Coconuts to conservation - BirdLife’s History in 20 Objects

Cousin Island Special ReserveThe Seychelles was once known as the country in Africa with the largest number of 'Critically Endangered' birds except for Madagascar. Today, it is a country identified with conservation successes; its nature and wildlife adored by tourists. Cousin Island Special Reserve has contributed immensely to this success.

For its 90th birthday celebrations, BirdLife is writing an articles series called BirdLife’s History in 20 Objects. The first of these objects was the historic formation of the International Committee for Bird Preservation (ICBP) in 1992, which later became BirdLife in 1993, and is now a global Partnership working with 117 Partners worldwide including Nature Seychelles.

The second object took a spotlight to the rescue of the critically endangered Seychelles warbler, which has become one the most amazing success stories in this region and the world.

"Cousin Island in Seychelles was actually purchased in order to save the remaining 26 individuals of a Critically Endangered bird. The unobtrusive but melodious Seychelles Warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis) was barely clinging to existence on this lone 0.3km2 island, with much of its original habitat converted to coconut plantations," the article explains.

The island's coconuts were cut back and native vegetation allowed to regenerate, which allowed the warbler to flourish. "Biologists – consisting of local Seychellois people supported by the wider BirdLife Partnership especially the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) – implemented a habitat restoration programme... by 1982 the maximum possible population of the island was reached, so 320 birds could be heard whistling in the recovered forest."

Conservation on the island helped save not only the warbler, but some of the Seychelles' endemic birds and this success was replicated elsewhere. "The island restoration and protected area management of Cousin Island Special Reserve provided a model that was followed by other conservation programmes in the Seychelles, meaning that from the initial protection of one bird, countless other animal species have been protected. The now pristine beach of Cousin Island is the most important breeding site for the Hawksbill turtle (Erechmotelys imbricate) in the Indian Ocean," the article notes.

It also led to the formation of Nature Seychelles: "Through the involvement of local people in this project, a brand new indigenous conservation organisation was established  who today care for several species that they have brought back from the edge of extinction."

Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles Chief Executive has been involved  with ICPB/Birdlife for over two decades now. "The partnership in Seychelles was built from scratch," he says. “I was ICBP Representative from 1987 till 1999. I became the founding Director of Birdlife Seychelles, now Nature Seychelles. In 2012, my official relationship with ICBP/BirdLife will therefore have spanned 25 years. My unofficial links go back to my childhood because my father was ICBP Representative before me.”

Nature Seychelles took over responsibility of Cousin Island. It is an Important Bird Area vital for bird conservation. Initiation of eco-tourism in 1972 has grown to become an exciting program run under internationally accepted principles and which has won numerous awards and accolades.

In 2009 Nature Seychelles took steps to neutralize Cousin's carbon footprint. In September 2010 it became the first carbon neutral nature reserve in the world.

"Proudly celebrated by Nature Seychelles as the world’s first carbon neutral nature reserve, Cousin Island now receives 10,000 visitors a year. They generate a far greater income than the original destructive coconut and cinnamon plantations ever did," the article says.

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