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A rare and beautiful sight - a small flock of flamingos forage for algae and shellfish in the brackish waters on Grand Terre, one of the largest islands in the Aldabra atoll (Rebecca Filippin/SIF) Photo Credits
It’s a spectacle very few people have had the privilege to have seen - a flock of wild flamingos on a remote and uninhabited coral atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
During the last two week of May 2015, a research team from the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), a public trust which manages the protected UNESCO World Heritage Site in Seychelles, happened across the birds wading through a pool of brackish water on the island of Grand Terre.
This is the Aldabra atoll, a group of raised coral islands encircling a shallow lagoon teeming with life such as sharks, turtles and fish of a staggering number and variety. Only a few people have the good fortune to make the journey here, some 1,100 kilometres away from the Seychelles main island of Mahé.
The jagged coral outcrops that make up the Aldabra islands are murder on the feet, but the flamingos have no such problems, their long pink legs stalking through the water, dipping their hook-like beaks into the water to search for algae and small shellfish.
More commonly seen wading through fresh water on the mainland of Africa, these birds are especially rare because Aldabra is one of only two oceanic islands where flamingos can be found, the other being on the Galapagos islands in the Pacific Ocean.According to April Burt, SIF’s Aldabra Scientific Coordinator, at Aldabra, some areas of the low-lying atoll become partially inundated with seawater during very high tides.
“The champignon (old coral reef structure), which is uneven, fills with water, [and] rainwater adds to these, creating brackish pools scattered across the landscape,” she said, that these pools of water create an ecosystem for which the flamingos are specially adapted.
However, the flamingos are not thought to be permanent residents on Aldabra, and it is thought they come from the nearby African countries of Kenya or Tanzania, where flamingos are known to abound in large flocks.
Not quite lawn ornaments: a pair of pink-tinged flamingos pose for the camera on the Aldabra island of Grand Terre (Rebecca Filippin/SIF)
Photo License: All Rights Reserved
The nesting conundrum
According to Burt, the first-ever record of flamingo on Aldabra was in 1882 when a flock of around 500 to 1000 birds was recorded. Since then there were continuous sightings, but for a long time no evidence of breeding could be found.
In 1967, a single fresh flamingo egg was found at Takamaka and a single flamingo was seen flying away, but the record was reportedly not accepted as evidence of breeding because only an egg was found and no nest.
The lightbulb moment came when six nests were found on Aldabra in 1995, and a few days later, SIF staff observed a small chick following the adults.
Easily spooked, tough to study
Little else is known about the birds behaviour on Aldabra however, because as yet no studies have been done to estimate their movements or population size, and sightings have been rare.
“Incidental sightings data has shown that flamingos have been recorded throughout the year, indicating a continual presence,” said Burt. “They are easily disturbed and therefore caution must be taken to prevent any interference or disruption to their behavior which makes it particularly hard to study them closely.”
For the same reason, Burt says It has not been possible to routinely monitor Aldabra's flamingo population over the years, so information on population size changes is not available.
“However, flocks as large as 70 have been recorded recently from photographic evidence and there are several locations where they have been sighted on numerous occasions indicating that they utilise a wide area of the Atoll, particularly Grande Terre,” added Burt.
Burt says the birds are not commonly seen on other islands in the Seychelles, probably due to a lack of suitable habitats, such as brackish and freshwater pools and the threat of human disturbance. However, she added that flamingo sightings have been made in the inner granitic islands of the Seychelles, such as on Cousine Island in 2013.
Article Source © Seychelles News Agency by Hajira Amla Victoria, Seychelles
The pristine forest of the Vallee de Mai, with its sheer abundance of gigantic palms and the arid Aldabra atoll dominated by hardy giant land tortoises on razor-sharp elevated corals are two sites in Seychelles that have been internationally recognised for their astounding natural beauty.
Located on the second most populated island of the Indian Ocean archipelago, the Vallee de Mai was declared a World Heritage site in 1983 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
With several species on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations body responsible for assessing risk of extinction of different species, it was undeniably a site that needed protection.
Its status gave Seychelles a second World Heritage Site, following that of Aldabra which was received a year earlier. The atoll located in the westernmost part of the Indian Ocean archipelago, has caught the attention of researchers for many years as an enigma for research in terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
A mature nut from the coco-de-mer palm. Each nut can weigh more than 30 kilograms, making them the largest seeds in the plant kingdom (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency)
With an average of ten ongoing annual research projects, the public trust responsible for managing both sites, the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) recently organized a symposium to create awareness among the archipelago's population of 90,000 on ongoing conservation efforts and the public trust's latest discoveries.
A forest of world records
Covering over 19 hectares of land, the Vallee de Mai is one of the main focal points for conservation efforts in the Indian Ocean archipelago, concentrating primarily on the fabled coco-de-mer, the largest nut in the world.
The coco-de-mer palm holds four records: its female flowers are the largest of any palm in the world, its seeds are the heaviest in the world, it produces the largest naturally-occurring fruit as well as the longest leaves of any flowering plant.
One conservation project undertaken by SIF reflects on the natural elements that allows the majestic trees reaching over 34 metres in height to flourish and produce huge fruits often exceeding 30 kilograms, in what is considered as ‘poor’ quality soil on Praslin, one of the few islands of the Seychelles archipelago where the nuts grow naturally.
The research on the ‘recycling’ trend amongst these stately palms, the regeneration of its nuts and its unique water funnelling techniques have been published in several journals.
Producing just one new leaf every year, the coco-de-mer leaves hold remarkable lifespan of over 50 years, perhaps the longest lifespan of any leaf in the plant kingdom.
The coco-de-mer nuts still in their outer husks in a palm tree at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Vallee de Mai (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo license: CC-BY
“The tests prove that the coco-de-mer increases its growth in the wet season and decreases its growth in dry season… however, the annual changes in leaf growth remains constant which means the declining trend we are seeing is not as significant - yet - but we need to continue to monitor this,” said Constance at the symposium. Moreover, 3rd-year BSc Environmental Science student Annabelle Constance from the University of Seychelles produced conclusive evidence using data collected from leaves over a period of six years that the growth of coco-de-mer is not affected by changes in rainfall patterns.
Breakthrough in avifauna research
Following the recent discovery by experts of Birdlife International that the Seychelles Black parrot is a distinct species, SIF has also boosted its research and protection of this species listed as ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’ by IUCN.
The birds number between just 500 to 900 individuals and are highly susceptible to predation and invasive species.
One SIF study concentrated on the breeding and feeding ecology of the Seychelles black parrot in order to increase knowledge on the national bird of Seychelles, which with their limited habitat, have been known to nest outside of the Vallee de Mai.
The national bird of Seychelles, the endemic and endangered Black Parrot (Gerard Larose, STB) Photo license: CC-BY
This attempt has been delayed mainly due to the threat of the ring-necked parakeet on the nearby main island of Mahe.“When the breeding season starts in November, we found that the birds did not concentrate on endemic plants which seems to be their favorite food but instead they flew further out to farming areas and residential areas…” says SIF’s Terrence Payet, adding that a highly-anticipated attempt to increase the birds' population by translocating the species to Silhouette Island, the thirld-largest and sparsely-populated island of the Seychelles, was still being finalized.
“To date we have had over 480 birds culled and 416 birds shot and we are estimating that there are less than 50 birds left on the island. With the decreasing number it is becoming harder to find them,” announced Laurent Leite at the symposium.
Leite, who oversees the eradication programme, also added that a possible sighting last year on Praslin of the parrot, known in Creole as ‘Kato Ver’, has until now not been confirmed.
The ring-necked parakeet is the latest of invasive species on a long list of threats ‘closing in’ on the pristine forest of Vallee de Mai and its endemic species, threats which includes mynah birds, yellow crazy ants, as well as a dozen invasive plants, the latter of which have been targeted by SIF in another ongoing eradication project.
The oldest World Heritage Site in Seychelles“We have removed 2,334 invasive species in over one year, using ring-barking and often herbicides which were drilled in the bark….some trees we’ve had to fell them [prematurely] because they would have posed a danger to the visitors in the Vallee de Mai trails and users of the main roads. We also undertook the removal of the saplings of treated adults,” Dainise Quatre said.
A similar project to eradicate invasive species, particularly aimed at getting rid of recurring sisal (Agave Sisalana) has already been completed on the raised coral atoll of Aldabra, a unique and isolated group of islands in the outlying western regions of the Seychelles archipelago.
The arrival of the invasive sisal, recorded since 1956, coupled with a threatening arrival of invasive birds such as the Madagascar fody and the red-whiskered bulbul, both tasks needing extensive efforts from SIF which coupled with over six other ongoing research in terrestrial and marine environment, has left the twenty or so staff on the atoll limited time on their hands.
SIF's research and exploration activities on the harsh and inhospitable atoll in 2014 were instrumental in the momentous re-discovery of the Aldabra banded snail last year, which was originally declared extinct in a paper published in 2007, and the latest news, that over one hundred of the pink-banded snails have been identified on the Aldabra island of Malabar, was received jubilantly by those in attendance at the symposium. Aldabra also boasts one of the largest nesting places of green turtles, with over five thousand nests recorded annually and the SIF revealed that future plans are in the pipeline to follow the juveniles when they leave the protected areas.
With a long history of terrestrial research, the Seychelles Island Foundation, SIF last year initiated a review of its marine biodiversity through a reef mapping project.
As their research projects continue, including the genetic identification of the Aldabra rail as a possible distinct species, SIF has also expressed their hope to bring Aldabra closer to the people of Seychelles.“There is a need to expand the protected areas [around Aldabra] which is currently in progress… we have noticed throughout our project that the characteristics of fish community and it’s abundance as well as diversity is unique to the atoll and this is why we think there is a greater need for greater protection of the atoll,” said Phillip Haupt, who was responsible for the marine research conducted last year on Aldabra, alongside his Seychellois SIF colleague, Daig Romain.
This will not only be through the annual trip of Seychellois school children to Aldabra, a project widely hailed as a success in education and outreach programmes, but also through a landmark project currently being finalized to build an interactive Aldabra visitor centre on Mahe, the most populated island of the Seychelles.
The Maritime Training Centre and the Seychelles Fishing Authority are building a new training vessel for the school, the SFA and the Ministry of Natural Resources have announced, saying 2013 has been a successful year for fisheries.
The vessel will be used to give practical training to students at sea in different fishing methods, especially the long-line, which the SFA is actively promoting locally.
The vessel is expected to be completed and delivered by early 2014. To ensure proper maintenance, it will be managed by Seychelles Fishing Authority and its qualified crew during its first year of operation.
The SFA has facilitated loans from the Fisheries Development Fund, through the Development Bank of Seychelles to finance the construction of 12 semi-long line vessels for local fishermen at a total cost of R50,622,000.
These vessels will join the others already operating locally and will need berthing space which is inadequate at the moment since the Providence artisanal port is already overcrowded.
“Seychelles’ second pillar of the economy – fisheries – has once again had a good year,” chief executive Finlay Racombo has said.
Natural Resources Minister Peter Sinon has praised the SFA board and team for all their hard work and dedication.
However, Minister Sinon added:
“The major work to reposition Port Victoria firmly as the most significant fishing Port in the Indian Ocean has only just started. We still have so much more to do to really take Seychelles’ fisheries to that other level. The progress that we have registered in 2013 leaves no room for doubting the direction we are heading and the determination to clock more milestone as we forge ahead. I am convinced that in the Western Indian Ocean region, we in Seychelles will truly rule the waves. All we need do is keep up the pace and efforts and forge ahead!”
The ministry said as the country consolidates its position as the number one fishing port in the Indian Ocean, SFA has turned its attention to enhancing what the country has in terms of infrastructure development. This has included the construction of a tuna industrial quay of 120 meters at Ile du Port – Zone 14. The project cost the Seychelles Fishing Authority R53 million. The SFA is now making provisions for the required utilities at this new quay to ensure smooth operations. With the new international buzz word, being the “Blue Economy” (of which concept Seychelles is among the pioneers to promote) of which fisheries and sea food are substantial components, SFA and partners have not hesitated to get things moving.
In October, Mr Sinon delivered a comprehensive statement to the National Assembly highlighting the efforts underway to ensure that our tuna fisheries industry or Seychelles ‘Blue Gold’ continue to yield for the country. He also reaffirmed Port Victoria’s ideal present condition as well as his ministry’s wish to attract more local and foreign investments to consolidate Port Victoria’s pole position status as the most significant industrial fishing port of the region.
New terms with EU from next month
The ministry and the SFA have successfully renegotiated the European Union/Seychelles Fisheries Protocol, with the EU during the first quarter of the year. The new protocol comes into force next month and will last for six years, with an increase in the grant contribution from Euro 2.2 million to Euro 2.6 million for the first two years and Euro 2.5 million to the other four years. Secondly, a rise in interest by major companies to invest in the industry has seen light of day following the minister’s pronouncements.
To ensure sustainable management of the ‘Blue Gold’, SFA has always worked in tandem with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. With piracy and illegal fishing posing severe threats to stocks, and to the industry this year, Seychelles ratified the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s “port state measures”. This is a result of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission resolution 2010. This is a legal instrument to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) of tuna and tuna-like species. It will enhance port state control and provide measures to implement an observers’ programme on tuna fishing vessels and at port entry points. Seychelles is the first country in the region to have ratified this instrument. Whilst with piracy it is on record that the Seychelles has and continues to pull way above its weight to put this scourge under total control.
The government has already started to develop an aqua and mari-culture masterplan. Through NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for African Development), the SFA secured funding to complete the Mari-culture Master Plan phase 2.
Mr Racombo says after the endorsement of the guidelines in phase 3, investors will be called to present their projects. This would enable a managed and planned roll out to this relatively new sub-sector that is full of opportunities.
Providence port expansion planned
When he visited the different ports and fishing facilities on Mahé in April this year, President James Michel, in his interactions with SFA officials and the fishermen themselves realised the congestion which exists at the Providence fishing port. Together with Mr Sinon and the SFA, the President agreed that there is a need to expand the fishing port. A decision was taken to expand on the southern side of the existing facility and to seek funding for this project.Making it a personal mission, President Michel attended the TICAD Conference in Japan later during the year to put a request for assistance for the project to the Japanese government. The Japanese side is favourably considering the request. The SFA has indicated that since then, the authority has submitted a detailed project to the Japanese government and a mission from Japan’s International Aid agency JICA has come to Seychelles to discuss it further. The SFA expects that the project will get underway during the first half of 2014 when JICA representatives will return here for that purpose.
The smooth running of any industry relies to a great extent on the laws which govern it. The same is applied to the semi-industrial and artisanal fisheries sub-sector. To ensure that the legal framework of Seychelles’ fisheries is up to the task, this year, the SFA completed the drafting of the new Fisheries Bill. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the proposed legislation last month.
New fisheries law due
It is now in the Office of the Attorney General who is preparing it for presentation to the National Assembly to become the new Fisheries Act. That is after prolonged period of consultations and its availability on the SFA website for further comments and observations.
Efforts to facilitate and promote fisheries even further were given a great boost following President James Michel’s visit to Sri Lanka last year. The visit resulted into the signing of a memorandum of understanding in Fisheries cooperation this year between the two governments; to intensify economic scientific and technical cooperation in the field of fisheries, aquaculture and maritime activities. This was reinforced by the official visit of Sri Lanka’s fisheries minister to Seychelles. A line of credit of US $10 million was extended mainly for the boat building in Sri Lanka by Seychellois Boat Owners.
With the construction of fish processing facilities at Providence and Bel Ombre the semi-industrial fisheries which is still reserved for Seychellois operators only is poised for a significant boost as new boats will soon be delivered.
Meanwhile value addition is becoming an important component of fisheries development. To propel this aspect of fisheries into developing its full potential, the SFA has undertaken the construction of a fish processing plant at the Providence fishing port and at Bel Ombre to facilitate local promoters to process and add value to fish for the local and export markets. The project is at a very advanced stage and SFA estimates it to be completed by March 2014.
Major projects ahead
At Bel-Ombre the SFA has been busy with infrastructural development during 2013. The authority has undertaken a sea channel clearing exercise to facilitate the entry and exit of fishing vessels within the port area. Elsewhere, the authority has submitted plans to the Planning Authority for a fishing pier and associated facilities. For Baie St Anne district on Praslin construction of these facilities will start next month.
Mr Racombo has also explained that improvement works to the slipway and sea retaining wall for the Anse aux Pins district have been tendered out, whereas at Anse Royale, Anse Boileau, Takamaka, Anse Etoile and Baie Lazare, the SFA has completed the clearing of passes for artisanal fisherman. Efforts to secure land by the sea in some districts so that facilities can be built is an ongoing challenge.
Through a local partnership with food processing company Oceana Fisheries, the ministry and the SFA are on the road to resolving existing problems with the supply of ice on Praslin.
Under the terms of an agreement to sell Oceana Fisheries, two new ice plants of 10 tonne capacity will be built. One of them is to be located at Baie St Anne, Praslin. The management of the increased ice plant capacity is also under review to ensure efficiency, continued maintenance and minimal interruptions in future supply once the new ice plant is installed.
In its bid to get all stakeholders actively involved in the smooth running of the industry, the Ministry of Natural Resources signed a fisheries co-management plan with Praslin fishers association during the final quarter of the year. Under the agreement SFA and the Praslin Fishers Association will undertake joint management activities in the coastal area of Praslin. This enhanced partnership is being considered as a pilot to be emulated throughout the country if successfully implemented.
Meanwhile, foreign and local consultants have completed a sea-cucumber management measures framework which SFA will be testing and monitoring its implementation over the next two years starting with this present fishing season. Those consultations and recommendations have also brought forth new regulations and extra training necessary for divers to make the performance of their duties much safer.
With so much going on in the sector, it has become important that the SFA keeps a solid factual and updated database. To this end, the authority has set up a new economic intelligence unit within the organisation to process fisheries data collected from all sectors of the economy. The unit will also advise SFA management on future plans and development actions regarding fisheries development to the benefit of Seychelles’ economy.
“Team work is key to every success” said Professor Rolph Payet, Minister for Environment and Energy at a meeting where he met and personally thanked all stakeholders who has made it possible for Seychelles to receive the “Compliance to the Montreal Protocol On Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer” Award.
In 1987 , the world joined hands to save the Ozone Layer, a natural shield protecting us from the sun harmful radiation and 25 years on, the Ozone layer is recovering, the Treaty that save it, is guarding it today, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is regarded as one of the world most successful Environmental Treaty of today.
The ozone hole is regarded as one of this century major Environmental disaster. The Montreal Protocol was widely accepted as the way forward to address and redress this alarming situation.
Immediately after signing, Seychelles set work by putting in place the necessary mechanism to monitor, control and phase-out the use of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) especially refrigerant gases. In 2000, from the Environment Protection Act 1994, the Environment Protection (Ozone) Regulations 2000 came into existence which control import of all Chloro Fluoro Carbons (CFCs) and Hydro Chloro Fluoro Carbons (HCFCs) arriving in the country.
The work of the Ozone Unit in the Ministry of Environment and Energy was made easier with the effective collaboration between different government agencies like custom Department, Licensing Authority, Seychelles Institute of Technology, Import office and different industrial and commercial sector, as well as private business was backed up by a strong political commitment from the government.
By 2007, Seychelles was among the few African countries which has achieved complete phase-out of Zero Consumption of CFCs and was in compliance to the Montreal Protocol before the 2010 deadline. With the newly amended legislation in 2010, “The Environment Protection (Ozone) Regulation 2010, Seychelles is now on the way to phase-out the usage of HCFCs used mainly in air-condition units and chillers by 2020.
In a short meeting on Monday 10th December 2012, Professor Rolph Payet met with the stakeholders from Government and Private sectors to express his appreciation for their collaborative efforts in achieving the award. The Assistant Commissioner from the Custom Division, Mr. Selwyn Knowles assured Minister Payet that all necessary steps will be taken to ensure tight compliance on importation, to prevent harmful substances from getting into the country. Minister Payet says that this award is a significant milestone for Seychelles: a small Island State proving to the rest of the world, that islands can make a difference and are committed to protecting the environment. Seychelles was among the first countries to ratify the provisions of the Montreal Protocol and subsequent amendments. The country has also benefitted tremendously from the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund and also the GTZ.
The uniqueness and vulnerability of small developing islands is being taken into consideration at the Renewables and Islands Summit being held in Malta. The Seychelles delegation is headed by the Minister for Environment and Energy, Professor Rolph Payet, and accompanied by the CEO of PUC and the CEO of SEC, Mr. Phillipe Morin and Mr. Andrew Jean Louis. Professor Payet formed part of the high-level panel at the opening of the summit which highlighted the priority needs for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) for renewable energy.
Professor Payet highlighted the challenges of SIDS in accessing low-interest financing for renewable energy projects and emphasized the need for technical support in considering renewable energy technologies. Panelists, in particular, highlighted the increasing number of investors who want to take advantage of the lack of technical capacity in SIDS to lock them into long-term investment contracts in renewable energy. By offering large sums of money, under the guise of no-risk investments, such investors make bogus offers for investment in renewable energy technologies which in many cases are either still in testing stage or not performing at established standards.
The summit concluded on a number of recommendations for implementation by the International Renewable Energy Agency ( IRENA) the main organiser of the summit. The summit is being used as a platform for sharing best practise and showcasing innovative solutions, pooling of knowledge and exchange of ideas between islands with different level of development, discussions on the role of renewables in power generations and it's end use in sectors, realising the high potential of renewable energy to address the islands energy needs and access in a sustainable way.
IRENA has been given a strong mandate to support global efforts in adopting renewable energy. The two day summit is taking place at an opportune time as there are accelerating efforts to encourage countries to use more sustainable forms of energy such as renewable energy. Seychelles first renewable energy projects include the Victoria Wind Turbine Project financed through a grant from the UAE. This year has been declared by United Nations as the year for
sustainable energy for all. IRENA is committed at helping countries to achieve the aims sets under this theme.