Cousin Island: a model for ecotourism and conservation in Seychelles

Visitors are slowly returning to Cousin Island Special Reserve. Although few in number, they show that the island's vibrant ecotourism, which funds conservation, still draws attention and needs to be marketed as safe, attractive, and sustainable.

Introduced in 1970, Cousin's ecotourism has grown by leaps and bounds. This has come about because of Nature Seychelles' considerable efforts to make Cousin "one of the best examples of a wild and wonderful Seychelles." Conservation of biodiversity takes precedence, but research has shown that a commitment to conservation does not have to be at the exclusion of a valuable tourism experience.

Cousin is natural and untouched

Cousin is natural and untouched

"It’s taken over 50 years of hard work and money to transform Cousin from a coconut plantation to what BirdLife International calls 'one of the world’s great conservation success stories. Surely, only that is enough to place an enormous value on the Reserve," says Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles' Chief Executive.

The island's excellent ecotourism product has worn accolades and has been cited as an example of best practice in the East African and Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region. Visitors have given the island top marks for the ecotourism experience as evidenced by past surveys, which scored the reserve in the categories of value for money, island tours, guiding quality and embarking and disembarking from the island.

Making friends with one of the islands giant tortoises Photo Charlotte Balicourt on Instagram

Tourists making friends with one of the island's giant tortoises (Photo: Charlotte Balicourt on Instagram)

This has been backed up by comments left by visitors. "Thank you, you showed us more than we could have hoped for. It is good to see the careful conservation of your biodiversity that we have read all about before we came," one said. "This was the best and well organised nature tour I've ever had. It was very encouraging to see how seriously Seychelles is about protecting their environment and heritage of the world. Thanks to everybody who works here," said another.

Ecotourism has been developed as a tool for sustainable financing of conservation. Not only does it fund Cousin itself, but the financial flows from Cousin are also used for other conservation activities in general in Seychelles.

Cousin is part of the most popular tours operated by local tourism operators. Although many operators have not returned to Cousin yet as a result of the low numbers of tourists seeking excursions, they say that they are looking forward to getting their visitors back to the island.

Cousin is part of the most popular tours operated by local tourism operators File photo 2019

Cousin is part of the most popular tours operated by local tourism operators 

"Cousin is a special island. It's one of the most visited by my clients because of the biodiversity - you have birds, and lizards, and you have turtles during the season. And it's completely untouched," a local operator said.

According to the World Bank, three clear steps have emerged from discussions for tourism to build better forward. First, is improving traveller confidence; second, understanding and tracking new market trends and the drivers of demand; and third, commiting to build more resilient and inclusive tourism sectors, leveraging renewed interest in sustainability. Nature Seychelles is looking to boost visitor confidence in the safety of Cousin, as well as at new and innovative ideas forecotourism.


We are grateful for the support we have received from the European Union and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States through the BIOPAMA Programme, which is supporting the island reserve through the project "Supporting management effectiveness and improve socio-economic resilience in the Cousin Island Special Reserve, Republic of Seychelles." The project funds the salaries of staff on the reserve ensuring that they can remain stationed on the island and continue to carry out conservation, research, and surveillance activities.

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The contents of this story are the sole responsibility of Nature Seychelles and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union nor of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

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