A month long clean-up operation is underway on Cousin Island Special Reserve as conservation staff collect and ship away man made debris left behind during the island’s plantation days, forty years ago.
The junk due to be shipped off the island built up largely while the island was still a working plantation prior to its purchase for environmental protection and conservation. The debris – amounting to five tonnes – has remained on the island, hidden from sight of visiting tourists, but still a blot on an otherwise pristine ecosystem.
And moving five tonnes of old rubbish off one of the most environmentally sensitive islands in the country is no easy task. In addition to considerations about the thousands of seabirds which nest on the island, the delicate land bird species which have found a refuge there and the possibility of a chance encounter with a nesting Hawksbill turtle, the operation’s priority consideration has been how to avoid providing an opportunity for rats to make their way to Cousin.
One of the key features of Cousin’s environmental success has been the absence of rats, which have preyed on birds, lizards and insects on every one of Seychelles’ islands they have reached, pushing many species to the brink of extinction.
To prevent the threat of an accidental rat introduction during Cousin’s regular tourism operations, the island’s own small boats motor out to the visiting tourist vessels and the same labour intensive strategy is being put in place for the clean up operation.
Cousin’s two small boats will ferry back and forth to a specially commissioned rubbish barge, waiting off-shore, which will then ship the waste to Praslin where it will be disposed of in the sanitary landfill. The whole operation has to take place in a single day.
“History is not always interesting. Sometimes the dirt of ages has to be swept away, not under the carpet but somewhere else more appropriate,” said Nature Seychelles’ CEO Nirmal Shah ahead of the clean up operation.
The Cousin clean up operation has also highlighted the difficulties of managing small, rat-free, island reserves. The clean up operation has been on the cards for a long time but the expense, logistical difficulties and safety for biodiversity and staff have impeded action. Today the operation is costing about SR. 20,000 with the loss of many working hours on conservation.
“One of the environmental lessons we can learn from the Cousin clean up is that if we act now we avoid difficulties in the future. What may have seemed like a minor rubbish problem at the time has now become a major undertaking,” said Ian Valmont , Cousin’s Chief Warden.