Seychelles success story
This week BirdLife International and Nature Seychelles (BirdLife in Seychelles) are celebrating the anniversary of one the world’s greatest conservation success stories. In 1968, Cousin Island was purchased by the International Council of Bird Preservation (ICBP now BirdLife International) to save the last remaining population of Seychelles Warbler Acrocephalus sechellensis from extinction. Forty years on, warbler numbers have risen by 300%, and the island has been transformed from a coconut plantation to a profitable Nature Reserve which greatly benefits local people and global biodiversity.
Cousin Island – a small island in Seychelles - is today home to a wealth of globally important wildlife. It is the most significant nesting site for Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata in the Western Indian Ocean, and supports over 300,000 nesting seabirds of seven species. Cousin also hosts five of the Seychelles’ eleven endemic land-birds including: Seychelles Magpie-robin Copsychus seychellarum (Endangered), Seychelles Sunbird Nectarinia dussumieri, Seychelles Fody Foudia seychellarum and Seychelles Blue-pigeon Alectroenas pulcherrima.
“Seychelles Warbler population was so small that a single severe weather event could have caused their extinction” —Dr Mike Rands, BirdLife’s CEO and Director
Until 1968 Cousin was a coconut plantation which had lost most of its native vegetation. The Seychelles Warbler was almost extinct and fewer than 30 birds remained in the world; being confined mostly to a mangrove swamp on Cousin. In response, ICBP launched a world wide campaign and bought the island with the aim of saving the warbler. That year Cousin was declared a legally protected Nature Reserve by the Seychelles Government.
“Seychelles Warbler population was so small that a single severe climate, disease or man made event could have caused their extinction”, said Dr Mike Rands – BirdLife’s CEO and Director. “Transformation from a coconut plantation to an ecologically-restored island was achieved through careful habitat management and preventing alien predators - such as rats - from arriving”.
Conservation on Cousin has enjoyed great success with a 300% increase in the population of Seychelles Warbler over the last 40 years. Furthermore, translocation of Seychelles Magpie-robin from Fregate Island contributed to it’s downlisting from Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. The population on Cousin is now being used to seed a new magpie-robin population on nearby La Denis.
“Our aim is to keep this incredible reserve totally reserved for conservation” —Nirmal Shah, CEO of Nature Seychelles
In 1974 Cousin, and it’s surrounding marine area, was further designated a Special Reserve - the highest protection level currently applied in Seychelles. Today, Cousin is managed as an integrated seascape reserve by Nature Seychelles and activities include monitoring the island's biodiversity, undertaking research, re-introducing endangered species and promoting ecotourism. The island now receives around 10,000 visitors each year.
“Saving the Seychelles Warbler also saved other endemic birds, globally important seabirds, Critically Endangered marine turtles, precious coral reefs and fish”, said Nirmal Shah - CEO of Nature Seychelles. The Reserve’s coral reefs support some of the highest biomass of fish which are important to local Seychelois fishermen. “Our aim is to keep this incredible reserve totally reserved for conservation. We employ only local wardens, and ensure that income generated through eco-tourism goes towards management of the reserve. It’s important that local communities and Cousin’s wildlife jointly benefit from any revenue generated”.
The successful model for managing the reserve developed by Nature Seychelles has been used by private land owners, governments and NGOs alike for restoring and managing conservation sites and islands and for training conservationists in the Indian Ocean. As a result, Nature Seychelles – celebrating their 10th anniversary this year – have won several prizes including the ‘Conde Nast Traveler Ecotourism Award’, the ‘British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Highly Commended Award’ and the ‘BirdLife Africa Alice Bhukoli Award’.
“Nature Seychelles deserves their international recognition for successfully marrying wildlife conservation with sustainable eco-tourism”, said Hazell Shokellu Thompson – Head of BirdLife Africa Partnership Secretariat.
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Credits: Nature Seychelles