A variety of interesting activities were available to students from the west region of Mahe to mark Biodiversity Day this week.

Students from Grand Anse, Port Glaud and Anse Boileau primary joined up with those from Anse Boileau secondary for a day of fun and learning at the Port Launay beach on Wednesday.

The event was organised by the Department of Environment, in partnership with the Seychelles National Parks Authority, Global Vision International, Seychelles Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles and Mangroves for the Future.

Activities are organised every year for Biodiversity Day, which falls on May 22, and this year’s theme is Marine Biodiversity.

The Seychelles Tourism Board (STB) and the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) have signed an accord to formalise the good partnership which exists between the two parties.

The memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on Monday at the STB’s headquarters at Bel Ombre by its chief executive Elsia Grandcourt and that of SNPA Denis Matatiken.

Nature Seychelles and the Seychelles National Park Authority (SNPA) are joining forces to work on a new project to help protect one of Seychelles’ iconic bird species – the Paradise Flycatcher (‘Vev’).

The project will see work carried out on La Digue with the island’s school and the local community to follow up on a previous project. Under the 2008 project, 23 birds were moved to Denis Island to create “a safety net population” there. 

According to a recent census, 10 new birds have since been hatched and are doing well, removing the species from the endangered list.

The partnership was formalised yesterday with the signing of a memorandum of agreement at the Nature Seychelles headquarters, Roche Caïman by the heads of the two organisations, Dr Nirmal Jivan Shah (Nature Seychelles) and Denis Matatiken (SNPA).

The Minister for Home Affairs, Environment, Transport and Energy Joel Morgan has appointed the Board of the Seychelles National Parks Authority for a period of two years, with immediate effect.

Flavien Joubert, a representative from the Department of Environment, has been appointed chairman while Denis Matatiken is the chief executive officer.

The other members are Capt. Jean Atalla (representative of the Seychelles Coast Guard), Roy Clarisse (Seychelles Fishing Authority), Dr. Frauke Dogley (Seychelles Islands Foundation), Dr. Marie-Reine Hoareau (Department of Education/Unesco), and Philomena Hollanda (Seychelles Tourism Board).

The government authorities charged with the implementation of the recommendations provided by the South African experts from the Kwazulu Natal Shark Board have started their work.

The Praslin Development Fund with the assistance of local companies involved in the fabrication and reparation of fishing nets have been working long hours in preparing two temporary exclusion nets that will soon be installed at Anse Lazio. 

Unfortunately their work has been delayed by the rainy weather that we have experienced over the last five days.  It is now foreseen that the first exclusion net will be installed on Monday if weather permits.  In the meantime we are waiting for quotations from South Africa for us to import exclusion nets designed according to international specifications and standards for installation on a longer term basis. 

The laying of drumlines and longlines by Seychelles Fishing Authority and some fishermen has continued.  This is aimed at controlling the entry of large and dangerous sharks close to shore.  Surveillance using both underwater cameras and personnel of Seychelles National Park Authority has yielded no confirmed sighting of large sharks in the area. 

The police, the tourism police and Seychelles National Park Authority personnel have been enforcing the ban on swimming and snorkelling in the declared areas.

The South African experts have contacted the organisation which will conduct the DNA research and plans are underway to send the tooth fragment for DNA profiling.  The same applies to the jaw of the tiger shark that was caught off Praslin, which will undergo more detailed studies.

Further discussions have taken place regarding the strengthening of a collaborative work and research programmes on sharks between the Seychelles authorities and the Kwazulu Natal Shark Board.  A letter has been sent to the Kwazulu Natal Shark Board to that effect and they have already indicated their willingness to work with the Seychelles authorities.  During the coming weeks the programme will be elaborated and finalised.

The ban on swimming in Anse Lazio, Grand Anse Kerlan, Petite Anse Kerlan, Anse Georgette, Curieuse and St Pierre is still in force.  In other areas swimmers and divers are being asked to take all necessary precautions.  Once the exclusion nets are in placed at Anse Lazio new announcements will be made.

In the meantime anyone who catches a shark are being asked to report to Rodney Quatre, the Research manager of the National Parks Authority who is collecting data on sharks.  His phone number is 2726104.

A new body has been formed to research sharks in the Seychelles.

This non-governmental organisation which has been named Shark Research Foundation Seychelles (SRFS) is made up of marine experts from the Environment Department, Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA), Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS), Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), the Artisanal Shark Fishers Association (ASFA) and l’Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD).

Sharks are vitally important for healthy marine ecosystems and research from across the globe has shown that when shark numbers are depleted by factors such as overfishing and habitat destruction, the whole ecosystem suffers, often resulting in the loss of other commercially important species.

 They also often act as a great attraction to divers and as such various types of sharks encounter dives have formed highly lucrative businesses in many countries.

  In Seychelles in particular, sharks have a strong cultural base and are included in favourite traditional dishes such as satini reken and lapo latet reken.

Unfortunately, the valuable services that sharks provide us with are often overshadowed by the fear of being attacked.

 The tragic events of August last year in which two people lost their lives shocked the nation and answers were immediately called for.

 The protection of Seychellois and those visiting the country is of utmost importance and is one of the priorities of the SRFS. To be able to attain this goal, much research on the types, numbers and behaviour of sharks in Seychelles is required.

 This research also fulfils many of the requirements of the national plan of action for sharks which guides shark management in the Seychelles and falls under the global plan of action for sharks which was

formulated in response to dramatic declines in their numbers around the world, largely due to the shark fin soup trade.

The SRFS has already begun ground breaking work in Seychelles by attaching satellite tags to two large tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier). The tags are designed to communicate with satellites and give the position of the shark among other information, allowing researchers to track its movements day and night. This information is currently under analysis.

 The tigers were also surgically implanted with acoustic tags that emit signals picked up by receiver stations that have been strategically placed around the coast of Mahé. This acoustic tagging follows on from two ongoing projects carried out cooperatively by the SFA, MCSS and SNPA: SEYSHA that was designed to track movements and elucidate habitat usage by reef sharks around Mahé, and the Global Environment Fund Small Grants Programme multi-species tracking project at Bay Ternay.

Catching, handling and tagging of large sharks is obviously a highly skilled endeavour and as such, local shark fishermen have been helping researchers in this area. Their knowledge of where to find the sharks and how to catch and handle them has been vital to the success of the last two tagging events.
 
Fishermen and scientists were brought together again on February 7 for a shark tagging workshop organised and run for the SRFS through experts at IRD and SFA. The workshop taught participants how to surgically implant acoustic tags and how to attach the exterior satellite tags. Representatives from the Artisanal Shark Fishermen’s Association, Environment Department, MCSS, SFA and IRD all felt that the event was a great success with much information and skills shared and learned.

The SRFS is currently developing new proposals and applying for funding to continue research that aims to protect humans while preserving healthy, functional ecosystems.

Many of the beaches on Curieuse Island are visited by sea turtles during the turtle nesting and breeding season. These include hawksbills and green turtles. The Authority monitors the movement of the sea turtles during each breeding season as part of their turtle conservation and monitoring programme.  Turtles are tagged and specific measurements taken.  The information are recorded and analysed to understand habitat utilization, the size of the population, nesting behavior and population trends. Staff must be properly trained to enable them to accurately collect the necessary data.

At the beginning of the 2012-13 hawksbill nesting season, a group of SNPA staff including some GVI volunteers under the leadership of Dr. Jeanne Mortimer, met in a workshop on Curieuse to learn about the biology and conservation of sea turtles, methods to identify turtle species, sea turtle evolution, natural history and threats, as well as their value to human and ecosystems. The training was delivered through power point presentations and discussion. The aim was to prepare the participants for the 2012-13 hawksbill nesting season.

Participants visited major nesting beaches especially Grand Anse and Anse Papaie. In addition, they were able to assess the physical condition of the beaches and vegetation and to examine the green turtle body pits. Following the training a number of recommendations were made through a report to the Management of the Authority.

As a result of the training, there has been an improvement in the quality of data from 2012-13 nesting season. With the assistance of GVI, we are also updating the database from 2007 onwards in order to produce a report and publication on the population dynamics and trends of the nesting populations of Curieuse Island. 

It was the initiative of the Indian Ocean Commission (COI) to organize and invite Indian Ocean countries to participate in a one week, Marine Protected Areas Management Training, held on Rodrigues Island. Delegates from five countries participated, and these included Zanzibar, Mauritius and Rodrigues, Comoros, Madagascar and Seychelles. Four participants from Seychelles attended the workshop, and these included Mr. Remie Asman and Mr. Anto Suzette, who are both Assistant Park Officers with the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA).

The training opened on Monday 9th December by the Chief Commissioner of Rodrigues Island. It was aimed at building the capacity of participants to better manage the MPAs they are responsible for, to implement effective management, and achieve better communication, while dealing with possible threats that they encounter in their MPAs.

Each participant had to give a short presentation of their MPA, and lead discussions to further elaborate on their role and enable sharing of ideas, so that they could learn from each other and gain new insights about better MPA management and threat reduction.

Mr. Asman describes the training as a very good learning opportunity, and goes on to say that he has learnt a lot in terms of long term conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and biodiversity. Since communication is a key element in the day to day running of any organization, he is now trying to turn his workplace into a better working environment, by establishing a good communication network between staffs and their superiors. He hopes to contribute and help lead the drawing up and implementation of an effective Management Plan for the operations unit of SNPA.

Mr. Asman takes this opportunity to thank each and everyone who have supported the Seychelles participants and helped in making the training a success.

Mr. Remie Asman receives his certificate upon completion of the training

Mr. Anto Suzette receives his certificate at the end of the training