The Seychelles Seabird Group (SSG) has just met for the group’s annual meeting to discuss the status of seabirds on Cousin, Cousine, Aride, Fregate and Denis islands. With funding from the Norwegian Embassy and Airtel Seychelles, Nature Seychelles launched SSG for a better understanding of Seychelles’ 18 species of seabirds, numbering millions of individuals.
Member islands of SSG carry out census and other conservation activities owing to Seychelles’ importance for seabirds internationally. The data collected from these islands is used to guide management plans, training as well as research. For instance, during last week’s meeting it was suggested that a representative from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission would be contacted to compare data on tuna fishing and that from the seabird group.
“The tuna fisheries industry has a direct effect on seabird populations,” explains Eric Blais, Nature Seychelles Island Coordinator. “Seabirds feed on small fish which rise to the surface when they are chased by tuna. If the tuna population goes down, seabird populations will go down as well. If birds have to travel further out to sea for food, they may not have any food left to regurgitate for their chicks by the time they get back to the nest.”
Many seabird species in Seychelles have been greatly reduced in range and numbers. The Pink backed pelican and Abbots Booby are now extinct in the Seychelles. For the conservation of seabirds in Seychelles, it is imperative that certain actions are put in place such as ensuring the islands are predator free, hence the eradication of cats, rats and barn owls on islands which are successfully supporting seabird colonies.
The transformation of Cousin from a coconut plantation to a protected nature reserve has meant that seabird populations can once again thrive. The sooty tern is one such example. Four years ago, this bird returned (self-colonised) and there are now 25 individuals on the island.
Nature Seychelles took over the management of Cousin from BirdLife International and continues to make sure that there is as little human impact as possible and that it remains predator free. Sooty terns nest on the ground and can therefore only survive on predator free islands.
With the eradication of cats and rats on Denis Island between 2000 and 2002, there has been a steady increase in White tailed tropicbird numbers. Interestingly, now that rats and cats are no longer a threat on Denis, moorhens were seen pecking at sooty tern eggs on several occasions.
Cousine Island reported that it had been a very good year for sooty terns on the island with 300 breeding pairs compared to last year when the numbers had dropped, caused by bad weather and poaching. Aride on the other hand reported that they had no poaching incidents this year, and in fact seabird numbers were on the rise, especially for the brown noddy, white tailed tropicbird and white tern.
Sooty tern eggs are valued as a traditional Seychelles delicacy and although once collected and exported in high quantities, egg collection is now strictly regulated by the government. The SSG team expressed their desire for the penalty for poaching of seabird eggs, more so on protected islands, to be more punitive, and therefore further support their conservation work.