Waking up and out your front door you see a white sand beach, a turquoise/blue ocean, the sun streaming through the mountains on a neighbouring island, and a tortoise snoozing on the beach. Does it get better than this? This is the view from the field station on the Cousin Island Special Reserve, where I have spent the past 4 weeks in conservation bliss.
I am a 2nd year Marine biology major and this was my first experience doing field work. Needless to say I was not disappointed, if a little out of my element at first. You wake up every morning greeted by, or tripping over, a tortoise on the way out to the loo and the Lesser Noddys that kick up a fuss when someone walks by. The Nature Seychelles' Conservation Boot Camp is a hands on field training program where you help in the monitoring of flora and fauna. This first-hand experience was more than I could have asked for.
The island took some getting used to, you can’t run to the grocery store if you’ve forgotten something for dinner and the food available is different from what I was used to. Once I settled in though things took a turn for the incredible. Every day is different on this little island. I spent my days looking monitoring seabird nests. The transformation in the chicks from one week to the next was a bit surprising every time. One week they’re a little fluffy puff ball and the next, they have a bunch of their adult feathers.
During August while I was a part of the boot camp program we started to census the Aldabra giant tortoises. This, I would have to say, was one of my favourite things to do. While not always easy, the smaller ones are pretty quick or I would mistake them for a rock, they are really incredible creatures to be around and scouring through the forest is an added bonus. This process requires measuring the length and width of their carapace as well as looking at some other male/female identifying features. Since the tortoises take a mud bath every day this is usually pretty messy but in the end they get a nice rewarding neck scratch.
There is frequent monitoring of the endemic Seychelles magpie robin who come for a snack when you whistle. They are kept under close watch to help keep the population on an upward trend. This month during one of the daily checks a new un-ringed fledgling was found and, on another day, a new egg was found in one of the many nest boxes around the island.
Weekends were for sitting on the beach, snorkelling, wandering through the forest, collecting coconuts from the ground and baking.
This past month has been full of first experiences and I will never forget a single part of it. From the communal dinners every Wednesday, to the drenching boat rides to and from Praslin, from the smallest of hermit crabs to the largest of the tortoises, each moment was unique and impactful. There was no better way to spend a summer and to solidify my desire to join the world of conservation.
Kathleen Dale spent a month on Nature Seychelles' Conservation Boot Camp on Cousin Island Special Reserve.
Photos: Charli Davies