutes) (Feare, 2010). There is photographic evidence that mynah birds are major nest predators and competitors to a lot of birds on the island, notably the introduced endemics such as the Seychelles magpie robin and the paradise flycatcher. As a means of control of this invasive alien species on the island, it was necessary to initiate such a programme (See next post).

The last three months have been busy with project initiation and ongoing projects, which have been positive in their outcomes. So far I can say that the GIF team have learnt a lot and seen a whole lot of things from a different perspective.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My first Denis Island Experience

Sunday 21st February was a very interesting day for me- I got to visit Denis Island for the first time! I did not know what to expect as I’ve read so much the island and liking it instantaneously, without really knowing it! As the plane hovered over the island, I sat in awe as I stared down at the crystal clear waters and the array of greens, clearly visible from high above. The first sight of the island surely impressed me. Once the plane landed, I was met by a number of the island staff, from both the hotel and the estate; at that point in time, I knew that there will be lots to do and learn around the island! I was then introduced to Mr. Camille Hoareau who was going to show me around the island to provide me with a good insight of the ‘real thing’ in situ.

After the plane left, it was back to usual business for everyone. I was driven to the staff canteen to enjoy a nice Sunday lunch before checking out my accommodation and doing the island tour. Seeing the mix of staff of the island was interesting- my presence arose some curiosity but before lunch was over, I have talked to several staff and got their perspectives of the island and its biodiversity. My first impression of the island was one of absolute awe; peaceful surrounding with various bird species flying around, perfect sunny weather giving a nice aura to the grass, while the waves slowly splash on the beautiful sandy beaches. With these characters showing off to me, I knew then and there that the island has a lot to offer and its biodiversity is simply amazing, hence worth preserving!

The tour of the island was done in a golf car with Mr. Hoareau as the driver and my camera in focus, to try and capture the best shots as we drove along and stopped at the various sites of interests. Some of the most fascinating things I saw was a Seychelles warbler and a Seychelles magpie robin (Copsychus sechellarum) (photo in side bar) coming quite close to the golf car, following Mr.Hoareau’s call. Driving past and through the woodland forest, I saw the feeding stations of the SMR empty, even if food had just been placed. However, not one of the birds was in sight. The native woodland forest is evergreen and rich of life (picture in side bar); constant bird calls resonating from its every corner are simply amazing. Moving on, I got the chance to see the ongoing rehabilitation area, where young coconut seedlings are pulled out- the shoots are mashed up to provide fodder for the livestock on the estate. Papaya grows in great abundance all around the island and it is amazing to see the size of the fruits on those thin trees. Even if they are found within the woodland boundary and other prime land, the fruits are also used as food source for humans and the livestock. Nothing is wasted really- accumulated seaweeds during the monsoons are placed in a big stack to allow rinsing when it rain and decomposition into more ‘friendly’ materials to be used as compost on the vegetable garden.
Other problematic invasive species are removed from the forest in order to allow young native seedlings to proliferate. This activity is laborious but it is worth mentioning that the estate staff with the help of the management staff is determined to keep it going- well done guys! Lots of effort and investment are being put in the restoration and maintenance of near-natural habitats. This is an ongoing and never-ending venture which must be applauded and further encouraged, to allow continuity and eventually engage other islands to follow suit.

Sometimes we don’t really understand how Nature works! Driving along the coastline, I noticed that there are serious erosion issues, leading to loss of beach materials and vegetation, including beautiful but enormous casuarina trees- a real shame!! There are plans to mitigate some of the vegetation loss and beach erosion, once the ICZM project, funded by the ReCoMaP kick-start. It will not be the answer to this problem, but it will provide a certain degree of coastline protection in the long run. New and large beaches have been formed and large amounts of materials have been transported all along the coastline. This in turn leads to ‘suffocation’ and displacement of coastal vegetation as the plants are fully exposed to other natural elements and the open sea. Large trees such as casuarina that have been resident on the coast are now disappearing at very fast rate, thus raising alarm on the urgency for mitigative measures to be put in place.

Driving past, I noticed a very distinct spot at Bel Etoile beach where the coastal features have molded the reef flat into wonderful architecture; the sight was indeed mesmerizing. This site was very popular for wedding ceremonies but with time, the system has disintegrated with prolong wave erosive actions. Such loss really prompts the urgent need to act now, so as to, if possible, lessen such impact on other coastal features.

As the sun went down, I stood in total amazement as myriads of birds came to settle on their favorite branches and trees for the night. I made a new friend, a fairy tern which was curious to observe what I was doing with the camera. I tried to take its photo but it was too busy playing and in the end, I chose to admire them all! Once darkness settled in, I made my way to settle for the night.

The next morning, I decided to have an early morning walk with my camera with the idea of capturing some other good shots. Everywhere was quiet and there was not much action; I diverted to the kitchen for breakfast as it was uneventful. I encountered a brown noddy chick taking its time to get around. It was friendly as it proudly stood to pose for me (photo on side bar) and I was happy to get my first photo for the day. As the sun rose higher up, it started to get very hot and wandering around the island for photos mid-morning was becoming quite a task. By then it was also time to get my bag ready for my return trip back to Mahé, so I headed back to the house.

It had been a very interesting first trip which have impressed me a lot and giving me the feeling to return as soon as possible. It was amazing to see what lies within the trees and branches of Denis Island and to have a good insight as well as the element of surprise as to what will be waiting for me when I return soon, to get started on the coastal zone project!