Building back better – Boosting research in Seychelles after the Covid-19 pandemic

Nature Seychelles has received £60,000 for its “Building back Better in the Age of COVID” campaign. The funds are to be used to boost high-level science in Seychelles by contributing to the construction of a new research centre on Cousin Island Special Reserve. The Seychelles Warbler Research Group, a team of biologists from the European universities of East Anglia, Groningen, and Sheffield is donating the funds to help build the new facility.

Dr Nirmal Shah L and Dr David Richardson R signing an MOU remotely for the Seychelles Warbler Research House

Dr Nirmal Shah (L) and Dr David Richardson (R) signing an MOU remotely for the Seychelles Warbler Research House

Cousin Island's iconic International Field Station, which was set up by BirdLife International in 1971 and has housed hundreds of students, researchers, volunteers, and conservation boot camp participants was rendered structurally unsafe after severe beach erosion that impacted the island early this year and ate away at its foundation. The added economic catastrophe caused by the Covid-19 impact has made it impossible for the NGO to fund a rescue of the house or to build a new facility. “Hundreds of scientific reports, articles and papers have been produced by researchers from this Field Station over the last 50 years,” says Dr. Nirmal Jivan Shah, the Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles.

The Seychelles warbler is a poster child for successful conservation Photo Charli Davies

The Seychelles warbler is a poster child for successful conservation (Photo: Charli Davies)

The Seychelles Warbler Research Group which donated the funds has been studying and helping in the conservation of the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis) since 1985. This unique long-term research programme in partnership with Nature Seychelles has not only helped save this once critically endangered bird from the brink of extinction making it a poster-child for successful conservation but also generated a series of high-profile scientific discoveries and publications in the most prestigious journals that have made the Seychelles warbler famous across the academic world. The bird is the most studied species in Seychelles. The group's close partnership with Nature Seychelles has rightly gained a worldwide reputation as an outstanding example of how Science and Conservation can work hand-in-hand.

Signing a memorandum of understanding remotely in the UK, Prof David S Richardson from the University of East Anglia said, “We are happy to donate the £60,000 that we have raised towards the building of the ‘Seychelles Warbler Research House’ on Cousin Island to enable research and conservation to continue and flourish on this amazing nature reserve.” Richardson works alongside colleagues Professor Terry Burke of the University of Sheffield, and Prof Jan Komdeur and Prof Hannah Dugdale from the University of Groningen to make up the Warbler Group.

The Seychelles Warbler Research Group has been studying and helping in the conservation of the Seychelles warbler Photo Arne van Eerden

The Seychelles Warbler Research Group has been studying and helping in the conservation of the Seychelles warbler (Photo: Arne van Eerden)

Receiving the donation, Dr. Shah said: “This special bird, whose rescue caused a chain reaction that saved an entire island, whole ecosystems, and many other species, is doing it again. This time around, it is bringing research back to Cousin. We sincerely thank our friends and colleagues of the Warbler Group and hope to continue what is actually the longest running-international research program in Seychelles and also to cascade other types of research.”

The warbler has come a long way from the days it neared extinction in the 1950s with only 26 individuals surviving on a patch of mangrove on Cousin Island. The little song-bird was the reason BirdLife International bought the island in 1968, then a coconut plantation, for conservation. Their recovery on that island and their eventual translocation to four other islands of Seychelles has seen their population boom to over 3000 today. In 2015, in a world first, the Seychelles warbler was down-listed from "Critically Endangered" to "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List. The warbler is now out of danger and is listed as "vulnerable" on the Red List.

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