When I first arrived on Cousin Island Special Reserve I was struck by the variety of wildlife and beautiful scenery - the white glistening beaches surrounding the island, the magnificent view from the top of the central hill and the abundance of wildlife on land and in the ocean.
Although Cousin is a protected nature reserve, human activity still poses a threat to the creatures in this otherwise pristine environment. The first thing that usually comes to mind when I think about the human threat to flora and fauna, is direct exploitation through hunting for instance for food or as souvenirs. But that certainly does not apply to Cousin Island.
One particular global threat that really stands out on this beautiful island however is pollution. Rubbish, mostly plastic, continues to wash up on Cousin’s beaches and Nature Seychelles Staff and volunteers therefore have it as one of their main tasks to keep the beches clean through regular and sometimes impromptu clean-ups. It is not just for aesthetic purposes, plastic apart from being an eyesore, is harmful to the environement, wildlife, both marine and on land, as well as humans.
Bags and bags of rubbish collected in just 3 hours
During one of our regular beach clean-ups, the team of Nature Seychelles volunteers collected over three hundred plastic bottles! We filled three large bags with rubbish including items such as polystyrene, shampoo bottles, flip flops, deodorant bottles, buoys just to name a few. We also collected a huge polystyrene float measuring over one cubic meter - it was trailing 10 meters of rope in which some marine animal could have easily been ensnared.
Cousin is one of the most important nesting sites in the Western Indian Ocean for Hawksbill turtles. Cousin is also home to the endemic and endangered Seychelles Magpie Robin and Seychelles Warbler whose populations have grown considerably owing to extensive conservation work including habitat restoration and eradication of rats, cats and barn owls. The island has one of the highest density of skinks in the world, hosts a significant population of the Giant Aldabra Tortoise, not to mention other iconic land and seabirds found in the Seychelles.
After my first beach clean-up, we began recording the amount, variety and if possible origin of the rubbish with a view to highlight that marine debris poses a huge ecological menace whether in the water or washing up on the beaches of protected nature reserves such as Cousin Island. Nature Seychelles hopes that the data collected over a period of time can have a great impact in local and global campaigns to stamp out plastic pollution.
by Bjorn Suttka
Nature Seychelles’ International Volunteer Program