Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles
Earthwatch and Mitsubishi have been in partnership for more than 10 years and in 2006 Mitsubishi began supporting the Earthwatch project Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles. The project is surveying unique coastal ecosystems in the Indian Ocean.
I was lucky enough to join the project in January 2009 to visit the new project location, the beautiful island of Curieuse. Earthwatch has established a partnership with the Seychelles Centre for Marine Research and Technology - Marine Parks Authority, who manage the marine park where the project is based.
To get to the project site I flew into Victoria on Mahe, the largest island of the Seychelles. From there we caught the ferry which took us to the island of Praslin where we transferred onto a small boat. This took us to the place that would be our home for the next two weeks, Curieuse Island. Curieuse is a small granitic island surrounded by the marine park. The island is idyllic, with white sandy beaches and distinctive red earth. The rare coco de mer trees can be found growing here on the steep hills. The island is also home to the Aldabra giant tortoise (Geochelone gigantea), which is seen wandering around the island, and even right outside your accommodation.
Our team was made up of developing scientists from Kenya, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles, and Mitusbishi employees from Sweden and the UK. This made for a fantastic dynamic. Everyone felt privileged to be part of the team who were to spend the next two weeks together on this glorious island.
Our time on Curieuse was spent assisting scientists Drs. David Barnes and Richard Barnes survey the inter-tidal zone to investigate the diversity of species there. We worked in the mangroves, the rocky shore and the seagrass meadows. We also spent time searching for hermit crabs on the beaches to record the species. The hermits could be found hiding in the afternoon, tucked in tree roots or under decaying leaves. It was also sea turtle nesting season, and a turtle actually came up on the beach further down from where we were working to lay its eggs!
On a typical day we rose for breakfast at 7am and headed out to our study sites on the beach when the tide was out. Placing down quadrats at different shore levels we recorded the type and number of species found there. It was amazing how much life can be found among the rocks and sea grass, and how beautiful some of species were. The scientists' enthusiasm and excitement really rubbed off on us, and we were all soon reciting the scientific names of numerous crab and mollusc species. When we found something we didn't recognise, David or Richard would photograph the species for later identification.
Once we had collected all the data for the day and we were weary from the hot sun, we returned to the accommodation which is right on a beautiful white sandy beach fringed by coconut palms. We would then get to the task of identifying any unknown species and entering the data for later analysis.
After a hard day's work we would feast on delicious dishes such as coconut curries, octopus salads and grilled fish, prepared for us by our amazing cook, Philippe. After dinner we would gather together and one of the team would give a presentation about either their work, or an environmental issue in their country. We heard about many things, such as the threats to the mangroves in Sri Lanka, and the issues surrounding recycling in Sweden. All added to the overall experience of the project and left us all with a lot to think about. We would then finish the evening with a viewing of a natural history DVD which put the research in a wider context, and opened everyone's eyes to how amazing our planet is, and how exceptional the diversity of life really is.
During our two weeks on the island we found many rare and regionally important species. Annual monitoring of the newly established sites will enable scientists to determine the rates of change in habitat quality and, importantly, which key factors influence these rates of change.
Report by Natalie Rothwell of Earthwatch, January 2009.
Join the Earthwatch expedition Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles.
Read more about Earthwatch's capacity development programme.
Find out more about our partnership with the Mitsubishi Corporation Fund for Europe & Africa.