SeyCCAT and Nekton co-financed five research projects led by different individuals in Seychelles. In total, 7 Seychellois directly benefited from this grant. Read more about the research projects undertaken on the Nekton Mission in Seychelles, here. All updates are derived from reports of the researchers.
Seychelles Ocean Symposium – 9th to 12th November 2020
SeyCCAT, Nekton and other Seychelles based partners came together in November 2020 to bring together an online symposium. The symposium saw the participation of more than 10 local and international partners over a four-day period with more than 30 presentations highlighting the work being conducted in the Seychelles. SeyCCAT grantees as well as the Seychelles-Nekton First Descent Expedition in 2019. The presentations can be accessed here.
The symposium attracted more than 300 attendees over the course of the week.
Researcher: Dr Jeanne Mortimer
Research question: What species of seagrass and marine algae occur in the outer islands of Seychelles? How are the species distributed from island to island? What is the relationship between water depth and patterns of distribution and species composition? What is the maximum depth in which they can survive?
Jeanne, has so far been involved in shallow water collection from seagrass habitats in Poivre, St Joseph atoll, and Desroches Island (two sites). This involved collecting, curating and archiving sample from each site. Observer reports and photos taken by the submersibles and the ROVs indicated that large amounts of dead seagrass were raining onto the deep sea floor from above—at every depth surveyed during the expedition.
Read the findings and presentations of Dr Jeanne A. Mortimer here
Researcher: Jennifer Appoo – the Science and Projects Coordinator at the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF).
Research question: Investigating the marine predator community around Aldabra to assess connectivity between shallow and deep-sea ecosystems and the effectiveness of the Aldabra marine zonation strategy. This will combine data on top marine predators from the Seychelles Islands Foundation with the data collected from the Nekton Expedition and will provide a complete picture of the marine predator community around Aldabra down to 500m.
Aldabra’s near-shore marine area is divided into three management zones namely tourism zones, food security zones and conservation zones. This type of zonation strategy within a marine protected area is the first in Seychelles. The research will investigate the abundance, diversity and distribution of marine predators around Aldabra from the shallow to the deep sea and the effectiveness of the zoning plan on these top predators. The results will provide valuable lessons for sustainable fisheries management for Aldabra and this model example can be replicated in other locations in the country through the Marine Spatial Planning process.
Final Scientific Report: Aldabra marine predator report_JAppoo_final
Researchers: Stephanie Marie, Clara Belmont, Andrew Souffe and Nathalie Bodin.
Research Topic: Variability in trophic signatures of zooplankton and food web dynamics within Seychelles waters
Seychelles depends highly on fish, as their main source of protein, and planktons (small microorganisms in the water) happen to play a vital role in fish diet. However, the effect of climate change threatens the plankton communities. In order to ensure good fish quality for consumption the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) needs to observe how climate change is having an effect on the marine ecosystem and in turn, influence the management plan for sustainable fisheries.
Whilst Stephanie has not been able to travel, Nuria Rico Seijo, the lab manager of the Nekton foundation based in Oxford has been assisting the project. She has begun sifting through every sample to find out what type of microscopic animals make up each sample, by location and by night and day.
Preliminary results: The preliminary results show that copepods (which are part of the Phylum Arthropoda) occur in the highest abundance in all the samples investigated so far (Figure 1 and 2). You can learn more about the world of zooplankton and the preliminary results here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtSXQXULZ4M. The results will be used by Stephanie to examine the within-taxa spatial variation in zooplankton isotopic, fatty acid signatures and to link it to environment conditions.
Output: Zooplankton sampling protocol using Neuston Net.
COVID-19 delays: Stephanie has faced many delays with her project which has occurred due to the travel restrictions imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19 worldwide.
Ichthyoplankton surveys give valuable information as to the spawning dynamics of a host of different species. With the advancement of genetics methods, scientists are now able to investigate both larvae as well as eggs, with some scientists arguing that fish eggs provide a more precise method to evaluate the spawning habits of fish populations because eggs are easier to track as, unlike larvae they do not swim (Richardson et al. 2009).
Researcher: Sheena Talma from the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change.
Research topic: Spatio-temporal abundance and distribution of ichthyoplankton with the Seychelles waters.
The Indian Ocean remains a region of scientific interest as little research has been conducted within its waters and only a handful have investigated zooplankton communities especially the occurrence of fish larvae and eggs throughout the water column. Sheena Talma’s project is focused on identifying fish eggs and larvae using genetic methodologies. Before sequencing the fish and eggs DNA, Sheena and the team have taken photos of the fish larvae so that they can also be identified morphologically (looking at its dominant features). Based on previous work done within the Western Indian Ocean, some species that Sheena’s team expects to find species like kingfish, triggerfish, surgeonfish, sauries and tuna.
The findings will inform the preliminary species occurrence and spatial distribution of fish larvae in the Seychelles EEZ.
COVID-19 delays: Sheena’s project has been put on hold until further notice due to the laboratories being closed in South Africa.
Researcher: Damien Labiche, Assistant conservation officer from the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change.
Research Topic: Identification of deep-sea shark and rays
Sharks and rays play an important role in the ecosystem as apex predators. Through a highly collaborative process, our project aims to identify deep-sea sharks that may be collected on camera footage from ROV’s drop cameras and subs. The occurrence of species in the area will be key to be able to compare data sets with regional and international partners. This is an important undertaking as it will allow for preliminary data to be collected and possible shark species to be identified in the Seychelles, where previous records do not exist.
COVID-19 delays: The ministry responsible for the environment continues to support the work of Ashley Dias, Damien Labiche and their partners towards investigating the sharks and rays of the deep. They are currently identifying sharks and rays that have been seen on camera footage between 10 to 1000m. Due to Covid-19 flight restrictions, their planned shark-fin identification and shark and ray forum have had to be postponed until further notice.
Africa – Oxford Fellowships
The SeyCCAT-Nekton collaboration offered two Seychellois the opportunity to participate in the AFox Fellowship. Read more.
Jennifer is combining data on top marine predators from the Seychelles Islands Foundation with the data collected from the Nekton Expedition to provide a complete picture of the marine predator community around #Aldabra down to 500m.
The results will provide valuable lessons for sustainable fisheries management for Aldabra and this model can be replicated in other locations in the country through the Marine Spatial Planning process.
“My fellowship focussed on, taxonomic identification of fish eggs and larvae, BRUV video analysis, taxonomic identification of black corals (at NRF-SAIAB, South Africa), and fish identification. The majority of my time was spent separating fish larvae and eggs for the zooplankton parent samples. This was a necessary step before going to South Africa to genetically identify and photograph the fish eggs and larvae samples. The fellowship also concentrated on skills necessary for to analyse stereo data of fish. ” Sheena
The researchers had the opportunity to share knowledge from the Nekton Mission through platforms such as the Encounter Edu. View episodes here:
Jennifer and Clara – https://encounteredu.com/live/broadcasts/submarine-q-a-290319-am
News items related to Nekton Mission:
Seven Seychellois researchers to explore waters up to 500m deep. (Seychelles News Agency)
Two Seychellois women awarded fellowships to Oxford to advance study of marine science (Seychelles News Agency)
Learn more about the Nekton Mission in Seychelles here.