Type: Large

SeyCCAT strategic objective: Support new and existing marine and coastal protected areas and sustainable use zones.

Lead Project Partner: Rachel Bristol

Partners: Bird Island Eco-Lodge, Seychelles Christine Larose, WildWingsBird Management, Seychelles Prof Chris Feare, WildWingsBird Management, UK.


  • The problem and the solution. The Sooty Tern is the most numerous seabird in Seychelles, nesting mainly in large colonies and ringing, geolocator and GPS investigations have shown that it is also the most highly pelagic. Upon fledgling juveniles remain at sea for up to 5 years before returning to breed. Where they go on first departure from the breeding colony is unknown but is likely to be an important destination with predictable food abundance (fish and squid). As such, it may represent an important area for many top predators and thus an area of high conservation significance for marine resources. We aim to identify this area by tracking departing Sooty Tern fledglings using satellite telemetry.


  • Site description. Satellite tags will be attached to juveniles just prior to their departure from the large breeding colony on Bird Island, where details of colony biology have been studied for over 40 years and where the island owners are highly supportive of these studies. Birds in this colony nest densely and are very tolerant of researcher disturbance; it is thus an ideal site for this study.


  • Overall outcome, objective(s); outputs(s) and activities(s). The outcome of this project is to identify Candidate Marine Protected Areas through the identification of highly productive foraging areas or “hotspots” used by juvenile Sooty Terns during the gaining of independence from their parents, and post-independence for the first 2 years of their lives. Juvenile Sooty Terns will be tracked from fledging using satellite telemetry and areas of high use will be plotted and investigated.


  • Rationale for the project approach. The ringing of over 11,000 juvenile Sooty Terns in Seychelles has provided much information on age at first breeding, mortality between fledging and first return to breed, and on annual mortality during adulthood. However, only two ringed juveniles have been reported during their first year after departure from Bird Island, one each in Sri Lanka and Northern Australia. Ringing thus cannot identify where juveniles feed in their first months of life and other tracking approaches (geolocators and GPS loggers) are inappropriate for tracking juveniles due to the need to recapture devices to download data. Satellite telemetry, using trackers with solar charged batteries that transmit data continuously for many years, represents the only currently-available technique that will provide relevant information.


  • This new spatial data on important Sooty Tern foraging locationscan be used to inform new protected area location and designation, thus of direct relevance and use to the current Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan (SMSP) project. This knowledge will also be important to Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change (MEECC), Seychelles Fisheries Authority (SFA), and other bodies, national and international, concerned with marine resource conservation, management and exploitation.


  • Timeline or phases of the project. The project will begin in June 2019 with trials of attachment of dummy satellite tags to Sooty Terns and working tags will be attached in August 2019. Data will be downloaded continuously up to June 2021 to reveal the location of both (i) early feeding sites of recently-fledged dependent juveniles and (ii) their subsequent dispersal over the Indian Ocean, post gaining independence from their parents additionally revealing international waters of importance to Seychelles’ Sooty Terns.


  • Alignment with international and national priorities. This project contributes to national and international conservation and adaptation priorities: (i) global SDG 14 (conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources); (ii) SSDS2012-2020 Fisheries and Marine Resources programme (importance of Protected Areas for sustainable fisheries); (iii) Seychelles NBSAP 2015-2020 Strategic Goal 3 (enhance biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity: priority projects 1 (Enable informed extension of PA network) and 5 (Prioritise Management of Endemic Species, Threatened Species and Critical Habitats) and identify and address new conservation priorities (such as keystone species and critical habitats) to meet Seychelles’ CBD obligations; (iv) Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan Initiative by providing timely new spatial data on important keystone seabird foraging locations that can be used to inform new protected area location and designation.

SeyCCAT funds:   SCR 903,600

Co-financing: SCR 575,290

Duration: June 2019 – May 2021

Project Application Form: Project Application Form

Environmental and social management plan: – ESMP Sooty Tern satellite tracking_BGF2LN6 -E&S



Where are they?

Tracks of our 13 satellite-tagged juvenile Sooty Terns as at 1st December. The turquoise dot is Bird Island. Most of the birds headed north on departure from the island, but one went about 100 km to the south-west before turning to the north. All birds flew in the vicinity of the Coco de Mer ridge, an undersea mountain range.

Find out more.


  • Bird Island is represented by the white dot
  • 14 of the 15 chicks fitted with satellite transmitters fledged successfully
  • The juveniles left Bird Island in mid to late September
  • They initially went North to the Coco-de-Mer Ridge area but have now have traveled further afield.
  • Each chicks’ movements’ since leaving Bird Island are by a different colour line.
  • In the c.2.5 months since fledging they have each traveled thousands of kilometres.




  • At the time of production of this newsletter 10 juveniles are still being tracked:  all 5 individuals with transmitters produced by Microwave Telemetry Inc are still active and 5 of the 10 transmitters produced by Lotek are still active (one failed before fledging and another 4 are no longer active).
  • We do not know if the 4 recently lost transmitters is due to juvenile mortality or satellite tag failure or a combination of both, however juvenile mortality is likely as juvenile Sooty Tern mortality is naturally quite high

SeyCCAT funds a programme for satellite tracking of juvenile Sooty Terns from Bird Island

Earlier this year Rachel Bristol, WildWings Bird Management and Bird Island Eco Lodge applied for and were awarded a grant from the SeyCCAT. Read more.

SeyCCAT sponsored Sooty Tern tracking project makes early progress

The next phase of the trial therefore involves monitoring the nest sites of our two tagged birds from a distance using binoculars. Read more.

SeyCCAT project: update on satellite tracking of juvenile Sooty Terns from Bird Island

After the test period we shall programme the tags to report locations daily up to 31 December this year, by which time we expect the young birds to have become independent of their parents. Read more.

Gender Lens - Women in research and Conservation

Women engaging other women in research and conservation efforts on Bird Island – Read about it from the gender lens