Thirteen Seychellois participants explore Saya de Malha during the Monaco Expedition |23 January 2023
Thirteen Seychellois had the opportunity to participate in the second leg of the Monaco Indian Ocean expedition last year.
The expedition focused on a scientific programme structured around the study of the Saya De Malha bank and a selection of islands and seamounts located along the mission route.
The participants set sail from Port Victoria on October 31, 2022 and joined a global team of scientists from Mauritius, France, South Africa and Spain, as well as other Seychellois colleagues on board the S.A. Agulhas II, a highly-advanced Icebreaker and research vessel with an array of state-of-the-art technologies, from South Africa.
The expedition aimed to meet the needs of the governments of Seychelles and of Mauritius, the two states that are custodians of the Saya De Malha Joint Management Area. It was also conducted to ensure good coordination with relevant international and regional bodies and initiatives.
During the expedition, participants were involved with the multidisciplinary study of the Saya de Malha Bank, a survey of the benthic biodiversity and the pelagic ecosystem. The various tasks under the project included mapping, collecting water samples for analysis, underwater videos, and collection of benthic samples.
The project was led by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), in collaboration with partners from Mauritius and the Seychelles as well as the University of Łódź (Poland) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (South Africa).
When reflecting on the experience, the participants had the following to say:
Greetings!! My name is Rodney Bonne. My contribution to the Monaco expedition was with the benthic sampling group where many underwater species were collected with nets from the seafloor for analysis. Interestingly many of the species were described as either being new to science or were extremely rare. During the Monaco Expedition I really got the chance to enjoy myself, especially while playing detective games in trying to sort caught crustaceans into their respective families, even if we had to work long and gruelling night shifts with little sleep.
Onboard the vessel, I had the opportunity to also participate in mostly all the scientific experiments as well as participate in the different capacity building sessions organised.
Dr Francis Marsac
I am Francis Marsac, a senior marine researcher at the French Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD). Since 1981, I have worked collaboratively with the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) through 15 years of several assignments under the France-Seychelles cooperation. My research area is the offshore marine ecosystems, including oceanography, tuna fisheries and assessments, tuna ecology, climate change effects on fisheries, and, most recently, science-policy dialog in ocean governance. I have assisted the Department of the Blue Economy in 2020 to 2021 to devise the research plan for the Saya de Malha Bank, emphasizing the unique case of this Joint Management Area.
I was the chief scientist for the second leg of the Indian Ocean Mission of the Monaco Explorations, from Seychelles to Mauritius, with a team of 40 researchers from Seychelles, Mauritius, and France. On board, I participated in several field activities, but my main role was to perform daily supervision and monitoring of the work packages, to plan in detail the activities of the following day, and to ensure a proper rollout of the project. It was a rewarding experience for me to have several generations of researchers, from students to seniors, from various backgrounds, working enthusiastically together toward the same goal. The whole team is ready to do it again!
Hello! My name is Bianca Marzocchi, and I am a young environmental scientist who represented the Seychelles on the Monaco expedition. My primary contribution to this mission was phytoplankton research, but I also assisted with other research projects such as benthic Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys, benthic collections, and mega fauna observations. I personally enjoyed my first voyage on a research vessel, as it taught me a new set of skills and knowledge that will be beneficial not only to me but to the Seychelles as well.
My name is Patsy Theresine, and I've been a Marine Scientist for 10 years. I can confidently say that being a part of the Monaco Exploration has been the highlight of my professional journey thus far. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity took me on the second leg of the Monaco Explorations in the Indian Ocean in an area being jointly managed by Seychelles and Mauritius; more commonly known as the Joint Management Area (JMA) and more specifically, on the Saya de Malha Banks.
Onboard the research vessel, a variety of marine research projects were underway, and I was able to actively participate in zooplankton sampling. Samples were gathered through the use of plankton nets and then visually observed using a microscope to identify and understand the morphology of these species.
This trip in my opinion has been a great way for the Seychelles to research, document and report on this relatively unknown area in the Indian Ocean. The trip was a wonderful opportunity for me, both personally and professionally, as it created a platform for the sharing of knowledge and networking with great scientists from different marine backgrounds.
Hi, my name is Terry Jeanne, all the way from La Digue Island. I am a freelance fishing technician and diver with over 20 years experience in sea cucumber fishing, as well as an entrepreneur in the tourism field.
Being aboard the Monaco expedition as an observer and providing assistance to the diving teams on the benthic species, especially sea cucumbers, has really given me new perspectives in regards to marine research and the application of science in devising policies and regulations for the fisheries industry.
I was particularly interested to find out if there are sea cucumbers on the Saya de Malha seabed. And effectively, despite not observing the abundance of this species, I was particularly impressed by the physical adaptation of these species and incurrent scientific language, the possible 'endemism' of sea cucumbers on the Saya de Malha. Additionally, I think it is important for fishermen like me and those exploiting marine resources to get the chance to participate in such expeditions and to get to understand the science and reasoning behind stock management using quotas, as well as all that have to do with biological resources.
My name is Annie Vidot, and I work for the SFA. I was primarily assigned with zooplankton research and assisted with other scientific duties such as ROV (remotely operated vehicle) surveys, salinity analysis, and cetacean monitoring. The experience was worth it. It is the kind of environment that gives you more discipline in your work, and although not everything we did was fisheries-related, such explorations are beneficial for personal growth. It's something I would like for others in my department to experience as well.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of experts and contribute towards the wellbeing of our oceans.
I am Rosabella Mangroo, and I am currently employed at the SFA as a fisheries scientist. On the vessel, I participated in the phytoplankton, benthic sampling, and ROV survey.
It was such an honour to have been part of a unique opportunity with a scientific aspect geared towards exploring our shared plateau. The expedition definitely grew my interest in the marine scientific field, which will benefit me with personal growth and potentially be an asset for the Seychelles as part of an emerging group of scientists versed in this field. The expedition generated a wealth of knowledge and skills with the combined efforts of experts with diverse backgrounds.
Even if the exploration was for about a month, I found out that we only explored a small fraction of the area. There is still much more exploration to be done in order to see a variety of animals and habitats, as well as the content of the water column, which could help us make better-informed decisions when considering conservation and exploitation.
I am Estelle Barreau and I work at the SFA as a Fisheries Data Analyst. I found this research expedition to be very enriching in the knowledge, experiences, and cultural exchanges that it provided. Only a handful of people in the world have been to the places we’ve been fortunate to get to and that was an experience like no other.
Hi, my name is Mariette Dine, Seychelles Climate Change and Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT) Blue Grants Fund-5 grantee, and entrepreneur.
I am grateful for being part of the Monaco expedition cruise through the Blue Economy Department. It was an opportunity to expand my knowledge of various aspects of marine science and to nurture skills that can be directly used in my current and future projects.
The projects to which I contributed the most included photochemical studies and phytoplankton studies in collaboration with the University of Mauritius and the University of Seychelles. I engaged in and learned from all projects on board and developed a keen interest in, and love for the ocean. I saw the beauty of the sea through the diverse specimens brought on board and through live underwater footage. In addition, my colleagues and I shared the same curiosity to learn and understand as much as possible from the experience. We returned with newly formed friendships and collaboration prospects between the Seychelles, Mauritius, La Reunion, and Monaco.
Dr Nuette Gordon
My name is Nuette Gordon and I have been lecturing at the James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute, University of Seychelles for the past four years.
My research Project Title for the Monaco Explorations was ‘Phytoplankton biomass and species composition along the Saya de Malha Bank’. The expedition was an opportunity for my students to be exposed to multidisciplinary oceanographic research. I was particularly interested in collecting and identifying potential species of concern for both biosecurity and food security. For a small island whose population depends on food from the sea, this is important.
My name is Abel Sorry and I am the Principal Researcher at the Department of Blue Economy. I participated in the team which conducted CTD measurements measuring different oceanographic parameters of the ocean such as temperature, salinity, conductivity and nutrient levels.
On one side of the coin, for me personally the Monaco Expedition presented an opportunity for our Seychellois scientists to meet experts in different disciplines of marine science and learn from them on the go. On the other side of the coin, I find that the expedition, having partnered with our Mauritian counterparts, has brought an unprecedented level of collaboration and union which will definitely be important for the two countries when conducting future scientific expeditions especially in our Jointly Managed Area.
My name is Sheena Talma and I am a young Independent scientist born in Seychelles in 1990. I studied biology in South Africa and specialized in ichthyology and fish genetics.
During the Nekton mission in 2019 I fell in love with the deep sea and since, with the help of different grants and contracts, I make sure that I take the opportunity to study and research deep sea fish populations. My passion is to make accessible knowledge which will help build capacity in deep sea research in the region.
During the expedition, I made use of the ROV to test one of her cameras and collected data that I wish Seychelles and Mauritius can analyze collaboratively. The expedition in my opinion united different scientists from the region. These opportunities should be used to build new collaborations and there is also a need to have more leadership for research within the Indian Ocean region.