Seychelles National Parks Authority seeks nation-wide participation for its new marketing and communications plan.

 

A national study is underway in a bid to help authorities better understand the potential of the country’s national parks, along with their future management and promotion.

The Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) is launching several online surveys for different target groups, as well as specialised focus groups for tourism operators on Mahé, Praslin and La Digue over the course of this month.

The study will engage SNPA’s partners, stakeholders and the public in general to provide feedback on how it can improve the marketing and communication activities for its national parks. This was one of several objectives identified in the SNPA’s Strategic Plan approved last year by Cabinet, paving the way for SNPA to become a financially autonomous institution.

This plan highlights the need for the organisation to improve its marketing and communication – both to improve the tourism products offered to tourists and tourism operators, as well as keep Seychellois informed of progress in their National Parks.

The Government of Seychelles in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility (GOS-UNDP-GEF) are supporting the SNPA to develop and implement its marketing and communication plan as part of a wider Protected Areas Finance Project.Financial autonomy for the SNPA means both new opportunities and new risks, according to SNPA chief executive officer Selby Remy.

“We have to move toward the mindset of operating like a business, but instead of delivering profits with the revenue that we generate, we need to deliver better services, better research and more conservation work,” Mr Remy said. “Like any business, we need to orient ourselves in the direction of the customer and the community in order for the parks to sustain themselves, and the study we are carrying out will help us do that.”

 

The on-line survey links:

Resident Survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SNPAResidents

National Operators: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NationalOperators

Overseas Operators: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/OverseasOperators

Helena was greatly honoured when asked to assume the mantle of Chairperson for National Parks in February 2018 and her vast experience to date ensures that the reigns of this vital authority are in safe hands. Helena plans to use her experience to provide a fresh outlook on the future of the Authority as it transitions to financial autonomy status in the coming year. She believes in a bottom up approach when it comes to conservation as well as hands on management. 

Helena Participating in Ste Anne Marine Park Annual Kayak Race

She is adamant that empowering employees to feel competent, capable and successful is key because when employees feel empowered they best serve your organisation. Likewise, she believes that the people of Seychelles need to feel ownership of their land and ocean, to understand that the responsibility of respecting and conserving our environment (our bread and butter) relies not only on entities that manage protected areas, but also on all people of the country who depend on them and reap their benefits daily. This is where S.N.P.A`S. role in education and awareness on the role of biodiversity conservation is also imperative. Improving on S.N.P.A`s community involvement is vital to move forward. Helena wants to work with communities, residents and business owners who live or work within the National Parks. Consultation with everyone is important, especially when implementing new strategies. Helena feels tasked and honoured to manage these areas for and on behalf of the people of Seychelles.

Representing Seychelles in International conferences

With the transition to autonomy, the S.N.P.A. has a great opportunity to improve its financial outlook and strategies to best serve the people of Seychelles, visitors of marine and terrestrial National Parks and its employees. Careful thought needs to be put into updating the legislation that defines the mandate of the Authority (SNPA Order) as it changes its status, as well as developing sound business strategies for the financial sustainability of the organisation. The transition is expected to be a challenge for the organisation but the team is gearing up to face it head on, for the first time in Seychelles’ history, a woman at the helm.

Helena lives comfortably with her decision to follow her dreams into shaping the environment of Seychelles. Yet there is still more to learn about her.

She is also a businesswomen with a small portfolio of rental properties and she lives perched amongst the lush vegetation of La Misere, adjacent to the buffer zone of the Morne Seychellois National Park. She works tirelessly with the Autism Society in Seychelles, supporting and promoting this special gift that challenges her own nine year old son.

Helena feels blessed to have been raised and to be living and working in such a beautiful country. Her heart beats to the Seychelles rhythm, she is truly an island girl by nature and profession.

 

 Unveiling Information board with Minister for Environment Energy and Climate Change

One of the mandates of the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) is to implement sustainable forestry practices. The authority is responsible for managing forest resources including timber in and outside of the national parks and has established a number of timber plantations. It sells forest products such as bamboo, latanier leaves and casuarina poles to the public but timber is only sold to licensed merchants.

To prevent illegal harvesting of timber, forestry staff conduct regular surveillance on week days and during weekends. On the weekend of 25th August 2018, staff on patrol managed to intercept such illegal act. The incident occurred at ‘Dan Bore’, Anse Boileau just before 1pm. In all, the illegal operators managed to transport 31 pieces of ‘Santol’ planks to a road, ready to be loaded onto a truck and transported away. ‘Santol’ timber sells for R701/ m3. The timber together with a chainsaw and a few other personal belongings of the perpetrators were seized by the police and SNPA.

The confiscated timber

If it was not for SNPA’s organized operations, it was most likely that the country would have lost significant revenue due to such unscrupulous individuals. Besides the loss of revenue, the damage caused by the illegal harvesters to the watershed will surely impact on the local farming community that obtain their water upstream. Most often the tree illegally harvested are those that have been left by the authority because of its proximity to a water source. Such trees tend to grow very fast and those unscrupulous individuals are tempted by them. We are currently in the dry season and the cutting down of trees near streams directly affects the amount of water.

Cut down 'santol' trees littering the area

The public is being reminded that it is an offence to harvest timber on government land without a valid permit. Anyone caught in such illegal activity will be prosecuted and may have to pay at least thrice the price of trees fell. The public is being encouraged to contact SNPA on, 4225114 or 2818800; Greenline on 2722111 to report on illegal harvesting of timber or other forest product.

Trees are extremely important to our country not just for their monetary value but likewise for the ecosystem services that they provide such as provision of food, fresh water, climate regulation and recreational spaces.

SNPA’s marine parks provide refuge to endangered sea turtles. The beaches in the Curieuse and Ste Anne Marine Parks are important turtle nesting grounds. The other parks being protected areas guarded by park rangers protect the turtles from poachers. The SNPA currently has turtle monitoring programs in 3 out of the 5 parks it manages and that consist of in water tagging and turtle nest monitoring. Being an important player in turtle conservation, SNPA is executive member in Local NGO Sea Turtle Friends Seychelles. Last Saturday 11th August, Staff from the Authority joined some 200 participants to march the streets of the country’s second largest island, Praslin, to raise awareness on Sea Turtles. The team consisted of staff from Mahe, Praslin, La Digue and Curieuse.

Minister and PS of Environment leading the Sea Turtle march

Josianna Rose, officer in charge of the Veuve Reserve on La Digue, participated with students from her environment club, ‘Friends of Flycatcher’. They put up an amazing display filled with sea turtle shaped placards containing interesting messages about sea turtles. The group was the only one from La Digue and their presence was extremely essential as this year’s festival was targeting the inner islands. At 9.30 am, the Minister for Environment, Mr Wallace Cosgrow officially launched the march and together with PS for Environment Mr Decomarmond participated in the one hour walk to the Baie Ste Anne District Administration Office. The march concluded with presentations by the different schools and environment groups. With the success of its first festival on Praslin, Sea Turtle Friends Seychelles is contemplating taking the festival to La Digue next year.

 

SNPA staff with Friends of Flycatcher Environment Club after the march

In March 2016 staff from the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) and its partner, Global Vision International (GVI) were busy monitoring the bleaching event unfolding within marine protected areas under its management. The authority was also communicating with other reef monitoring organisations and reports of bleaching were received from all over the country, including Aldabra, Alphonse, North, and Aride Island. The situation looked bleak! Even healthy coral nubbins in the new coral nursery on Curieuse were affected. There was a sense of panic in the environment circle.

SNPA staff conducting bleaching surveys

Marine park practitioners were awaiting patiently for the South East trade winds to start blowing to cool down the sea water, which in some cases had reached 31°C. Staff participating in bleaching surveys around Mahe in May that year were shocked to find huge areas of white branching corals, Acropora, spreading for miles and divers were describing the reefs as a ‘cemetery’. Stepping in the shallow water at Baie Ternay was like stepping into a warm bath, the water was just too hot for a dip.

In April 2016, Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) data from satellite record, showed that it was way above the bleaching threshold. The first recorded bleaching report was from Aldabra in January and that was followed by other outer islands. In fact the inner islands were the most affected with an average 60% decline in coral cover compared to 17% in the outer islands. A Scenario similar to what happened in 1998, this thermal stress to the corals can be explained in part, due to the warmer conditions experienced over the shallow banks surrounding the Inner Islands, compared to the deeper waters surrounding the outer islands.

Bleached corals

The 2016 bleaching event had brought a 50% decrease in live hard coral cover. In 2018 average coral cover in Seychelles stands at 17% while fleshy algae stands at 42%. Dominance of fleshy algae on reefs impedes coral recovery, and it can be observed that our reef are shifting to an algae dominated habitat. This latest bleaching though, longer lasting and more extensive, resulted in lower mortality compared to 1997-1998 event. This can be explained by the fact that corals in the country might be becoming more acclimated and resilient to hot conditions.

According to the June 2018 report on ‘The Impact of the 3rd bleaching event on the WIO in 2016’, Seychelles was the worst hit in the region (50 % loss in coral cover), followed by Madacasgar, with a loss of 13 %. Some countries like South Africa was not affected by the bleaching event. As a whole, Coral reefs in the Western Indian Ocean region have suffered a 20% decline, while fleshy algae had increased by 35%.

Since it is predicted, that due to the rapidly changing climate, that bleaching events will become more frequent, SNPA is ensuring proper management of its marine parks to limit stress to coral reefs.  This consist of regular patrols to make sure that park users abide to park regulations. Similarly its long term reef monitoring program in North West Mahe will continue, with the hope of seeing a positive recovery of the reef.

There are three Ramsar sites in the Seychelles, one of which one is located in the Morne Seychellois National Park, which is managed by The Seychelles National Park’s Authority (SNPA) and that is the high altitude wetland at Mare Aux Cochons. This important site is one of six, which the authority will be cleaning for the upcoming Clean up The World Campaign, on Friday 14th September. The Mare Aux Cochons trail is very popular with tourists and local visitors, despite being located in a protected area it is not spared from littering. So for Clean up The World, SNPA will dispatch a large team to de-litter the trail and additionally clear vegetation growing around the ruins.

 

The Ramsar Site

It is no coincidence that SNPA is responsible for the management of a Ramsar site. The Authority is the custodian of some of the most biologically sensitive areas in the country including the largest protected area on Mahe, The Morne Seychellois National Park which covers 20 % of the largest Island of the archipelago, encompassing 7 districts.  Mare Aux Cochons was designated as a Ramsar site, on 2nd February 2010 and has an area officially listed as 1 hectare, but in reality the wetland covers 0.315 ha, it is in fact the second smallest Ramsar site in the world. The site is one of the most important watershed on the island and plays a role in maintaining the biodiversity of the Western Indian Ocean Ecoregion. Being responsible for its management, SNPA ensures the conservation of several species of global conservation concern, such as; the critically endangered Vateriopsis seychellarum (bwadfer) endemic to the Seychelles, the endangered Seychelles Scops Owl (syer), as well as the vulnerable Seychelles frog (Sooglosus sechellensis).

Compared to before 1970, there is currently little commercial activity being carried out at Mare-Aux-Cochons the site is mainly used for conservation, restoration and eco-tourism. SNPA has a team of workers especially for the National parks and their main task is to maintain trails, including the popular Mare Aux Cochons. The team along with other forestry staff ensures that invasive plants around the wetland are controlled. They also ensure that there are no illegal activities such as timber harvesting taking place. But since the most popular activity in this site is ecotourism, they ensure that the trails and surroundings are in good condition for optimum visitor experience. SNPA is currently working with a consultant to draft a management plan for the National Park inclusive of the Ramsar site.

Seychelles became signatory to the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR) in March 2005.  The Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The first Ramsar site to be designated in Seychelles was the Port Launay Mangrove and that was in November 2004. The country’s other Ramsar site is found on Aldabra.

 

SNPA staff maintaining the Mare-Aux- Cochons Nature Trail

 

A kiosk at Mare-Aux-Cochons

Early during preparatory meetings for Clean-up the World Campaign, SNPA suggested that clean-up efforts target the marine environment as most of our territory is the sea. During the main clean-up weekend (14th-15th September), SNPA team on Curieuse partnered with White Tip dive centre to conduct dive clean-up in two areas within the Curieuse Marine National Park.

Ranger picking up rubbish from the reef

SNPA divers were very excited to contribute to such a noble event- the first dive clean-up to ever be organized in the 39 years old marine park. The divers managed to remove old ropes, nets, glass bottles; all foreign items which do not form part of the natural marine environment. The activity was a great opportunity for SNPA marine staffs to dive along other divers- a great way to build partnership. Curieuse team also took the opportunity to remove household rubbish that have accumulated on the island throughout the year, such as old fans and mattresses.

 The authority had a total of 5 teams cleaning different sites, mostly within national parks, areas such as; Ste Anne Island; Trois Freres trail and Kiosk at Sans Soucis (within the Morne Seychellois National Park). The staff on Praslin cleaned outside the national park, along public roads, where they collected 20 gunny bags of rubbish. One of the most littered site that was cleaned was around the Kiosk at Sans Soucis (a popular lookout spot for tourists, located just above the Rochon dam). The team there managed to remove 12 bags of rubbish. It is hoped that the people that visit the area do not continue to litter. The interesting thing is that only 3 gunny bags of rubbish were collected on the Trois Freres trail, an encouraging sign for SNPA.

Being the only organization to have conducted a dive clean-up during this year’s Clean Up the World (CUW) campaign it is important that SNPA build on such an important initiative. The authority hopes to continue with such activity in the future both during CUW campaign and as part of its ongoing work program.  

 

Beach clean-up on Ste Anne Island

  

Seychelles hosted its first International Schools debates in July 2018 and the theme for this year was “Oceans”. The week-long program was organized by The Seychelles Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development in Partnership with the Trust for Sustainable Living (TSL), based in the UK, with the support of various local partners.

 

SNPA staff and the International Visitors at Port Launay

The International Schools Essay competition and debate has been running for five years, with over 1,000 children and 200 teachers participating each year, from more than 70 countries. The organizers knew that an Ocean Conference here in the Seychelles will not be complete without the children and their guardians visiting the Marine National Parks (MNPs). While many of the students signed up for a boat trip to  the oldest protected area in the country, Ste Anne Marine National Park, another group of more adventurous  participants opted for a field trip to two other marine protected areas in the north west of  Mahé Island, namely Port Launay and Baie Ternay MNPs.

The children from Serbia, India, Dubai, Lebanon and the UK were welcomed to Port Launay MNP by the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA) staffs, who presented each one of them with a complementary brochure of the two MNPs and gave them an overview of SNPA’s works and conservation activities. The  children had plenty of questions and were fascinated by the fauna they encountered along the shores; they spent quite sometimes observing limpets, crabs and shorebirds.

Leaving busy Port Launay MNP behind, with all the tourists, peaceful Baie Ternay MNP was next. It was mid-tide when we arrived, and as we expected the MNP was very quiet. Once everyone had been equipped with coral shoes, the aim was to wade towards “Gran Pyes”, (one of the few places in the Park, which in the past contained human settlement), with the guarantee of seeing interesting fauna in the water, as indicated by the shoals of fish. In no time, the girls from the UK had spotted a large ray. Having an eye for rays they spotted many more along the way. Further down on the rocky shore there were rock pools in which a perfect micro habitat had formed and living there was numerous mudskippers. Many of the adults commented on the beautiful rock formations in the area which added to the charm of the secluded park.

The last item of the day was snorkelling, and it was time to jump into the ocean and explore and appreciate the rich marine life of this national park. Fish were everywhere and in abundance; batfish, parrotfish, butterfly fish, wrasses, damsels and angelfish. One girl from the group had a fun time, proudly showing others the beautiful red and white starfish that she had discovered resting on a massive coral. The SNPA team was very pleased with the “thumbs up” and enthusiasm shown by the children, and the Authority feels honored to have contributed to Seychelles first International Children’s Ocean conference.

 

Snorkeling in Baie Ternay Marine Park

 

Beach safari on Port Launay beach