This is the fourth blog entry written by Wildlife ACT volunteer, John Francis, who spent rwo weeks working in the Seychelles.
John Francis started volunteering with Wildlife ACT in South Africa in 2009, the first year our organisation began. Since then he’s volunteered with us in Zululand every year, which in total is six times. So when Wildlife ACT started a project on North Island in the Seychelles, it was only fitting that we asked John if he’d be our first volunteer and test the waters. This series of blogs are emails sent by John Francis to his family while he working in the Seychelles – volunteering on North Island.
They are expecting the rainy season to start any time now but it is wall to wall blue sky all day so far. They only have two seasons here, the dry (Winter) season and the wet / warm (Summer). Even though it is so dry the plants are getting greener and greener and the Spring flowers are bursting forth.
Plants of the Seychelles comprise 1100 species of plant. Circa 250 occur naturally and about 75 are found nowhere else on Earth. There are some very rare species too such as the Jelly Fish Plant.
General Gordon who later died fighting in Khartoum was convinced it was the garden of Eden. Well it is certainly a Botanist’s dream! Gordon said the Coco de Mer Palm was his “Tree of Knowledge”. Another notable tree is the great Takamaka.
The Coconut palm is a feature of every beach here. The flesh of the nut is eaten raw or dried and crushed to extract coconut oil. Copra the dried Coconut flesh was once a major export but no longer as tourism and conservation have replaced them. Coconut cream is extracted by pouring warm water over the grated flesh. The fibre of the husks can be made into ropes or door mats. The leaves are used for thatching, weaving and fish traps.
The Dragons tree is indigenous here it has hanging branches with spikes of greenish white flowers and red berries. Frangipani trees and shrubs have beautiful and delicate flowers and the Puzzlenut has a large shiny green fruit which turns brownish. The skin splits into four revealing large irregular shaped seeds. The English name comes from the complexity of the fruit. It is fun to try to put together all the seeds in a sphere. Having started to do this I think it could take some time!
Seychelles Endangered Turtles
I was happily wandering along Honeymoon beach thinking how soft and pure the sand is and watching the crabs disappear down small holes when I came across a Hawkesbill Turtle digging its nest in the sand. So far I have just seen the larger Green Turtle nests. So I took the usual measurements, noted the time and took several photos for record purposes and after inspecting the rest of the beach returned and told Elliott, my supervisor.
He jumped up and said we should go back and look at it together with CJ and Tarryn who run the Environment Department as they have only been here for six months and had not seen one yet. We attached an identification tag to each leg, measured it and checked for injuries before letting it hurry back to the sea. They are critically endangered where as the Green Turtle is only endangered. The Hawksbills generally nest from October until April. The last one seen on the island was in May.
Beach Profiling – I was wondering what it is. It’s a survey of the beach using a level a measuring tape & two survey poles to measure the surface and height of the beach. The info is then fed into a computer to produce plans which will show how the sand has moved. It is moving continuously so they can monitor it.
Four of us spent all day covering the four island beaches. We also had to climb one of the small mountains to take photos of one of the beaches. There has been a pattern of the sea taking the sand away and bringing it back over a period of time. The research will show whether any sea defenses should be built.
Once a month all the baby tortoises are measured, weighed and checked to see that they are in good condition. When they are a certain weight and size they are released from the pen to fend for themselves. We released one this week.
Working in the Seychelles also involves monitoring the White Tropic Bird, the one with a tail about 33 -45cm long. They are ground nesting birds and can be found concealed between rocks high up or at the back of a beach generally. They have one chick only and nest every nine months.
The Seychelles White Eye was considered to be the most endangered of the endemics but are making a good recovery and can be heard on the island plateau every day now. Other birds are monitored to build up a pattern of new arrivals and migrants passing through.
Well these two weeks working in the Seychelles have flown. I feel very privileged to have taken part in the excellent conservation work that is taking place here on North Island. I have been kept constantly busy learning new jobs, no time to get bored. Every one has been so welcoming and friendly and my leisure time has enabled me to swim, kayak and snorkel regularly not to mention lots of walking and exploring around the Island.
On Sunday I will fly from Mahe airport to Johannesburg for the next stage of my adventure in Zululand, South Africa.