Developing nature conservation and ecotourism on Saint Anne


10-October-2011

The contrast between its turquoise waters and beautiful beaches surrounded by coconuts, and the huge steep slopes covered with dense green forests and granite boulders that rise 250 meters above the sea is striking and makes it an attractive destination for visitors willing to discover the charms of island life in Seychelles.  Only 4 km away from Mahé, Sainte Anne is the island of Seychelles with the longest history, as it hosted the first permanent settlers in 1770. 

Despite the development of agriculture and other human activities on its lowlands, such as the presence of a whaling station until 1915 and later a centre for the National Youth Service in the 1980s, all of which were discontinued, the island has remained largely dominated by its natural habitats until today. 

We believe that Saint Anne can have a significant role in the conservation of the country’s natural resources; hence we decided earlier this year to embark on an environmental programme for Saint Anne. Our aim is to develop nature conservation and ecotourism activities, in order to enhance the environmental value of the island and the image of Seychelles tourism abroad.  By doing so, we wish to participate more actively in the preservation of Seychelles outstanding natural heritage, develop visitors’ interest, and also promote Seychelles as an attractive destination for ecotourism.

Our environmental team comprises three full time staff:  Conservation Ranger, Andre Dufrenne, an active member of the Plant Conservation Action Group who formerly worked with Island Conservation Society and Seychelles Islands Foundation, Charles Simeon, in charge of nature walks, and Ray Maria, seconded by Star Seychelles, and in charge of the control of invasive exotic animals. Other staff from the Garden & Landscape, and Sports & Entertainment departments also assist on occasions.  We have regular contacts with the Division of Environment and the Marine Parks Authority, local NGOs and some private islands, and we have recently called upon a number of local experts and collaborators like Roland Nolin, Gemma Jessie, Dr Jeanne Mortimer and Dr Gerard Rocamora to advise us, design protocols, provide training or conduct specific operations with our team.

Although presently dominated by alien invasive plants, the flora of Saint Anne also has a significant number of native species (more than 50 already recorded), including three different species of endemic Latanier palms (Latanyen fey, Latanyen lat, Latanyen milpat) and a small stand of coco-de-mer, as well as small endemic broadleaf trees Bwa kalou, Bwa kafoul trwa fey, Bwa dir ble, etc.

Three endemic species of landbirds breed on Saint Anne: the Seychelles Blue Pigeon (Pizon olande), the Seychelles Sunbird (Kolibri) and the rare Seychelles Kestrel (Katiti), a globally threatened species.  Breeding seabirds include the beautiful Fairy tern (Golan blan) and the White-tailed tropicbird (Payanke).  Several species of waterbirds are also present, as well as large numbers of Seychelles Fruitbats (Sousouri).  Other species of interest are the Black Mud terrapin (Torti soupap nwanr) and the Yellow-bellied terrapins (Torti soupap zonn), previously given up as extinct on Saint Anne but rediscovered by Ranger Dufrenne. These species have become very rare and are seriously threatened on large islands like Mahé, where their habitats have dwindled due to reclamation, pollution and degradation of coastal marshes.  The presence of the very rare Leaf insect (Mousfey) was first reported on Sainte Anne after many years by Charles Simeon.  Seychelles Giant tortoises (Torti zean), which were exterminated by the first settlers, no longer roam freely across the island, but several Aldabra tortoises are now present in a very large enclosure.
The main current objectives of our environmental programme are:

Create new educational trails, and improve existing trails around the island.  A botanical trail has been created and will soon present a selection of 40 native and endemic trees and plants, plus a number of common introduced species.  A panoramic trail, providing outstanding viewpoints from hill top rocky outcrops, was also recently created.  Visits of school children could be later organised once the educational botanical trail is completed.

Propagate native and endemic trees and restore areas along the botanical trail to recreate 2 small palm and broadleaf plateau forests, and progressively extend these areas.  A first batch of 500 saplings produced jointly with the Botanical Gardens Foundation will be planted during the next rainy season.

Train our local guides to conduct nature walks and presentations for hotel clients and staff, to sensitise them on the flora and fauna of Saint Anne and Seychelles, and on the need to preserve it, restore habitats and develop conservation programmes for rare and threatened species.  Training sessions are due to start in October.

Set up a systematic turtle monitoring and conservation programme.  Saint Anne still hosts an important population of nesting Hawksbills.  Staff training is due to start in October and our results will add to a long-term data collected during the past three decades.

Protect threatened endemic species.  Nest boxes have already been installed in 2 territories of Seychelles Kestrels present around the hotel.  Habitat improvement will be undertaken for the Seychelles terrapins, which may be seen in a natural pond, and a captive rearing programme could be started for the Leaf insect if females are found.

Improve control of invasive animals around the buildings, tourist trails and natural habitats in the hotel property.
 
Rats, feral cats and some introduced birds like Mynas or Barn owls have a tremendous negative impact on ecosystems (native birds, turtles, plants and invertebrates).  New trapping protocols have already been put in place and others are being tested.  The introduced Crested-tree lizard is also present and once we have successfully established this first stage of our environmental programme, we should be able to take it up to other exciting perspective. 

In activities such as the protection of the environment, which benefit the entire community and should be of interest to all and everyone, it is important that each one makes his own contribution.  Our staff and visitors will hence be invited to contribute, for example, by reporting sightings of rare species or keeping the island clean.  If we all pull in the same direction, there is no doubt that we can make it work so we look forward to Saint Anne becoming one of Seychelles next environmental successes.

Contributed by Herve Duboscq, General Manager, with information provided by the Environmental Programme Team, Saint Anne Resort & Spa 

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