National sooty tern census: |26 February 2022
60% reduction in sooty tern population
● Immediate ban on collection, selling and eating birds’ eggs for two years
Following a census done by the Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment in collaboration with the Island Conservation Society and Islands Development Company in June 2021, it has been noted that unfortunately there has been a reduction of 60% of the sooty tern population on the different islands.
Marie-May Muzungaile, director general biodiversity, conservation and management division within the Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment (MACCE) presented the findings of the census in the presence of the Minister Flavien Joubert and principal secretary for environment department, Denis Matatiken
“The population of the sooty terns has gone down significantly and it is quite alarming. It is necessary for us now to take certain actions to prevent further decline in the population of sooty tern in the country. Several measures have been proposed and atemporary ban on sooty tern egg collection with two-year review cycles whereby census would be updated,” said Minister Joubert.
He also asked the population to learn and understand the necessity of the different measures proposed. “We are available for discussion for any group of individuals who have further questions about the results and accounts from the census. We expect people to cooperate with us and also refrain from engaging in negative sentiments that we find on social media. We are available if they require more information and we all know what is going on,” noted Minister Joubert.
Mrs Muzungaile gave a thorough explanation about the census and said it was done following a decrease of the global population and growing concern about it also happening in Seychelles and the region.
“There has been an alarming decline in the distribution of birds and availability of eggs (e.g. in the 2020 Cosmoledo) and increasing pressure for egg consumption on the local market and an increase in poaching activities. Above all the information was outdated and did not allow for proper decision making and management,” said Mrs Muzungaile.
The census was carried out in June 2021 across eight islands ‒ Cosmoledo, Bird, Aride, Recife, Farquhar, Desnoeufs, Etoile, and African Banks. Boudeuse was visited but there was no record. Smaller islets were not included due to logistical issues, and their limited influence on results.
The method used explained Mrs Muzungaile was egg count, colony mapping, vegetation type and distribution, remote sensing of colonies. The census was sponsored by the Environment Trust Fund and Islands Development Company (IDC) and it cost R1.5 million.
Summary of population trend
- An alarming downward trend in population across almost all colonies including the main colonies were observed;
- African Banks : massive decline of 94% from 1955 (43,300 pairs) to date (2,661) due to poaching;
- Aride : 93% loss from 2002-2021 despite having legal protection since 1975, but subject to poaching of eggs and adults and poor vegetation management;
- Bird Island: an overall 83% decline from 2,000,000 pairs to 334,000 birds, with slight increase anomaly due to active vegetation management
- Cosmoledo: a 74% decline in 2021 with 264,000 pairs compared to 1,000,000 pairs recorded in 1991 on Grand Ile, despite there is no regular egg collection (except in 2020) and cats and rats were successfully eradicated on the island.
- Desnoeufs shows a 80.6% decline from 1966 (1, 831,000 pairs) to present day;
- Étoile: 50% decline with increased stability when compared to Desnoeufs or Cosmoledo (80.6% and 73.6% declines respectively).
- Ile aux Récifs: shows an increase of 61.8% since 1966.
The threats were mainly due to climate change; food availability (linked to industrial fishing); egg collection; loss of habitats; poaching and other indirect impacts from human activities (e.g. plastics, prevalence of domestic animals such as cats, invasive species such as rats, etc…)
- As a priority action, undertake annual population census on the four largest colonies ‒ Desnoeufs, Bird Island, Grande Ile and Ile aux Goëlettes (representing 95% population);
- Increase surveillance and enforcement especially on African Banks, Boudeuse and Étoile where poaching is known to occur.
- Establishment of relevant laws to protect seabirds;
- A temporary ban on sooty tern egg collection with a two-year review cycles whereby census would be updated.
- Improve site management and set up biosecurity measures.
- Educate and sensitise the public about the importance of preserving the sooty terns as a natural resource and their importance.
- Establish a national plan of action for the management of the sooty terns with the participation of all stakeholders (including government officials, independent researchers, NGOs, island owners)