SNPA Veuve Reserve honours a conservation pioneer

 

Devotion. No other word can adequately describe Oliverne Niole’s passion for the Veuve Reserve on La Digue.

‘Back then,’ which translates to the seventies, worldly knowledge on the environment was not common, and there was no daily social media feed reminding anyone to do their bit for the great green cause. What was done ‘back then’ came from the heart, a genuine connection folks had with the earth, and which Niole certainly had plenty.

Official documentation tells us that Abraham Niole was born on La Digue on 3rd January 1909. As was often the case in Seychelles, official names and day-to-day names were not necessarily the same. Abraham was to be known as Oliverne and ‘Dayo’, names which to this day, he identifies better with.

Niole was employed by the Royal Society for Nature Conservation (RSNC) to monitor the near-extinct Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher and to also provide guided tours in the Reserve. Being illiterate did not prevent him from acquiring enough knowledge in all three national languages (Creole, French and English) to carry out his duties effectively. His ability to learn and retain information combined with his passion caught the attention of Tony Beamish and Christopher Cadbury, owners of the Reserve at the time, who acknowledged Niole’s work with the reserve and offered him advice and guidance in order to improve himself.

It was inevitable that he would, over the years, amass substantial knowledge of the legendary Black Paradise Flycatcher. He always walked around in the reserve with a mirror at the end of a pole in order to count how many eggs or hatchlings there were in a nest. This was necessary given that the Flycatcher’s nest is rather high in trees and cannot be explored at eye level.

Given that Niole could not read or write, he had help to record all the data he collected, which he later handed over to Beamish and Cadbury. The duo initiated a reserve for the flycatcher in the early 1980’s, an endeavour which materialised in 1982 when the Reserve was officially opened. In 1989, the land was purchased by the Government of Seychelles and the Reserve was officially designated as the Veuve Special Reserve.

An information centre was first opened in the Reserve in 1993, serving as the starting point of the journey through the reserve, providing as much information as possible in order to enable a well-informed experience for the visitor. Last year, in 2018, a refurbishment project started to breathe new life into the outdated centre by expanding it and adding a Children’s Corner and upgrading the facilities.

The Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) which has been managing the Reserve for the past 10 years, has a series of projects lined up to improve facilities on several of its sites in order to provide a better experience and value for money for its visitors. The SNPA became a financially autonomous organisation since the start of 2019 which enables it to invest back in infrastructure upgrades and conservation activities.

The SNPA, in recognition of Niole’s vital contribution to the Reserve over the decades, took the decision to name the new refurbished information centre “The Abraham Niole Information Centre.” Niole’s son and his adopted daughter were present at the ceremony which took place on 1st July at the Reserve on La Digue.

Renowned local poet Raspyek set the tone in his introductory remarks at the opening of the 40th anniversary celebrations on Curieuse Island with “40 years is not 40 months”.

For the past four decades, the Government of Seychelles has had the protection of Curieuse, Port Launay and Baie Ternay Marine National Parks as well as Morne Seychellois and Praslin National Parks high on its priority list.

On Saturday 15th June 2019, four days after the official designation date, an excited crowd made the journey to join hundreds of resident giant tortoises to celebrate this important conservation milestone. The celebration began with an official ceremony, which took place at Baie Laraie, near the ranger’s headquarters. There were artistic presentations by students from Baie Ste Anne and Grand Anse Praslin Primary schools and also from hearing impaired students from Au Cap school. The students’ performances were centered around the environment and its importance to the human race.

The Chairperson, Helena Sims, addressed the audience and explained the various projects that are ongoing in the national park. The Minister for Environment Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow, addressed the crowd and thanked the SNPA team for their hard work in protected area management. SNPA’s CEO, Selby Remy presented copies of the celebratory magazine produced to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of SNPA to Minister Cosgrow and Miss Sims.

Minister Cosgrow along with Mrs Cedras (the wife of the late Mr Atterville Cedras) were invited to unveil Atterville’s House, which serves as the Rangers’ headquarters, (the largest building at Baie Laraie) and which pays homage to Mr Atterville Cedras, whose work contributed immensely to the management of Curieuse Marine National Park.

Those present then proceeded to view the exhibition which displayed the Curieuse development project and artwork by Takamaka students (produced in a workshop organized by SNPA and Bling Bling Poetry on World Environment Day). Also on display were information about the Leper Settlement, remains of which can still be found on the island.

Another highlight of the day was the re-opening of Anse Badamier Trail after extensive upgrade of its facilities such as the installation of new information boards and a kiosk. Experienced SNPA guide, Jason Bastille, accompanied the Minister and other distinguished guests along the trail. It took the group about an hour to reach the kiosk (located at a 69m elevation) from Baie Laraie. Along the way, they managed to see the Coco-de-mer and other endemic plants such as Kafe Maron and Bwa Ponm.

At the end of the hike, SNPA Chair Miss Sims, had the honour to cut the ribbon to officially open the new kiosk, which provides a panoramic view of Curieuse Marine National Park and the neighboring islands.

On the extensive program for the event, were presentations on the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, where the public were taken on a guided tour along the plateau to view the flycatcher and to learn more about the conservation project. The tour was given by the project officer Dr Rachel Bristol.

Global Vision International (GVI, one of SNPA’s partners) gave an outdoor presentation to the public on the giant tortoise tagging programme. The public was also invited to participate in an exciting and educational treasure hunt. After 40 minutes of fun hunting it was an exuberant Henri Rose and team who discovered the long hidden treasure.

Despite the heavy weather, the invitees, staff, partners and the free ranging giant tortoises had a fun day celebrating 40 years of conservation.

SNPA expresses its gratitude to all its partners for making the day a success. Special thanks go to Minister Cosgrow, PS Decommarmond, SNPA Chairperson and board members, Environment Trust Fund, Bling Bling Poetry, LaBriz Silhoutte, EBA Climate Change project, GOS-GEF-UNDP PA Finance Project, GVI, Dr Rachel Bristol, Terrestrial Restoration Action Society Seychelles (TRASS), Mason’s Travel, Baie Ste Anne School, Grand Anse Praslin Primary School, Association for the Hearing impaired, Takamaka School, La Reserve, Raffles and the National Sport Council.

A group of Air Seychelles staff from Mahé and Praslin participated in a tree planting activity at the Veuve Special Reserve in La Digue, earlier in May, to assist with the conservation of the reserve eco-system.

Held in partnership with the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA), the tree planting activity formed part of the airline’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to educate and build more awareness about the importance of protecting the natural environment as a way to counter climate change development.

A total of 100 trees were planted on the 21 hectare plateau of the reserve also home to the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, Seychelles Sunbird, Seychelles Bulbul as well as the Seychelles Terrapins bird all of which are endemic to the Seychelles.

Sheryl Barra, Head of Corporate Affairs at Air Seychelles, said: “Over the past five years, Air Seychelles has worked closely with the SNPA on numerous projects including the most recent translocation of the Paradise Flycatchers from Denis to Curieuse Island. To help in protecting the home of the Paradise Flycatchers including all the endemic species found in the reserve, besides being an excellent team building experience for our team, the tree planting activity was good approach to raise awareness about the importance of maintaining the green scenery of the reserve which continues to attract many visitors in addition to protecting the unique species found in the reserve. Part of the airline CSR project for this year is focused on working with partners in the community to support the national drive in protecting the Seychelles environment by tackling key issues such as climate change, restoration projects including participating in beach clean-up activities to eliminate plastic waste.

Thus we are proud to have conducted this first activity in La Digue and we will continue to build on the excellent partnership with the SNPA to work on similar projects in the future.”

Josianna Rose, Manager of the Veuve Reserve said: “On behalf of the SNPA, I would like to thank the management and staff of Air Seychelles in conducting the tree planting activity which was a great success. Air Seychelles has indeed demonstrated the strong commitment to support the protected breeding and feeding habitat for the rare endemic bird species, the Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone corvina) population in the Veuve Reserve on La Digue.

The commitment of the airline has been very much appreciated and we hope to maintain the continued partnership. Veuve Reserve is very grateful for the support received and we are looking forward for more collaborated activities in the future.”

Apart from the tree planting activity, the team also had the chance to see the unique Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher flying around in the reserve as well as other endemic species.

 

The launch of two new plans in April 2019 by the Seychelles National Parks Authority underlines its commitment to protect and safeguard Seychelles’ protected areas in the most efficient and productive manner.

Since the beginning of the year, the SNPA has adjusted course to a new era of financial autonomy: the authority now manages its budget and revenues independently and must determine how to best manage the operation of the parks, ensure beneficial research is carried out to inform such decisions, and provide sufficient infrastructure for customers to enjoy the parks responsibly and sustainably.

The SNPA Strategic Plan 2017-2021, which has been guiding the organisation through this transition, makes provision for Management Plans for each site to be completed by 2020. The Curieuse Management Plan is the first in this series of plans and will be the benchmark for those to follow.

At the launching ceremony, SNPA’s Chairperson, Helena Simms, said: “The management plan of Curieuse we are launching today is key in order to protect and conserve the identified values of Curieuse while providing for reasonable opportunities to access and make use of the area for eco-tourism, education, recreation and scientific purposes.”

Curieuse is one of the most visited parks in Seychelles, recording over 50,000 visitors in 2017.

Alongside the Curieuse Management Plan, the SNPA’s Marketing and Communications Plan was also launched.  The plan analyses the needs of all stakeholders from visitors to conservation partners and proposes ways to respond to them. Effective communication is key in driving the Strategic Plan forward and each stakeholder has different needs and views on what communication should entail. A detailed matrix in the plan cross checks each option available and how SNPA should develop it.

SNPA’s CEO Selby Remy, who has been heading the organization for the past year, reiterated the organisation’s commitment and willingness to move SNPA forward. He credited his dedicated team to the organisation’s success so far and expressed his confidence that the newly launched plans will help elevate the work which SNPA does even further.

The plans are results of joint efforts from SNPA,  GoS-UNDP-GEF PA Finance Project team, the Programme Coordination Unit and the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Energy.

On March 21st, Seychelles joined the rest of the world to celebrate the International Day of Forests. While in Seychelles, we have a tendency to use the term ‘in the woods’ rather than forests, their importance, regardless of how we refer to them, is of great significance to our ecological and biodiversity systems, not forgetting also our tourism industry.

Forests cover 31% of the Earth’s land surface and provide us with a variety of essentials to sustain our daily lives such as food, water, oxygen and building materials. They provide the same for the other creatures we share the earth with, extending their services to providing shelters and homes. Forests are at the forefront of the battlefield in the war against floods and landslides, protecting us from the devastation these phenomena can bring. Healers and health enthusiasts are also big fans of forests, vouching for their healing and medicinal properties.

Forests also have recreational purposes where locals and visitors alike get away from the hustle and bustle of towns, cities, roads and network coverage to feast their eyes in the beauty of nature. Statistics from the National Statistics Bureau show that Hiking & Nature Walks was the second preferred activity of almost every nationality that visited Seychelles in the last quarter of 2017 (www.nsb.gov.sc).

The Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) is the leading organisation in the country managing forests and ensuring that trees which are cut down or we lose to diseases are replaced. Under the SNPA mandate, thousands of trees are planted all over the islands every year to maintain the country’s biodiversity. The SNPA manages in total, 485.25 hectares of land in Seychelles.

 Tree planting is only part of the picture. Protection of our forest areas is also high on the agenda. Identifying invasive plants which can be harmful to their endemic counterparts, and removing them have also been part of SNPA’s activities.

Job opportunities in the timber industry are managed by the SNPA who has to ensure that harvesting timber is done in a sustainable manner.

Education and advocacy is an important part of SNPA’s mandate. Regular hikes and clean-ups are organised for different groups in order to give them the opportunity to learn about the importance of forests and also to experience and appreciate them.

The SNPA organised four activities over a span of two days to commemorate ‘Forest & Education’ which was the theme for this year’s International Day of Forests.  In line with the theme, the activities were focused on education and school children.

 

Tree Planting and official Launch

Salazie, Sans Soucis was where the commemoration kicked off with an address by SNPA’s Chief Executive Office, Selby Remy.  24 students from Port Glaud, Mont Fleuri and La Rosiere Schools then joined staff from SNPA and the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change to plant 400 trees. The trees consisted mainly of palms and mahogany and the crew worked in groups of 3’s to locate suitable spots for planting and then proceeding to dig the holes and remove the plant from its poly pot to be placed in the ground.

Tree Planting on Curieuse Island

SNPA collaborated with the Seychelles Development Bank (DBS) and Praslin-based NGO, Terrestrial Restoration Action Society of Seychelles (TRASS) to plant 400 trees with the participation of students from Baie Ste Anne Primary school.

Trail cleaning and exploration

10 students from Beau-Vallon Secondary school and their teacher were accompanied by SNPA rangers on the Mare Aux Cochons Trail for them to discover and appreciate the value of our forests. SBC Radio’s “Dekouver ou Zalantour” also joined the adventure and the programme will be aired in April. The students learned about invasive plants and helped the rangers uproot large amounts of them.

Plant Production Session at Grand Anse, Mahé

There was more action than talk at the SNPA Grand Anse Forestry Station where 27 Grand Anse Primary students, along with two of their teachers, participated in various aspects of plant production, from nursery to planting in the field. The session lasted for half a day and 100 endemic trees were planted.

The Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Mr Wallace Cosgrow, in his message for the occasion re-iterated the importance of the theme, stating, ‘one is never too young nor too old to start learning about trees and plants, and schools must play an important role in teaching about the importance of trees and forest.’ The message also highlighted the connection we have to forests in our daily lives from simple things such as drinking a glass of water to building a house.

The critically endangered Seychelles paradise flycatcher is now breeding on Curieuse Island in a bid to better secure the species’ survival.

As part of a Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) project, Curieuse now has 26 resident flycatchers following a translocation scheme carried out in partnership with the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Ecology and Conservation, and financed by the Darwin Initiative.

At the beginning of last December, the first group of individuals were brought over from La Digue, while last Tuesday saw a further six flycatchers translocated from Denis Island.

Exactly four weeks after release on the island the first nest was found, and that chick has recently fledged, marking a positive start for the new population. Another pair is currently incubating an egg in their nest.

The successful establishment of a third population of the species on Curieuse should facilitate its down-listing from “Critically Endangered” to a less endangered category on the IUCN red list of endangered species, a testament to the conservation efforts of numerous individuals and organisations over many years to conserve this species.

The SNPA also manages the Veuve Reserve on La Digue – at one point the earth’s last remaining refuge for the species – and must now monitor and protect the flycatcher populations within both sites.

The project has been in the works for some time, with considerable groundwork having to be done in advance of the flycatchers’ arrival. Improving suitable habitats by removing invasive plants in favour of endemic ones, as well as reducing rat populations will have to be sustained as part of a long-term commitment to the species’ survival. The addition of the flycatcher brings the total number of recorded species on Curieuse to 38.

The first ever conservation introduction of the Seychelles paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone corvina) was undertaken in 2008, from La Digue to Denis Island. The translocation was successful, and that population has grown considerably from 23 individuals to the current estimate of over 85 individuals. The success of the first translocation made it possible to source some individuals from Denis Island for a second conservation introduction to Curieuse.

During the first translocation, the birds were transported from La Digue by boat to Curieuse. During the second phase, the birds were flown from Denis by chartered plane to Praslin and then transported by boat directly to Curieuse. Normally the birds are caught by mist nest and placed in a box for transportation. Before released into the wild they receive a rehydration fluid to provide them with enough energy to explore their new habitat.

Lafarge Cement has donated a consignment of life jackets and raincoats to the Seychelles National Parks Authority. This took place in a handover ceremony last Friday, 8th February 2019.

The Seychelles National Parks Authority manages close to 2,478 ha of marine territory spread out over the St Anne, Ile Cocos, Port Launay, Baie Ternay and the Curieuse marine parks. The management of these parks entails environmental protection, scientific research, monitoring and collection of fees within certain areas.

The donated safety equipment will greatly assist the SNPA toward ensuring the safety of its staff, visitors, partners and collaborators who undertake activities at sea.

The year 2019 marks a new era of financial autonomy for the SNPA, which manages a total of 6092.10 ha of protected areas in Seychelles. This new status gives it the ability to reinvest revenue that it generates into upgrading and maintaining the parks’ infrastructures as well as improving the quality and consistency of its conservation management activities. Donations will help the SNPA allocate more of its revenue into these activities, which are crucial in fulfilling its mandate.

Lafarge Cement is a French-owned company headquartered in Paris, with a presence in 80 countries, including its Indian Ocean archipelago branch, Lafarge Cement Co (Seychelles) Ltd.

 “To win the marketplace, you must first win the workplace.” 
-Doug Conant

As the Seychelles National Parks Authority finalizes its final touches before assuming its financial autonomy status in 2019, one thing remains clear; its human capital base is its greatest asset and an efficient and motivated one is what it requires to ride the challenging waves it will face at the start of its new journey.

This sentiment echoed loudly at its Staff Award ceremony which took place on 20th December 2018 alongside its annual first time this year Staff Conference. The event kicked off with a welcoming address by SNPA’s CEO, Selby Remy followed by a motivational speech by Mr Robert Ah-Weng which then opened the floor for a ‘work’ session where SNPA staff engaged in group discussions over the future of the Authority, operational issues, and human resource issues amongst many other topics. Such an exercise gave the employees a chance to voice their opinions and ideas to their colleagues on a platform which stimulated further debate.

The ‘Best overall’ award was awarded to Gilberte Gendron, a Senior Research Officer from the Research Section, who also picked up the ‘Best performer’ award in her section and the ‘Special Recognition’ award. The Research Section which is made up of 5 staff members and is responsible for conducting and monitoring research projects, gathering and managing research data, assisting with education and awareness and providing technical assistance to stakeholders to name a few. Its director, James Mougal, won the award for Leadership.

Anto Suzette from Marine Operations took home the ‘Hero of the Year’ award following several successful rescue attempts in the Curieuse waters over the course of the year as well as providing assistance in search missions and boats in distress. He was also awarded the ‘Promoter of SNPA’ image award. Suzette is the park manager for the Curieuse Marine Park and has been in the post for the past four years. He was awarded the ‘Hero’ title due to

The Best Team award went to the Forestry Timber Merchant Unit, for working well together, maintaining a good team spirit and communication and also for achieving the expected output in 2018.

A Best Performer award was allocated to a staff member from each section and they were, Maggie Dugasse from Marine Operations, Sabrina Florentine and Frankley Capricieuse from Forestry, Mavis d’Offay from Finance Section and Percy Jacques from Human Resource and Administration.

The Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Mr Wallace Cosgrow had a few words of encouragement for SNPA and its staff as take the bold step into financial autonomy as well as extending festive wishes for the holiday season. SNPA’s Chairperson, Helena Sims, also addressed the crowd, many of whom are her former peers, expressing her delight at being the chair of the SNPA Board and also reminding the staff that hard work lies ahead as the authority adapts to its new financial status.

SNPA employs over 80 staff across five different sections. The Award Scheme permits the Authority to reward staff that has performed well over the year, with the intention of motivating everyone, with the end result of improving productivity in the workplace. The Award is also a way for management to thank the staff after a year of hard work.