Habitat restoration work at the sanctuary © Terence Vel
Nature Seychelles’ Headquarters is the Environment and education Centre at Roche Caiman, just south of Victoria. We moved here just over two years ago, in May 2004, when the new Centre was built. With the offices came a 7 – acre wetland site, right on our doorstep. It is a site with great potential, with a chequered history with, and clearly in need of some expert attention.
Habitat management is not just for Christmas. It is an ongoing business. Nor is it cheap. It requires constant input, and this in turn requires sustainable funding. Wetlands, in particular, need a lot of care and attention. More so than habitat types, wetlands are in constant state of transition, especially freshwater wetlands. Most are engaged in a steady process of trying to stop being wetlands and turn themselves into woodlands. Anyone who has had a pond, or lived beside a body of freshwater, will know how this happens. Silt, leaves and other organic debris build up in the open water areas. The open water becomes shallow, and eventually, unless there is some natural flushing process such as through rising rivers or flood, the open water becomes boggy ground, the trees and shrubs get stronger foothold, and eventually the whole area dries out. This is called succession, and woodland is what known as climax habitat.
A similar process has been ongoing at the sanctuary here for some years. In the absence of effective management, the wetland has been invaded by trees and shrubs, such as the quick-colonising Casuarinas. Some of you may recall just a few years ago when the site was open, and tidal. The wetland pools were created by default, in fact, when the coral fill was scooped out to cap a nearby landfill site. Since then, further reclamation work in the area and the building of the stadium has altered the water levels, and the site is no longer subjected to the tides. It is therefore undergoing a transition from salt or brackish water, favoured by mangrove shrubs, to a freshwater ecology.
And what of the wildlife? Some people recall when the site was a wide open, tidal flat, like those you find further south on the reclaimed land today. As such it used to attract a number of wading birds like whimbrels and plovers, and occasional rarities. Clearly today Roche Caiman has evolved into something else, as the surroundings have developed along with the tree and shrub cover. Unsurprisingly, the waders are less likely to drop in now. They need open space.
The sanctuary cannot be all wildlife, se we have decisions to make about which species to prioritise. Freshwater wetlands are vital to birds like bitterns and night herons, but these are shy birds that won’t tolerate a lot of disturbance. Terrapins, native frogs and other wildlife also need privacy and security, which is why the perimeter fence has to be repaired.
The Sanctuary is also special because it is within reach of many people. We want the site to be safe and securely accessible to the public, tourist groups, birdwatchers, education groups and Wildlife Clubs. The trick will be to balance all these demands, to make the most of the Sanctuary, for wildlife and people. Watch this space we may be calling you on your support.
Nature Seychelles, 03 May 2006.