SeyCCAT strategic objective: 1 – Support new and existing marine and coastal protected areas and sustainable use zones.
Lead Project Partner: Blue Safari Seychelles.
Partners: Marine Conservation Society Seychelles and Island Conservation Society
SeyCCAT funds: SCR 96,545
Blue Safari Seychelles will provide co-financing through:
- The in-kind donation of the project lead’s time and expertise – SCR 11,280
- Subsidised accommodation, equipment and boat hire costs
- Use of on-site cameras, camera equipment and software- SCR 31,100 (value)
- Use of satellite internet for the duration of the project – SCR 29,000 (approx..)
- In-kind donation of skipper’s salary for 12 days of boat use – SCR 7,249
- Electricity for the duration of fieldwork – SCR 754
Duration: 12 months
The abundance and diversity of fish species within tropical marine environments, particularly coral reefs, reflect the overall health of the ecosystem. The ‘holy trinity’ of interdependent coastal habitats comprising coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves has some of the highest biodiversity in the world, especially in small Indo-Pacific islands like Seychelles. Yet, these habitats are vulnerable to anthropogenic threats, including ocean acidification, climate change, overfishing and marine pollution. A solid scientific base is needed to inform policy and conservation decisions that will protect these fragile ecosystems.
While the marine biodiversity of Seychelles’ granitic islands is relatively well studied, little is known about the marine fish communities that inhabit the Outer Islands. The two atolls that make up the Alphonse Group (Alphonse and St. François atoll) are situated over 400 km southwest of Mahé and contain diverse marine habitats. Although only 2 km apart, the atolls are separated by a deepwater channel, which delivers cool upwellings and protects the atolls’ coral reefs from climate-induced bleaching that affected reefs around Seychelles. The remoteness of the atolls also shielded them from stresses like overfishing and pollution, with the only impact coming from a small catch-and-release tourism operation, which follows strict codes of conduct and works closely with local conservation partners.
Blue Safari Seychelles, an eco-tourism travel company, joined forces with the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MSCC) and the Island Conservation Society (ICS), both established environmental NGOs to research and document the biodiversity of the Alphonse Group. The Rapid Biodiversity Assessment project takes stock of shallow-water (<40m) fish species around the two atolls to create a biodiversity baseline. This baseline will be used to design an effective conservation management strategy, which is set to become legally binding. The baseline will also offer a reference point to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation measures and monitor the overall health of these ecosystems over time.
The assessment uses a simple methodology where a team of two to four surveyors spent 42 hours over 14 days documenting fish species across different habitats. Every fish was photographed and identified using FishBase (fishbase.org) database. A photographic species inventory was created for future use.
The project identified 479 species of 68 families, including 11 species of conservation importance on the IUCN Redlist – eight listed as vulnerable and three as critically endangered. The project also confirmed a 1400 km range extension for sunset anthias (Pseudanthias parvirostris) and recorded nine species seen in Seychelles for the first time. Finally, it identified two potentially new species not previously known to science. Their samples have been sent to the Guelph University Barcode Lab of Life for genetic testing.
For example, pictured above is possibly a Reptilian Snake Eel (Bracysomophis henshawi). Pending confirmation of the species, it might be the first sighting of this animal in Seychelles.
The findings of the project highlight the significance of the remote and undisturbed atolls, which serve as sanctuaries for biodiversity, including rare and endangered species, creating a stronger case for robust conservation efforts and policy interventions to preserve these unique ecosystems. It also serves as a proof of concept that even simple methodology and limited manpower can produce noteworthy findings.
The project follows similar research conducted at D’Arros and St. Josephs atolls (Daly et al., 2018) and uses a similar methodology to ensure that the data from the sites can be compared for a more comprehensive view of the biodiversity in the Seychelles’ Outer Islands.
Follow the project on social media: Instagram @alphonsefoundation, @bluesafariseychelles, @marineconservationsocietysey; Facebook: Elle Brighton, Alphonse Foundation, MCSS
WIOMSA Poster- Reef Fish – Eleanor Brighton_edit