From Coconuts to conservation, Cousin Island Special Reserve - an innovative approach to conservation and ecoutourism

From Coconuts to conservation, Cousin Island Special Reserve - an innovative approach to conservation and ecoutourism

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Cousin once a degraded and loss making coconut plantation with uncontrolled consumption of threatened species such as turtles and seabirds is now a world class award winning reserve and eco-tourism destination

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Our challenge is to keep maintaining the integrity of the island as a cradle of biodiversity and popular tourism site. The island is totally reserved for conservation with the principal aim being the protection of globally-threatened species. In the 1960s, declining species had earned Seychelles the label of the country in Africa with the largest number of 'Critically Endangered' birds except for Madagascar. Today, it is a country identified with conservation successes. Cousin Island Special Reserve purchased to save the last remaining population of the Seychelles warblers, has contributed and continues to contribute to this success by providing a home to endemic and endangered species. Cousin is also involved in hundreds of scientific studies that contribute to knowledge on biodiversity, its loss, and the challenges of climate change. Ecotourism supports conservation and livelihoods of local tour operators. The challenge is to keep this balance.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

By early 1960s, Cousin was a loss making coconut plantation with low paid laborers, livestock running loose and poachers taking the biodiversity. Cousin today is one of the high biodiversity areas of the Indian Ocean and through its award-winning, carbon-neutral ecotourism program provides about 600,000 USD to local business and communities and is one of the few reserves in the world that is financially self sufficient, funding conservation and education work nationally and having little or no poaching. This international success story started in the 1960s when it was discovered that the Seychelles Warbler found only on Cousin was on the brink of extinction. Billed as the ”rarest bird in the world” the warbler was saved when Cousin was purchased in 1968 by BirdLife International (then the ICBP). The island was opened to eco-tourism in 1972 and restored over a period of over 30 years. In 1975 it was promulgated as a Special Reserve by the Seychelles Government. The Seychelles warblers were saved, and Cousin became home for endemic land birds, endemic reptiles and thousands of sea birds. It is the most important breeding site for Hawksbill turtles in the Western Indian Ocean. It is the first “sea and island” reserve in the Indian Ocean. It is managed by Nature Seychelles, a local NGO, since 1998. Continuing the innovations, in 2010 Cousin Island became the world’s first carbon neutral nature reserve after management took steps to offset the carbon footprint of its conservation and ecotourism activities.
About You
Nature Seychelles
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Nature Seychelles

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Nature Seychelles

Organization Phone


Organization Address

The Centre for Environment and Education, Roche Caiman, Mahe, Seychelles P.O.Box 1310, Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles

Organization Country
Your idea
Country your work focuses on
Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

Cousin is a model for ecotourism in protected areas. It is one of Seychelles’ most visited eco-tourism sites, providing a unique experience to visitors. It attracts some 10,000 to 14,000 visitors/year and caters for educational groups and locals who have free access to the Reserve. It is part of the most popular tours by local tourism operators. All visits to Cousin are run by local people who rely on the island for their livelihoods. Operators take visitors to Cousin where they are then transferred to the Cousin boat, a measure implemented to prevent the accidental introduction of pests onto the Reserve. Once on Cousin, a guided tour is given to all visitors by trained Wardens of the Reserve. Tourists also receive information in three languages on the island. Visitor safety is of high priority and visitor facilities are provided. A survey in 2000 revealed that: 98% of visitors found the service of a very high standards; 99% found the guided tour interesting, informative and well organized. Training and employment programs for young, local people are in place. Cousin’s waters are protected which provides a nursery ground for fish stock that local fishermen rely on. 100% of the ecotourism revenue goes into management, conservation & research, education, and training for wardens, practitioners and teachers. Cousin was Highly Commended by the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow program for being a role model in responsible tourism in 2003, and won the Ecotourism Award for Best Destination by Conde Nast Traveller Magazine in 2004.


In terms of eco-tourism, adherence to regulations is complied with to ensure quality of experience and to maintain a low impact. A Code of Ethics is circulated to all visitors and operators. Recently due to climate change awareness, attention has turned to the carbon footprint left behind by tourists who visit far flung destinations like Seychelles. There are concerns that such travel produces greenhouses gases and causes other environmental damage. This might result in a voluntary roll back on long distance trips by tourists, which would have far reaching consequences for Seychelles, largely dependent on tourism and for Cousin conservation, dependent on eco-tourism revenues. To counter this, visitors need to be reassured that carbon emissions related to their travel are being offset. In 2010, we ensured Cousin is carbon neutral by investing in carbon credits from a project in Sudan that is actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions by distributing efficient cook stoves. In terms of conservation, we invest in science and research and have been involved in hundreds of studies. Currently we are invested in looking at climate induced impacts in species and the ecosystem such as reefs.


The widely publicized decision to become carbon neutral is expected to encourage visits to Seychelles and to Cousin. Eco-visitors can to come to Cousin Island conscience-free, knowing their carbon footprint has been neutralized. We aim to purchase carbon credits each year to maintain carbon-neutral status. The offset process is audited by an independent firm to ensure its reliability. Our research helps us to continually monitor species and take action when its needed.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Cousin Island will continue to be protected and totally reserved for conservation. Cousin’s vision is to be acclaimed as the best-managed small island protected area in the world. It aims to be one of the best destinations for present and future generations of eco-tourists. In order for this to successful we need to invest in projects that maintain the integrity of Cousin. Currently projects are science based such as monitoring, and investigating impacts of climate change on species. An improvement of ecotourism infrastructure is ongoing.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Reduction in tourism revenues and investment in scientific projects

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

More than $4000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

In what country?
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Nature Seyechelles

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Many of the conservation successes in Seychelles have come about due to private, public and government partnerships. The most striking ones have been the inter-island translocations of birds to increase their range and genetic diversity and thus move them away from extinctions. Nature Seychelles has led the highly successful Seychelles Magpie Recovery Team made up of private island owners, NGOs and government that manages the population of this once critically endangered species. We also coordinate the Seychelles Seabird Group similarly bringing together island owners and government for seabird management. Saving the Seychelles paradise flycatcher required partnerships from Academia, NGO, Government and the local development board.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

- Continuing to build local capacity for conservation and eco-tourism
- Continuing to secure sustainable financing mechanisms which benefit both people and biodiversity
- Continuing the successful balance between conservation and development

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

The tipping point was reached when the Seychelles warbler was on the brink of extinction. Also when soon after it was realized that eco tourism could bring in revenues to save biodiversity

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

There were at least two main persons namely Dr. Mike Rands the then Director of ICBP which ran the island and Dr. Nirmal Shah, the CEO of Nature Seychelles which took over management form ICBP.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer