BGF#2

Type: Large

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).

Summary:

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

DurationFebruary 2019  – January 2021

Project Application Form: Project Application Form