SeyCCAT strategic objective: Support new and existing marine and coastal protected areas and sustainable use zones.
Lead Project Partner: Island Conservation Society
Partners: Farquhar Foundation, Island Biodiversity & Conservation Centre – University of Seychelles (IBC-UniSey), Islands Development Company (IDC), Alphonse Island Lodge (AIL) and Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Climate Change (MEECC).
One of the main actions within the Seychelles Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) decision-making process is the identification of marine protected areas (MPAs). Such areas must be of proven importance for marine wildlife therefore research on different taxonomic groups need to be undertaken in order to inform decisions. To tackle this problem, researchers should also focus on marine predators. Top predators are indeed good indicators of ecosystem health (Butchart et al. 2004, BirdLife 2015) and making actions to preserve their populations will have a positive impact on the whole ecosystem. Seabirds are top predators of the marine ecosystem and increasing evidence acknowledges that threats at sea could lead to major declines (Furness 2002, Croxall et al. 2012). Therefore, identifying seabird foraging areas and habitat preferences at sea, as well as abundance and trends in the colonies, has become a main focus for research and conservation (Lewison et al. 2012) and is fundamental evidence to inform the MPAs identification process within the MSP (Le Corre et al. 2012).
Such studies on seabirds should be carried out on islands hosting important colonies (or roosts) that have already been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs, Rocamora & Skerrett 2001). Such colonies can also provide the perfect location for foraging and at-sea habitat selection studies, using telemetry methods.
The Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is vast and in its most remote locations there is little data on marine wildlife and no data on seabird population foraging ecology. Therefore, for this study, a remote IBA has been identified for the data collection: Farquhar Atoll. This study will also benefit from data from a separate ongoing project at St. François Atoll (Alphonse Group). The presence of ICS and IDC on such locations is fundamental to have scientific and logistical support. The Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) was chosen as the study species as it breeds/roosts in large numbers at the two main study sites, and tracking studies have already been started on this species at St François, that holds its largest known roost in the western Indian Ocean (Noguès & Rocamora, 2017). It can easily be fitted with telemetry devices. Moreover, recent population estimations are lacking in Seychelles and there is no information about its movements and habitat selection at sea.
The main objectives of this project are to provide population size estimates, geographical distribution and trends for two of the main (and fast growing) concentrations (breeding colonies or roosts) of the Red-footed Booby (RFB) in Seychelles, and to identify the foraging areas exploited by this species and its habitat selection at sea around Farquhar. Both achievements will be essential information for the identification and management of MPAs within the MSP. The conservation status of the RFB (and of other seabird species with the same environmental requirements) will be assessed and considerably improved.
The main activities include: (i) RFB census on Farquhar Atoll using standard census techniques; (ii) tracking RFB using GPS devices during the breeding season on Farquhar; (iii) non-breeding RFB counts on St. François Atoll and (iv) capacity building and dissemination of results. The main outputs will be: (i) RFB population estimates and trends on Farquhar and St Francois; (ii) reports and spatial data on most important foraging areas for RFB around Farquhar; (iii) training of ICS staff working on the two sites; (iv) international and local dissemination of results. The overall outcomes of the project are to build capacity locally, improve the knowledge on the RFB and identify Important Bird Areas at sea that can inform the identification of MPAs. The project objectives are in line with the Seychelles National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (Nevill et al. 2014).
Marine ecosystem conservation will benefit from this project together with local NGOs and possibly UniSey students. Moreover, this project will be an important part of the international efforts to identify MPAs and IBAs in the Western Indian Ocean (Le Corre et al. 2012) and it will build on local ongoing projects such as the GoS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project. The project will commence in February 2019 and conclude in January 2021. The first year will focus mainly on the fieldwork and staff training while the second year on data analysis and writing up of scientific and communication material. A symposium at UniSey will be organized at the end of the project for stakeholders and the public in order to disseminate results. During the course of 2020 the data will be made available to the MSPteam and will be invaluable to the new Ocean’s Authority that will be setup with the mandate to oversee/coordinate actions related to the implementation of the MSP in due course.
SeyCCAT funds: SCR 1 Million
Co-financing: SCR 723 700
Duration: February 2019 – January 2021
Project Application Form: Project Application Form
Preliminary Results of the RFB surveys
- Circular Plots: Preliminary results show that the population was 11,703 (+/-1361) (April 2019) and 10,344 (+/-1581) pairs (November 2019) respectively. This means that RFBs breed more or less all year round at Farquhar Atoll. The method is considered very robust and precise. It will be very interesting to compare the estimate obtained from circular plots in the main colonies, with the one obtained with drone images.
- Drone Survey: 21 flights were conducted over 4.5 days. All flights went well, with no technical issues. No major sign of disturbance to RFBs was found and only a few risks of collision during takeoff and landing phases. On average, each flight lasted 9 minutes, took 150 images and covered approximately 30,000m2. In total 3,200 images were generated and a total area of 612,000m2 was covered. Software engineers at the University of Réunion are now stitching all the images together using specialized computer software to create an orthophotomozaic of the entire colonies in preparation for analysis.
During a routine turtle patrol across St. François on the 14th October 2019, the ICS team on Alphonse discovered a Red-footed booby nesting in a Casuarina tree with a chick visible. Several other incomplete nests were observed. The chick fledged successfully but no other birds nested. This is the first observation/record of this species breeding on St François.
Training & Knowledge Sharing
A total of 6 ICS staff have been trained to date on a range of techniques including: catching, handling, measuring and banding birds, how to age chicks with biometrics data and how to deploy satellite transmitters and take blood samples from RFBs.
Basic seabird tracking workshop available for BSc/MSc students
Le Corre gave a lecture at the University of Seychelles on seabird ecology and conservation in the tropical western Indian Ocean on Friday 6th December 2019 to all BSc UniSey students, staff and representatives from ICS, other NGOs and environmental organisations working in Seychelles (DoE, SNPA, SFA, etc.).
Preliminary results of the current work will be made available to UniSey BSc/MSc students in January or February 2021, when a seabird symposium will take place.