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Cousin was acquired for conservation in 1969; at the time it was managed as a coconut plantation. The primary motive for the purchase of Cousin was that it held the last population of the Seychelles warbler, numbering about thirty birds that were largely restricted to the mangrove woodland, the last fragment of native forest. Early management was low key; the most important action was to collect coconuts that had fallen to the ground. This prevented the growth of a dense under-story of young palms that would prevent native plants from growing. With the coconut under control the native trees began to regenerate, one of the most abundant being Pisonia grandis (Mapou in kreol), the sticky seeds being spread on the plumage of seabirds. Other trees that prevailed in small numbers have also recovered. In the early 1990s most of the remaining coconuts palms were removed and now the vast majority of the vegetation is native. Cousin was one of the few islands that remained free of rats and mice, and hence cats were never introduced to control them. With the recovering forest and absence of alien predators native animals flourished. The Seychelles warbler population increased 10 fold, colonies of seabirds expanded greatly, and the endemic skinks and Bronze eyed gecko occur at high densities. A small number of Seychelles Magpie robins were introduced in the mid 1990s; there is now a thriving population of 30 birds. Between colonization in the 1770s and the 1980s the staple of the Seychelles economy was plantation agriculture; spices such as cinnamon, coconut as well as tobacco, and food crops were grown. By the early 20th Century the plantations extended over most of the land mass of the Seychelles, the native forests had largely been obliterated. The problems were compounded by the introduction of alien predators, collection of animals for food, mining of guano and in the latter 20th Century the applications of pesticides. Under these multiple assaults many native species populations became rare, fragmented or extinct. Economic changes over the last three decades have coincided with more enlightened views: over the 70s and 80s the plantations became unprofitable and have mostly been abandoned; this coincided with the start of tourism, which has provided sustainable funding for islands managing their biodiversity sensitively. The result has been that the Seychelles, despite being one of the smallest countries is a world leader in environmental restoration. Restoration or rehabilitation has been conducted on a number of the islands, and typically involves several stages: • The removal of alien predators such as rats • The control or removal of alien plants and replacement with native species • The reintroduction of native animals The island restoration programme initiated in 1999, initially under a GEF MSP-Management of Avian Ecosystems- in the Seychelles points the way to sustainable mechanisms of island restoration. A collaborative effort between Nature Seychelles, private island owners and the Seychelles Government, the program is ongoing. Components include biological assessment of islands, cost analysis of restoration and maintenance, education and awareness, island management plans, removal of alien predators and other invasive alien species, establishment or rehabilitation of native coastal habitats, translocation of globally threatened endemic species and socio-economic valuation of restored ecosystems and ecotourism. The program has been financed by the GEF, the Seychelles government and island owners and has involved international partners such as BirdLife International. Biodiversity management has developed immensely in the last 30 years, now standard procedures have been developed to remove alien species, rehabilitate native forest and re-introduce native species. Nature Seychelles has published biological assessments of many Seychelles islands as well developing a manual of assessment methods. The organisation has also published several papers on the subject including methods of eradicating Mynah birds. The removal of rats is a prerequisite for restoration, and the methods first developed in New Zealand have been refined for the Seychelles climate and conditions. The final element is the re-introduction of native species, to date mainly birds. Several species have been reintroduced to restored islands in planned programmes in recent years: the Seychelles magpie robin has been reintroduced to three islands, the Seychelles warbler to three and the Seychelles fody to two. Re-introduction should not be taken lightly, a thorough understanding of the species ecology and hence suitability of the islands is needed. Birds are the best studied taxon, and hence have been reintroduced first, but as research and interest in restoration increase, reintroduction of other groups such as reptiles and insects seems likely in the near future.
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Nirmal Shah the CEO of Nature Seychelles is well known in Seychelles and within the environmental circles of the Western Indian ocean sphere. His encyclopedic knowledge of Seychelles biodiversity as well as a wealth of experience in environment management are legend. He was formerly the Assistant Director of Fisheries Research, the Director of the Seychelles Conservation and National Parks service as well as the Managing Director of an environmental firm, ENVIRO where he worked on projects covering almost every aspect of environmental management. He was the coordinator of the Seychelles National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan process and of the Environmental Management Plan of Seychelles 2000-2010. He has worked for international organizations such as the World Bank, IUCN, UNEP, Sida and UNESCO. He sits in the board of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA), International Task Force on Protected Areas
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Cousin Island Marine Reserve is an amalgam of conservation challenges. Retaining the islands unique biodiversity, benefiting the community and enhancing visitor satisfaction are the key pillars in her eco appeal. Monitoring of the island's biodiversity, research, re-introduction of endangered species such as the Seychelles Magpie Robin, ecotourism and education are areas where help is needed to maintain the allure of this idyllyic for both people and wildlife.