Seabird study to reveal health of oceans

Nature Seychelles is working on a long-term study of the life cycles of seabirds in the Western Indian Ocean. The diet, growth-rate, body condition, breeding success and population sizes of seabirds are all useful indicators of the overall health of the marine environment. Seabirds are 'barometers' of change.

Researcher Lucie Faulquier has been studying the Audubon's Shearwater on Cousin. She monitored the hatching of this egg, which took over 24 hours © Lucie Faulquier 


The Brown Noddy is among the seabird species being studies in the WIOMSA project © R. Bristol


Measuring white-tailed tropicbird chick's wing © R. Bristol 


A project called Seabirds as bio-indicators of tropical marine ecosystems is now underway, funded by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, or WIOMSA. It is being implemented by ECOMAR at the University of Réunion, Nature Seychelles, the Island Conservation Society, the University of Coimbra (Portugal), with researchers from the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD) and WildWings Bird Management in the UK. Technicians from the Seychelles Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources are also involved.

We have organised research work on Cousin Island, including measurements of birds and collection of blood and feather samples of seven seabird species for analysis. Nature Seychelles staff on Cousin and researchers from ECOMAR have worked together to weigh and measure chicks of six species to determine body condition and growth rates.

We have collected stomach content samples from chicks to determine meal size and diet,  and weighed chicks of five species at regular intervals throughout the day and night to determine feeding times. The study will run for 3 years.

Local staff have benefitted from this 'on the job' training, which consolidates local research capacity. It is providing a firm grounding for Seychellois staff in field techniques, and ensures we have the capacity to be able to continue this work after the project ends. The project is funding more academic training. Cousin Island Assistant Manager Ian Valmont was among three Seychellois delegates attending a course called Tropical Seabird Ecology held at the University of La Reunion. The course involved fieldwork at seabird colonies, and work in the laboratory. Trainees learned how to measure, weigh and ring birds safely.

'The course has been very useful in all aspects,' Ian reported. 'The project will shed light on trends between the growing demand for fish and the impact this will have on seabirds. Each participating body also gave a presentation of their own place of work or organisation and some of the projects happening at the moment. This gave the university staff and students an overview of how things are being done in Seychelles. Some expressed a real desire to come and volunteer or do research here.'

The website of the Seabird Group of the Indian Ocean is at: http://www.sciencesnaturelles.be/cb/iosg/index.htm

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Centre for Environment & Education

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P.O. Box 1310, Mahe, Seychelles

Tel:+ 248 4601100

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Email: nature@seychelles.net