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Seychelles reviews efforts to safeguard its biodiversity during the COVID-19 pandemic

Volunteers of the Aldabra Clean-Up Project with some of the plastic waste collected on the Aldabra Atoll World Heritage site in Seychelles©Seychelles Islands Foundation 

On 30 June 2020, the Seychelles National Museum in partnership with Seychelles National Park Authority (SNPA), Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF), and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) National Committee in Seychelles organized an online meeting to focus on the conservation efforts underway by various partners to safeguard biodiversity at the two natural World Heritage sites in Seychelles as well as other natural heritage sites in the country. The meeting aimed to: bring awareness in the protection and conservation of the Seychelles biodiversity; join forces with the museum partners to use any forms to combat in reducing the threat to the Seychelles ecosystem; invite the public to use the Natural History Museum to help them in passing conservation messages; and connect with audiences during this pandemic.

The meeting was opened by Ms Beryl Ondiek, Director of Seychelles National Museums, who announced that the meeting is a belated celebration of the 2020 World Environment Day theme of Biodiversity. She provided background on Seychelles’ natural heritage resources and diverse conservation efforts, and pointed out that Seychelles was the first country in the world to include conservation efforts in its constitution. “With around 60 percent of the Seychelles land mass being protected, Seychelles has the highest proportion of protected space in the world,” said Ms. Ondiek.

UNESCO Regional Advisor for Culture in Eastern Africa, Ms. Karalyn Monteil, provided the introductory remarks, in which she highlighted the recent UNESCO activities to support Seychelles with biodiversity conservation, including participation of the site management of Aldabra Atoll in a workshop on safeguarding marine World Heritage and Emergency Assistance from the World Heritage Fund to fight invasion by “yellow crazy ants” (Anoplolepis gracilipe) at the Vallée du Mai Nature Reserve World Heritage site. She stressed the importance of relying on a wide network of stakeholders to be engaged, informed and collaborative in conservation efforts. “We need to ensure that awareness raising efforts go beyond technical workshops like this one and trickle down to local communities and visitors to Seychelles….,” she stated. In closing, she shared information on the numerous UNESCO publications and programmes available to guide and support biodiversity and conservation efforts, notably through the World Heritage Paper Series.

Mr. Terry Nyambe, Executive Board Member of the International Council of Museum (ICOM), provided the keynote address, in which he underscored the strong links between museums and biodiversity conservation. He recalled the African Union Vision 2063 and its first aspiration for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. Mr. Nyambe stressed the importance of protecting our natural resources in order to promote growth through the Blue Economy. He praised the work being undertaken by the Seychelles Island Foundation, which is fighting to protect the environment in Seychelles. “…But this cannot be done alone,” said Mr. Nyambe. “We need a concerted effort and an integrated approach that includes museums, which offer a unique platform for biodiversity conservation education and outreach,” he concluded.

 

Dr. Elvina Henriette shared a presentation on the restoration work being done by Terrestrial Restoration Action Group (TRASS) to restore degraded sites in the Seychelles, notably related to forest conservation and rehabilitation. She provided examples of the activities undertaken to replant trees and mangroves, and to initiate invasive species management, as well as their awareness raising actions, which range from family demonstration days to forest walks. This was followed by Ms. Isabelle Ravinia, who presented the wide-ranging work being done by the Seychelles National Park Authority (SNPA), which is responsible for all of the marine and terrestrial national parks of Seychelles. Next Mr. Craig Francourt shared his experience working as a volunteer for the Seychelles Island Foundation through a presentation on the “Impact of Marine Debris on the Aldabra Atolls”. His presentation included impressive photos of volunteers’ successful efforts to clean up plastic from the remote Aldabra Atolls World Heritage site, and he also highlighted the wide range of partners supporting these initiatives, yet noted the need for more financial support. He also shared the link to a recent documentary film entitled “Island Under Siege,” which tells the story of the Aldabra Clean-Up Project—a collaboration between the Seychelles Islands Foundation and the Queen's College, Oxford, to tackle the issue of plastic pollution on the iconic Aldabra Atoll UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ms. Nicole Barreau presented the different activities undertaken by the Seychelles Natural History Museum Club to contribute towards the conservation of Seychelles biodiversity. She also shared information on efforts undertaken by the Friends of Seychelles (NGO) to raise awareness about endangered sea turtles.

Ms. Aurelie Hector shared the monitoring, management and conservation work being done in the Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve World Heritage Site. She highlighted the impacts of COVID-19 on their work, including: the opportunity to catch up on overdue reports as well as the time to develop educational resources, and developing online education and outreach, including an innovative “iNaturalist” programme to encourage potential visitors unable to come to the reserve during the lockdown to discover and document the biodiversity in their own backyards in collaboration with education staff from the site. Ms. Constance Tragett provided in depth details on efforts undertaken at Vallée de Mai to control the level of Yellow Crazy Ant, which is among the top 10 worst invasive species in the world. Her presentation highlighted the challenges of implementing the project during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as their accomplishments. She also noted wide range of impacts of the ants on the biodiversity of the site. The last presentation was made by Ms. Monica Griffitch, who shared details on monitoring and conservation work underway to preserve the Black Parrot in the Vallée de Mai, which faces numerous threats.

The closing remarks for the meeting were presented by Ms. Cecile Kalebi, Seychelles Principal Secretary for Culture, who thanked the panelists for drawing attention to the rich natural heritage of Seychelles and of the wide ranging efforts underway to protect it. She called on all stakeholders to continue raising awareness and mobilizing partners for the protection and promotion of the rich biodiversity of Seychelles.

One of our most important allies is the media. They are on the front lines in the battle against disinformation and complacency. It is important to establish close working relationships with the media so they are aware of your efforts, why you are doing them and who they can interview for more information or for a story of how these conservation efforts are impacting local communities
Ms. Karalyn Monteil, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa
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