Not content with the conservation successes of Cousin Island - “one of the world’s great conservation success stories” according to the latest issue of World Birdwatch, the magazine of BirdLife International - Nature Seychelles has been steadily improving the management of the Special Reserve.
The latest in these improvements is standardization of boat handling by Wardens on Cousin Island.
“Many management case studies have been written and a lot of awards have been given” says Nature Seychelles’ Chief Executive Nirmal Shah. Now another milestone has been reached. “All our Wardens who use small craft to ferry the thousands of visitors to and from their tour boats and yachts moored off the island are now certified Coxswains” reveals Shah.
The exhilarating boat landing onto the beach at Cousin has been filmed and photographed thousands of times but needs to be experienced. Seemingly scary, it was highlighted as the most memorable experience of the trip to Cousin by about 90% of visitors to the island in an independent study conducted by a researcher from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology in the UK.
Cousin island Wardens have become famous for safely landing boatfuls of visitors at high speed on the beaches. This flair has made the Wardens stand out amongst other boatmen even locally and in a recent article in the Africa Partnership newsletter entitled The Macho Men of Cousin Island their legendary dexterity was made known throughout Africa and beyond.
“The boat handling ability is passed on through practice, non verbal cues and intuition to successive Cousin boatmen” says Nirmal Shah. “Although highly effective and despite the fact that the trips for visitors are within the Special Reserve boundaries and thus very short, boat handling needed to be benchmarked and a standard operating procedure ensured” he continues.
“Enter Coxswain certification ” says Chief Warden Jovanni Simeon, himself a highly experienced boatman. “We needed some formal training in various aspects to do with boats as well as standardization of our practices ” he admits. But the wardens could not go back to the maritime school to earn a Coxswain license as they could not leave the biodiversity-rich Special Reserve unattended for too long and at the mercy of poachers.
“We had to approach the Seychelles maritime training school and plan a tailor made course” states Bernard Solomon, Nature Seychelles’ Administration and Operations Manager. “We needed to fly in and put up the instructors of the various modules over a period of months and in this we were assisted by the LUNGOS small grant program” he says.
After successfully passing various modules the Wardens sat for their at-sea exams and received their Coxswains certificates recently. “This is yet another advancement we have made to guarantee exceptional service for our eco tourists. Now all visitors can be assured that we have certified proficiency to safely take them from their tour boats and yachts to the island and back” says Simeon with some pride.