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Stories from the Field ISSUE 6 | SEPTEMBER - DECEMBER 2018 1


CONTENTS Conservation Boot Camp overview


Chief Executive's letter


Participants'stories Keep going until you succeed


Little Paradise 16-17 Giving something back


Escape to paradise


Out of my comfort zone


I fell in love with Turtles


An invaluable experience




Project funded by the GOS-UNDP-GEF Protected Area Finance project

Published by © Nature Seychelles June 2018. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.


The Conservation Boot Camp is an immersive programme based on Cousin Island Special Reserve, one of the world’s conservation success stories. It provides graduates and those who wish to boost their conservation careers with much sought after in the field experience




Trained in monitoring techniques and gaining field methodology skills. • Gain exposure to, and be involved in, eco-guiding and other ecotourism activities and meet visitors from all over the world • Interact with researchers and local conservation staff • Meet the Nature Seychelles’ Chief Executive, a renowned and award winning Seychellois environmentalist. • Be involved in the activities of an award winning NGO • Be immersed in the work of an award-winning land and sea Protected Area • Live and experience a tropical paradise • Be exposed to work with sea birds and/or sea turtles • Live amongst other rare species and in restored indigenous woodlands • Experience a new culture, meet new people and share a wonderful travel experience • Contribute to some of the longest running data sets in the world • 2 limited edition Conservation Boot Camp T Shirts and 2 Nature Seychelles board shorts. • Receive a Certificate of Participation in the Conservation Boot Camp. Nature Seychelles is a registered Private Education and Training Institution under the Seychelles’ Education (Private Education Institutions) Regulations 2005 and as such can legally provide courses and issue certificates. •

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48 completed the programme between May 2017 – December 2018


South Africa (1)

Belgium (1)

India (1)

Switzerland (1)

Germany (11)

Pakistan (1)

USA (1)

France (6)

UK (4)

Canada (2)

New Zealand (1)

Madagascar (8)

Colombia (1)

Sweden (2)

Austria (1)

Seychelles (1)

Italy (2)

Kenya (1)

Australia (1)

Nigeria (1)


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The Conservation Boot Camp takes place the whole year. This is a very exclusive program and with a maximum of only 6 to 7 persons per session. Each session lasts for 4 weeks. You will take part in some of the successful long term work here on Cousin Island. You will pick up a “fistful of skills” which, depending on the time of the year, include monitoring of endemic land birds, sea turtles, seabirds, and vegetation, ecotourism guiding, invasive species control, and island maintenance. The method is Learning-by-Doing. In-field training will be given for sensitive work such as seabird and turtle monitoring. The normal working hours out of turtle season are between 5 – 7 hours, daily on weekdays. During turtle season, we can reach 9 hours of work daily with one day off including weekends. Below is an overview of the conservation work planning.










Seabird breeding success: White-tailed tropicbird & White tern

Seabird breeding success: Lesser Noddy & Brown Noddy

Turtle nest monitoring

Island grid markers

Turtle hatchling success

Sooty tern hill clearance

Beach markers 8













Seabird census

Landbird census

Bridled tern census

Tortoise census

Skink census

YEAR-ROUND ACTIVITIES Bird Ringing Beach profiling Invasive species removal Beach clean-ups Data entry



There is no Planet B. But there is Cousin Island Special Reserve. 2018 was an incredible year in terms of bad news on the media. Confusing news, fake news, alternative facts, pseudo-science, and just terrible public portrayal of leaders. But, pull away from the media circus and do a deep dive onto the real world and one can see that 2018 was in fact a year of hope. There were conservation successes, huge wins for global health, more peace and tolerance, less war and violence, rising living standards, some big clean energy milestones, and a turning of the tide in the fight against plastic. Then of course there is the amazing Cousin Island Special Reserve and the remarkable conservation and education work of Nature Seychelles there.

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Our Conservation Boot Camp, the world’s first, is another innovative program we launched with young aspiring conservationists and any others wanting to learn new skills in mind and want to become conservation leaders. This is a very exclusive program catering to a maximum of 6 participants at a time. It normally lasts a month although since last year we are now offering a unique 2 week activity session. Word of mouth has spread. From May 2017 when the program started to date, the total numbers are over 50 participants from 20 countries. Germany had the most participants. Reinforcing the positive aspects of conservation and amidst doom and gloom in many of our African countries, we would like our brothers and sisters from the rest of the continent to experience a very successful African reserve. The CBC African Heritage package offers the one month program at a wonderful 25% discount to a citizen of any African country. Our wish is that they leave with the strong belief that they can indeed save species and ecosystems in their lifetime. Since last year we are offering a Partnership package to staff of any Birdlife International Partner outside Africa. This is a super 25% discount on the 1 month program. Nature Seychelles is the Birdlife Partner in Seychelles and has advanced the Birdlife conservation agenda tremendously by saving the most critically endangered birds in Seychelles and by cascading this model to others. We want to introduce Cousin Island Special Reserve which Birdlife calls “one of the world’s great conservation success stories” to our colleagues working in the Birdlife Partnership. I am optimistic about conservation and environmental protection in general. Indeed, these are very exciting times for us and I would like to share our enthusiasm with others. I would urge you to get away from the doom and gloom and fake news and experience the real stuff. Dr. Nirmal Jivan Shah

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Keep going until you succeed By Lauren URQUHART Cousin Island is bursting with dynamic life. When you explore the island you are constantly and consistently greeted by an array of new sights and surprises. From the majestic Hawksbill Sea Turtle fighting her way up the white, sandy, “flour� like beach to lay, to the Pisonia tree, which even when it falls finds a way to prosper still. Living and working on Cousin brought a completely different contrast to my life; one which I have never experienced before. It allowed me to grow a new set of field skills and improve my understanding of conservation and biodiversity, whilst also building my character, resilience, confidence and happiness. I made many new friends from a huge variety of backgrounds, and even fell back in love with reading, painting, writing and baking in a wholly inspiring setting. The environment alone is 14

mesmerizing and when you stumble upon wildlife in every corner, this is only magnified. My second day on Cousin was overwhelming beyond words. We spent the day time exploring the island’s forest, numerous beaches, and the ocean, whilst at night we were literally star struck by the night sky; more stars were packed into your sight than you could even begin to imagine. The very same day, I immersed myself into turtle patrols. The Conservation Boot Campers were introduced to our first turtle on one of the more popular nesting beaches. We watched with bated breath as, with nothing but determination behind her, she dug a total of six egg chambers before finally (exhausted, no doubt!) she laid her eggs. It took her approximately three hours from start to finish.

Each moment was unique and impactful.

These ocean dwelling reptiles are accustomed to being weightless, but with sheer grit and drive, she struggled with her weight up a shelly beach (like hundreds of others have before her and will in the future) and did not stop digging until she was absolutely ready to part with her offspring. If this trip has taught me anything above all else (and I have learned ALOT!) it is that no matter how difficult the task ahead may seem, you must keep on going until you succeed.

Cousin brought a completely different contrast to my life, never experienced before

I would like to say a huge thank you to Yan, the other CBC team members, Kara, Charlotte, Nola, Dailus and all of the Wardens on Cousin for making my experience here so simply and truly, magical.


Little Paradise By Anna-marie ARLINGHAUS My arrival on Cousin was an experience. The approaching sunset, salt water splashing in my face and a breath-taking view of the island while we drove at full speed onto the beach! With this unforgettable moment, a month full of new experiences, fascinating nature experiences and great people started. On the first tour through the forest with Yan, CBC's program coordinator, we admired the result of 50 years of conservation work. It's hard to believe that the whole island was covered by coconut palms before. Every step here has to be taken carefully to avoid stumbling over roots or guano rocks on the one hand, and stepping on crabs or skinks on the other. 16

We were like a small CBC family; we cooked, slept on the beach, went swimming or snorkelling

But at the same time, you only want to look out for the numerous birds that provide an impressive background noise. The ground-breeding Whitetailed tropicbirds sit behind every second tree trunk, while the White tern simply lays its eggs on a branch without a nest. You can also discover the Seychelles magpie robin, shimmering blue in the sunlight, from which each of the approximately 50 individuals on Cousin can be identified by coloured rings. And the flora with the mangroves, huge Casuarina trees and the brittle Pisonia trees is amazing too. After the first week of presentations, our first turtle patrols, an introduction to bird monitoring and the nest box check, all of us had checked into the CBC everyday life - and it was never boring! One of the most exciting moments for me was seeing the first sea turtle in my life! And every other Hawksbill turtle I saw while laying their eggs was just as fascinating! Time just flew by... and at the end of the month I even got over making my first own guided tour with visitors!

What also made this month so special were the people on the island! We were like a small CBC family - we cooked together, slept on the beach, went swimming or snorkelling and watched the sunset from the granite rocks several times :) The communal dinner on Wednesday nights with all the islanders was always a lot of fun, thanks to all participants, Kara, Charlotte, the chief warden and wardens! Many thanks to Yan, who introduced us to the beauty of this Island, taught us so many things about the ecosystem and conservation work, and was always there for a good conversation and some jokes! I am very grateful to have been part of the CBC program and to be able to gain my first field work experience. At the end of the day I was tired but happy! Hope to see you soon little paradise...


Giving something back By Kai VORHOLZER "Why did you take part in the Conservation Boot Camp?" Many people asked me this question, both before and during my time in the Seychelles. For other participants the answer is obvious: the CBC is perfect for individuals that study or work in the field of conservation and environmental protection. They want to improve their skills. For me it is completely different: my work has nothing to do with this kind of activity. And for me THAT is exactly the reason why I took part. It is really simple: I really wanted to help in a conservation and environmental protection project before I won’t have time for that again. Nature deserves to be protected, nowadays more than ever before. For me this program means "giving something back". By contributing my time and physical efforts in the conservation work on Cousin, I hope the following generations will still have a chance to 18

see, explore and enjoy the beauty of this awesome piece of nature. The success of the conservation work on Cousin is incredible when you compare the current situation with the one before 1968. During my 4 weeks I had various tasks that helped me understand even more how scientists and conservationists work and why this work is so important. I also learnt so much about all the different species that live on the island and their role in the ecosystem. At first I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of information I had been given. But soon I was keen on getting to know even more! In which case, you just have to ask Yan. He is always eager to share his knowledge with everybody - very informative. Towards the end of my time on Cousin I was given the chance to share my own knowledge, which had been accumulated within the previous weeks Guiding my own tour with a group of 15-20 tourists! That’s an awesome feeling to create awareness

for the importance of our work on Cousin and its beauty amongst people who didn’t know anything about the island before.

I really wanted to help in a conservation and environmental protection project

My last words will be advice directly for you, dear future-CBC-participants: Despite the numerous tasks and the hard work you will be asked to do, you always have to remind yourself of two things: • What is the real reason you are take part in the CBC? - Because you love nature and you want to make a difference. • Look at how beautiful this island is! Not many people are as fortunate as you are, being able to live in paradise for 4 weeks. Remembering these things will help you enjoy your time even more. You will have your very own special highlights. Mine have been definitely these amazing sunsets: Go grab a cold drink, climb some rocks or find yourself a cozy spot on the beach, and just watch. It wasn’t only once that watching a sunset left me speechless and completely lost in my thoughts... man, I miss these days already.


If you have an interest or love for nature, please pack your bags and join the CBC

Escape to paradise By Eddah Ritah OKOTI I knew I was going to have a lot of fun on the CBC, but to tell the truth, I didn’t expect all the fun I had as a participant. I spent the entire two weeks with the program Coordinator (Yan Coquet) and Conservation Manager (Kara Beggs), listening to them, working with them and learning from them. It was a unique lifestyle and adventure, everything was so different from my normal routine. Starting with the cool ocean breeze, the friendly giant Aldabra tortoises all the way to the ever green forest, which is a habitat for the most interesting small animals and birds you will ever see. I arrived on Cousin Island on Monday 15th Oct.


After 2 hours we officially started the island orientation. It took me 3 days to adapt to this amazing place. I walked around the island, and climbed the rocks with my flip flops, eventually throwing them awayand was officially initiated to walking bare footed all day long. Since it was turtle nesting season, Yan and Kara came up with a schedule that would allow me learn everything on a daily basis. The program was intense and educative. My day Monday to Friday started at 7 am and ended at 6 pm. I had a maximum of 4 turtles patrol; 2 patrols in the morning, and one in the afternoon and evening. I loved patrolling from the field centre all the way to Fregate in the morning. My favourite spot was at the big rocks because the spot gave the perfect view. In the evening Vacoa had the extraordinary sunsets. My excitement always rose whenever I would encounter a turtle. It is here that I first saw a turtle. This could only be topped by the first day I held

and counted turtle eggs. After Turtle patrol, we had educative activities like beach profiling. We also learnt to identify all the birds on Cousin as this island truly belongs to birds. I learnt a lot about Seychelles' endemic birds and seabirds as well as different types of tree species. During the week we also had some team activities which included raking, mosquito larva removal, boat pushes, and get together dinner held every Wednesday. They provided an opportunity to socializes and learn different cultures. My weekends were not as busy as I had only two patrols and may be some data entry, and after that I was set for new adventures such as Snorkelling which I learnt at Cousin Island. Sundays I had my favourite spot on top of the rock at view point,. Cousin Island is an amazing place to be. If you have an interest or love for nature, please pack your bags and join the Conservation Boot Camp. You we will have an amazing nature conservation experience which is super your unique and so educative. 21

I have always been encouraged to push past my limits.

Out of my comfort zone By Adrienne FEIERTAG

city was nothing less than liberating.

The day was cloudy and the sea was rough on December 3rd when I got picked up by the Nature Seychelles team at the Jetty in Grand Anse. They had warned me that we’re going to get soaked, little did I know that ‘soaked’ was just a really nice way to put what happened next. Luckily I don’t get sea-sick. The little boat crushed through the waves and it felt like we’ve been put straight into the spinning cycle of a washing machine. We arrived at Cousin Island with all our stuff and ourselves dripping with water, but with smiling faces and happy that we’ve finally made it to this magical place.

The first two weeks of turtle patrols, Seychelles magpie robin monitoring and various chores as well as hill climbing and the constant fight against vicious mosquitoes has taken me out of my comfort zone more than anything before. And I have enjoyed every minute of it. Being able to witness the first Hawksbill turtle go through what looks like an utterly exhausting act of nesting at the beach was the closest I have ever felt to nature.

I have dreamed of coming to the Seychelles for the past decade always feeling like this is paradise on earth. And it didn’t disappoint me. Being on this isolated island after the chaos and noise of the big 22

Even now, almost four weeks and numerous turtle patrols later, I still feel the excitement when I spot a turtle coming up the beach. And it’s not just the turtles, monitoring the birds on the island, whistling to them makes me feel like I am in my very own Disney movie, all the time. I have learned so much about the biodiversity of this place and I have

always been encouraged to push past my limits. Being a passionate environmentalist myself, I couldn’t have picked a better place to learn about wildlife conservation. And for Cousin Island Special Reserve being carbon neutral just makes my eco-nerdy heart sing. I am thankful for the rare opportunity of being a part of this special program and the people who have made my time here worthwhile.


I fell in love with Turtles By Georgia SMITH I grew up in a small coastal town named Darwin, on Australia's North Coast. There my parents established an ecotourism business called Sea Darwin, with the niche being Flatback Turtle tours on a remote island in the Arafura Sea. I had been exposed to the nesting behaviours of these Flatbacks for nearly 10 years, and that's where my interest in sea turtles started. In August 2018 I left tropical Darwin and headed for Europe. There I spent three months before the winter set in. That’s when I decided I needed to defrost, and given my love for sea turtles, I researched turtle conservation in Mauritius because my mother always spoke of it; she had never been but it sounded interesting to her. Nature Seychelles was one of the Google results, specifically the CBC program that they had on for the month of November. I read about the 24

Hawksbill turtle work that they did on Cousin Island and now, I'm meant to be back home in Australia but have found on Cousin for the next chapter of my adventure. Over the course of the month I noticed a change in my view of sea turtles. Though I loved them before, my month on Cousin made me much more passionate and attached to these creatures. Given these girls are nesting every two weeks for the season, you begin to recognise turtles by their features - and it was special knowing that I had been with the same turtles a few weeks earlier. I remember vividly in my first week I was at the busiest nesting site on the island. It was 6pm, I had just watched the sunset and I had a hawksbill digging her egg chamber. I remember watching her lay and with every contraction her two rear flippers

lifted about 10 cm from the sand. At first I thought it was cute, which it was, but then I wondered if this was normal for Hawksbills. I now know that it's not - she must have been special. That same turtle came back two weeks later, and as soon as the contractions started, I knew it was her!

There's something about living on the island that motivates you to do good

In hindsight there's something about living on the island that motivates you to do good. I'm not going to lie, it is challenging at times. During peak turtle season you might get the early 6am shift and then will work throughout the day until the last girl lays. Often you get the late starters that choose to dig their nest at sundown. And yes, it is special to witness this with pastel colours in the background, but soon after dark the mosquitoes ambush you and the struggle to remain cool calm and collected whilst measuring, tagging (if required) and marking the nest sets in. I was lucky enough to be with a team of people that did not complain and carried on happily. It can be hard to wake up in the mornings, but once you're with a turtle it's all worth it. The 6am shifts were my favourite, because 25

that's the coolest time of the day, there are no mosquitoes, and you have the beach all to yourself. I would be inconsiderate to discuss sea turtles without mentioning the obvious. Cousin attracts passionate employees and volunteers to come and lend a helping hand to research and conserve wildlife. Yet humans are the reason that we do this in the first place. One aspect the CBC program highlights is marine debris collection. It's expected (and morally sound) that marine debris are collected from the beach, sorted and disposed of appropriately at the end of each month. Unfortunately, even such a pristine part of the world such as the Seychelles continues to collect plastics on the beaches on a daily basis. Mainly polystyrene, bottle tops, lighters and thongs (flip-flops for nonAustralians). And even though people don't like to see rubbish on beaches - as mentioned by multiple tourists - I think it's something that we as humans need to take responsibility for, as we're creating a world that animals cannot function in. 26

So in my opinion, the program provides a great first insight into sea turtle conservation. It communicates the importance of tagging, measuring, clutch counting, and excavations in determining nesting patterns and Hawksbill populations. Of course, there are so many aspects of the program that I have not mentioned. The days aren't just about turtle conservation, you also have the monthly or annual census for other species such as the seabirds and tortoises, beach profiling, Seychelles magpie robin monitoring, house duties and many more. Yes, the program is busy, but there is abundant time to do other things you love. Thankfully I had a great group with Marie, Kai and Emma. Spare time was spent snorkelling, swimming and other cheeky antics that I cannot mention. So to conclude, I would recommend if you're motivated then come here for a month. The bonds you make with the animals is something you would never anticipate. I found myself getting protective of these Hawksbills. I think after watching so many turtles lay you understand what a stressful time it is

for them, but also the amount of effort they put in every nest. From emerging up the beach, digging the egg chamber, laying between 60-250 eggs and then covering the nest, these mothers are some of the toughest in the ocean. For anyone who is thinking about working with sea turtles, do it, because I think that it takes close encounters with these creatures to realise how special they are. Come to Cousin, be with turtle, fall in love with turtle, and let that influence the way you live your life. Be considerate, don't litter, don't exploit, and don't be invasive of these creatures - let's appreciate what wildlife we have left, but make efforts to conserve it along the way.


An invaluable experience By Jonathan GOODALL Having a desk job and being a professional for many years but wanting to cross over into the world of conservation and get a taste of it – getting my feet wet, literally – I found the Nature Seychelles Conservation Bootcamp at Cousin Island the perfect setting to do this. The island truly is a conservation success story and I felt privileged to have been a part of it. We got hands-on immersion into the daily activities of conservation, research, and maintenance of the island, giving us a good idea of what it takes to do research in the field and to manage the day-to-day requirements of such a conservation operation as Nature Seychelles on Cousin Island. 28

But it's not just the science and conservation, it was also the camaraderie and friendship of the team on the island that impressed me. As someone who didn’t have much of a family growing up, this was an invaluable experience for me. You really learn to work together with the group here for the common good, in a communal living situation. And you may just make some friendships for life. As one local warden told me when I arrived ‘you are family here now’. Thanks Cousin. I will miss you (till I come back, of course! : )

The island truly is a conservation success story







Nature Seychelles

Profile for Conservation Boot Camp

Conservation Boot Camp Magazine Issue 6