Cousin Island Special Reserve marine protected area (MPA) includes a 400 m exclusion zone from the shore. Managed since 1998 by Nature Seychelles, Cousin is successfully run and protected by a Seychellois team, self-funded through eco-tourism activities. Cousin Island scored very highly in a recent IUCN/UNEP management effectiveness appraisal, ranking it among the top MPAs in the Western Indian Ocean.
Stone fish in Cousin waters © Nick Graham
Studies have shown that the reefs in the Cousin Reserve contain 60% more of the commonly fished species than any other marine reserve in the granitic islands of Seychelles. Fish such as groupers, emperors and snappers, which are the target of Seychellois fishermen, are more abundant in numbers as well as species. The bumphead parrotfish (Bolpometopon muricatum), which has been exterminated in many parts of the world, is still found in large groups in the Cousin reef refuge.
While MPAs are subject to a multiplicity of threats, fishing remains the most significant human exploitative activity on the reefs of Seychelles. Research shows that levels of poaching in MPAs of Seychelles are perhaps higher than have been imagined. Currently only one MPA, Cousin Island Special Reserve, is achieving negligible poaching, and thus fulfilling its potential role in fishery management. The other MPAs in Seychelles all exhibit some degree of exploitation, and some are heavily poached. We attribute the success of Cousin to its small size, its remoteness from Mahe, that the local management have negotiated a unique relationship with poachers, and the substantial direct and indirect economic benefits that accrue to the local community from eco-tourism activities.
Impacts of coral bleaching
In the Seychelles, the 1998 warm water event resulted in up to 90% mortality. Slow but continuous reduction of structural complexity due to bioerosion of dead coral is evident on Cousin. In addition, algae is increasing as a result of widespread coral mortality. We may expect this shift in benthic habitat status to affect fish assemblages. However, surveys over the past seven years have shown that the Reserve has maintained a species-rich fish community, despite the incomplete coral cover and the damage sustained to the complex reef structure.
Newcastle University researcher surveying Cousin waters © S. Wilson
Coral reef fish © Jeff Watson
Cousin staff help return visitors to their boats after a guided tour on the island © Jeff Watson
Currently, Nature Seychelles is working in partnership with the University of Newcastle, UK, in assessing the impacts of the 1998 mass-mortality of corals on the associated reef dependent fish fauna. Newcastle University first carried out extensive surveys of Cousin’s reefs in 1994 and subsequently in 1998, three months post-bleaching. The bleaching event had a serious impact on Cousin; coral cover reduced from ~ 50% on coralline reefs to 0%, and from ~25% to 2% (massive corals only) on granitic reefs. This loss in coral cover had already reduced corallivore biomass significantly and there was a small increase in the biomass of herbivores. The same reefs are now being resurveyed seven years on from the bleaching event to look at the longer-term implications of the mass mortality. The surveys at Cousin, one of the best protected reefs in the main Seychelles Islands, fit within a larger collaborative study both within Seychelles and the Western Indian Ocean region.
A challenge to effective MPA management in developing countries is a lack of sufficient financing to implement management. This problem is particularly relevant to compliance issues, since enforcement is costly but an increase in expenditure does not necessarily guarantee an increase in compliance. Management cost-effectiveness is therefore vital in the Seychelles, where only Cousin is fully self-financed.
Community relations and benefits
Cousin management authority involved local people in protected area planning and also in sustainable use activities at a very early stage. Eco-tourism activities finance implementation of projects including the Local Environment Action Program (LEAP). Only local people are involved in eco-tourism on Cousin, ranging from small boat operators to larger tour organisations. Other small businesses on Praslin such as shops, cargo service, mechanics, small contractors and boatyards also benefit. The management maintains a unique relationship with the local community that forestalls poaching and has led to an increased understanding of the role of MPAs in local fisheries. Ongoing activities under the framework of a GEF-funded island partnership project will continue to involve the community in participatory marine resource conservation, awareness-raising and outreach.