Worldwide, our oceans are in trouble and island nations like the Seychelles are especially vulnerable to changes to marine ecosystems. International organisations have called on countries to safeguard their marine resources by creating an effective network of marine reserves that protect important habitats and make fish stocks more sustainable in the long term. St Joseph Atoll, a critical nursery site in the Outer Islands, would play a valuable role in the Seychelles’ network of marine protected areas.
Celebrated and protected for its natural splendour and heritage value, Aldabra Atoll is the pride of the Seychelles. Although few places in the world compare to Aldabra, the Seychelles shelters another gem in its Outer Islands: St Joseph Atoll. Being surrounded by a distinct, uninterrupted reef flat at low tide sets St Joseph apart from all other atolls in the Seychelles, giving it significance as a nursery, breeding and feeding area for multiple species. Although small, St Joseph is as important to the Seychelles as Aldabra is.
Together with neighbouring D’Arros Island, St Joseph Atoll provides an outstanding ocean observatory for scientific research and discovery. From its base on D’Arros, the Save Our Seas Foundation D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF-DRC) has demonstrated its commitment to research and discovery in the area. Showcasing the national and international significance of the island, the atoll and the surrounding waters, the SOSF-DRC aims to conserve the integrity of the natural environment for the Seychellois people today and in the future.
For more than a decade, the research centre on D’Arros has conducted baseline monitoring of the marine environment and, after combining with the Save Our Seas Foundation in 2012, it initiated additional new and innovative research projects. Coupled with long-term monitoring, these new projects help not only to provide a reference for the entire Amirantes Group, but also to answer crucial questions about the life histories of important marine species.
The SOSF-DRC supports 15 research projects, which include studies of 17 mega- fauna species such as the Vulnerable manta ray Manta alfredi, the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata and the Endangered green turtle Chelonia mydas. Broader ecosystem concerns relating to biodiversity and habitat rehabilitation are also among the research topics. Along with Danah Divers, the SOSF-DRC maintains the largest acoustic receiver network in the Western Indian Ocean, which consists of 88 receivers that track marine life over the entire Amirantes Bank. Over and above its commitment to research at St Joseph and D’Arros, the SOSF has supported an additional seven projects elsewhere in the Seychelles.
While the comprehensive research projects based at the SOSF-DRC focus on important conservation issues relating to both ecosystems and species, they also have future generations of the Seychellois people in mind.
A biological field station based on D’Arros Island in the Amirantes Group, Seychelles, the SOSF D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF–DRC) conducts research on the pristine D’Arros Island and St Joseph Atoll and the waters around them. In recognition of the islands’ outstanding natural values, the research centre was established in 2004 and tasked with becoming a regional centre of excellence for marine and tropical island conservation. Initially, collaborations were established with local and international institutions and baseline ecological surveys were conducted in the various habitats. Over the ensuing years an increasing number of research projects and monitoring programmes were implemented in response to questions raised by the baseline surveys and by visiting scientists. More recently, the centre expanded its activities to include ecosystem restoration and environmental education.
Today the SOSF–DRC boasts the longest-running nesting turtle monitoring programme in the Amirantes and the most detailed and technically advanced coral reef monitoring programme in the Seychelles, making use of techniques such as stereo-video photogrammetry, photoquadrats, remote underwater video systems (BRUVs) and visual census. The research centre also maintains the largest acoustic receiver array in the Seychelles, which monitors the local movements of sharks, manta rays, stingrays, turtles and fish. Since its inception in 2004, the centre has initiated no fewer than 36 research projects in collaboration with more than 26 conservation institutions. The projects have resulted in 10 peer-reviewed scientific papers, one PhD and one MSc dissertation, five conference presentations and 27 scientific reports.