Shah (L) introduces Lubchenco (Centre) to the Reef Rescuers coordinator Sarah (R) and the trainees
Professor Jane Lubchenco, the first ever US Oceans Envoy and Ambassador Sharon Villarosa together with 3 members of their staff, paid a visit to Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers Project and Cousin Island Special Reserve last week. The delegation was accompanied by Dr. Nirmal Jivan Shah, Nature Seychelles CEO and travelled from Mahe to Praslin where they met with Nature Seychelles’ Reef Rescuers team then to Cousin Island Special Reserve for an island tour.
Lubchenco, one of the world’s leading marine scientists, was nominated by President Obama in 2008 as part of his science team. Lubchenco is a University Distinguished Professor and Advisor in Marine Studies at Oregon State University. She served as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and as the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2009 to 2013. During her confirmation hearing, Senator Ron Wyden called Lubchenco ‘the bionic woman of good science.’
Lubchenco meets one of the 60 resident Aldabra tortoises on Cousin
The entire delegation was very impressed with Cousin island Special Reserve. “Truly one of the world’s great conservation success stories”, said Dr. Lubchenco. After touring Cousin, the high profile delegation then had a chance to see, from up-top, the reef restoration site. They also met the trainees in the currently ongoing Nature Seychelles’ International Reef Restoration Training program before the trainees went out for their morning dive.
While on Praslin, the delegation learned more about the USAID (Unites States Agency for International Development) and GEF/UNDP funded Reef Rescuers project. Dr. Sarah Frias-Torres, Reef Rescuers Coordinator gave a presentation on the coral reef restoration work since it began in 2010.
The Reef Rescuers team in a group pphoto with the high delegation
“The Reef Rescuers project has shown us that yes, we can do it,” Dr. Torres said of the work to restore corals in the granitic Islands of Seychelles. Dr. Lubchenco impressed upon the delegation that “Corals are important not just for the ocean. They are our future pharmacies and crucial in curbing climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).”
“Congratulations. The Reef Restoration work is truly a success,” Lubchenco said after the presentation. She expressed how amazed she was with the large scale and the real-world results of the coral reef restoration work. With more to discuss than the allocated time permitted, the conversation continued over a wonderful Creole lunch at the Le Relax hotel on Praslin. The team answered more questions on the Reef Rescuers project, and Lubchenco shared her experience with coral reef restoration and other marine conservation work.
Cousin wardens also wanted a group photo with the high delegation
“It was a great honor to host such a distinguished scientist,” says Dr Nirmal Shah. “Such a high profile visit to our projects by the US Oceans Envoy and Ambassador gives us as an organization a great boost and further conviction that the conservation work we are doing is important not just in the Seychelles but also to the international community.”
This was not their first meeting. In fact, Lubchenco and Shah first met in 1995 at a fisheries ecosystem workshop in California where Lunchenco warmly remembers Shah’s passion about Seychelles and its biodiversity.
It was also not the first meeting with Ambassador Villarosa who is in the Seychelles every month. Villarosa is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Mauritius, and also serves concurrently as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Seychelles.
Shari Villaros listening to Tom Hiney (Chief Warden on Cousin) as he narrates the restoration and success story the Island
While on Cousin, Villarosa got to see the recently launched solar system which was substantially funded by her embassy. Villarosa has visited Cousin Island, a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and Important Bird (IBA) several times. She even dived with the Reef Rescuers team two years ago, a memory she recalls warmheartedly. “I would love to get my hands on that photo,” she said on learning that there are photos of that dive in Nature Seychelles archives.