Seychelles’ science shines at scientific symposium
Via the Seychelles Nation 21.11.11 - As Seychelles develops a knowledge-based society, recent exciting activities proved that science and technology are advancing rapidly in our small country. The seventh scientific symposium of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) held recently in Mombasa, Kenya, witnessed scientific presentations – both oral and posters – by nine Seychellois and Seychelles-based scientists from several institutions.
Consolidating the advances made, two Seychellois PhD students – Karen Chong-Seng and Jude Bijoux – were given awards for best oral presentations – a reflection of the quality of their work and the professionalism of their presentations.WIOMSA is internationally recognised as the major marine and coastal science institution in the region. Its president is Seychellois Nirmal Jivan Shah – the first citizen from a small island state of the region elected to head this increasingly indispensable association that brings together scientists, managers, policy makers, students and key stakeholders. More than 500 delegates attended the seventh symposium.
Seychelles’ contribution to marine science and conservation
The growing contribution of Seychelles to marine science and conservation was highlighted during the symposium. The focus was also on the lead authors of these presentations who are based at the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA), Nature Seychelles and the Island Conservation Society (ICS).
Karen Chong-Seng is a Seychellois PhD student enrolled at the James Cook University (Australia). Her studies, based in Seychelles and supported by the Seychelles Fishing Authority, aims at understanding the ecological processes that are important for the recovery of coral reefs.
Recent studies have revealed that some of our inshore reefs are recovering from the coral bleaching episode of 1998. However, at many others, the recovery of corals has been slow or the reefs are now being dominated by algae instead of coral.
Ms Chong-Seng’s research findings will have implications on how we manage human impacts on reefs, including the fisheries for algae-eating fish that play an important role in reef recovery.
Jude Bijoux is well known to Praslin fishermen who helped him in his research on kordonnyen blan. In his study, Mr Bijoux analyses the time the fish spend at sites where they spawn, known as spawning aggregations, whether they are faithful to particular sites, and the distances and routes the fish travel to reach there.
The work has been very useful in the establishment of co-management of small scale fisheries on Praslin between Praslin fishermen themselves and the SFA. Mr Bijoux’s PhD studies have been supported by the GEF, SFA, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) and the University of Marseille (France).
The symposium also offered an opportunity for other young Seychellois scientists to showcase the work they are doing at organisations such as the SFA.
Gregory Berke presented on SEYSHA, a collaborative project between of SFA, IRD, Marine Conservation Society Seychelles and the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB). This project is studying the spatial behaviour of reef sharks around the inner islands of Seychelles, for which acoustic transmitters are used to track their movements and residency at inshore reefs. This work addresses an important gap we have in our knowledge of sharks and will help in the implementation of the national plan of action for sharks.
Calvin Gerry, who is a physical oceanographer working for the SFA, delivered a presentation on computer-based models of how kordonnyen blan larvae disperse from spawning aggregation sites on Praslin.
Similar to Mr Bijoux’s work, this study is supporting the establishment of co-management for small-scale fisheries on Praslin, by providing information on the distribution of kordonnyen blan as well as the supply of the larvae to reef areas.
More senior scientists who have been working for many years in the field were present as well and they made some key presentations.
Jan Robinson from the SFA delivered a presentation on spiny lobster (oumar) stock assessment. This study will provide estimates of optimal harvest rates that, if introduced, would enable the fishery to be open for more consecutive seasons than is currently allowed. It is now recognised that elimination of illegal fishing in closed seasons and years would allow either more licences to be given or an extension of the open season to more than three months – an important finding for our fishermen.
Riaz Aumeeruddy of Nature Seychelles presented information from a pilot study that is looking at the impacts of climate change on hawksbill turtles. Turtle eggs are sensitive to minor changes in nest temperature that can change the sex ratio of hatchlings.
Mr Aumeeruddy also made a presentation on a recently launched project to identify and demarcate Marine Important Bird Areas (MIBAs) in Seychelles. This is being seen as a new tool to protect important areas of the ocean that are important for seabirds which themselves are indicators of the health of the ocean.
Dr Shah’s ‘reef gardening’ concept
Dr Shah of Nature Seychelles presented an overview of the coral reef restoration work that is being conducted at the Cousin island special reserve and other reefs on Praslin. The corals reefs of Cousin were particularly badly affected by the coral bleaching episode of 1998 and have shown slow rates of recovery.
The work involves the ‘reef gardening’ concept where small fragments of corals are collected and reared in underwater nurseries. Upon reaching suitable sizes, these so-called coral nubbins are then transplanted on to degraded reefs, where their survival is carefully monitored. This will be the first time in the world that such a large scale coral restoration programme using this method is being attempted Aurélie Duhec from the ICS delivered a presentation on Black-naped Tern (Dyanman) breeding colonies in the St François Atoll. This uncommon and understudied seabird is of high ornithological interest since the conducted studies have now identified two small nesting sites and revealed two nesting periods per year.
Interestingly, a single Roseate Tern (Dyanman roz) has constantly been observed within the breeding colony during four consecutive years and research is continuing into suspected hybridisation between the two species.
It was suggested that St François should now qualify as an Important Bird Area for Black-naped terns, for which the current threshold is just two birds, and work will continue on understanding the breeding behaviour of the two species at the sites.
Other foreign scientists working in Seychelles also made presentations. Haruko Koike, a PhD student based at the SFA and the University of Hawaii, presented preliminary results from her studies on the sea cucumber fishery of Seychelles.
This research is looking at whether there is a natural refuge for commercial sea cucumber occurring in areas too deep for divers to operate. This is being conducted using an unmanned submarine vehicle that can descend to depths greater than 40 metres and video sea cucumbers. The study will also address the benefits of marine protected areas (MPAs) for sea cucumbers and the role of habitat in their distribution and abundance.
As well as these first-author presentations, many Seychellois and Seychelles-based scientists also featured on more than 10 other presentations as co-authors, reflecting the broad collaboration and involvement in regional projects that are advancing science in Seychelles and elsewhere.
“The high level of exposure for Seychelles science at the WIOMSA symposium should serve as a benchmark for further progress in the years to come. It can provide an inspiration for young Seychellois interested in science,” said Mr Shah, the WIOMSA president.
Jan Robinson added: “With the establishment of the University of Seychelles, it is expected that future generations will provide a steady source of scientists to continue working on knowledge-based solutions to the many issues that Seychelles faces.”