Nature Seychelles, which manages the award-winning Cousin Island Special Reserve has announced an increase in the tourism user fee to the Reserve as of June 2019 so as to try and reduce visitor numbers. Dr. Nirmal Jivan Shah the Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles explains, “Cousin Island Special Reserve experienced over-tourism in 2018. The Special Reserve received a record number of visitors last year, 27% more than the average of the last 10 years. Analysis of visitor statistics and of our management and conservation reports, shows that the coping ability of our management team and the biophysical carrying capacity of the Special Reserve are being overshot. The visitor experience is, in addition, being compromised.”
Shah who has been involved in ecotourism activities and studies for 30 years including articles and papers, guide training, lectures, EIAs, eco-tourism policy, and tourism master plans, says over-tourism is a phenomenon that is happening all over the world including Seychelles. It can be described simply as “too much of a good thing”. “It’s when you start to become a victim of your own success. The trick therefore is to know when and how to adapt or mitigate”, he says.
“The law that governs the Special Reserve states that all activities have to be secondary to the conservation of biodiversity. To fulfill this legal mandate to protect the integrity of the Special Reserve, Nature Seychelles will attempt to reduce visitor numbers as soon as possible,” says Eric Blais the Special Reserve Coordinator.
As of the 3rd June 2019 the Special Reserve tourist user fee, known as TUF in ecotourism parlance, will increase from SCR 500 to SCR 600 for all non-residents including children.
Cousin Island Special Reserve will continue a free service for residents for the time being despite the numbers and also the resulting financial cost to the NGO. Nature Seychelles’ Director, Kerstin Henri says that it is hoped that this variation in the tourist user fee will have the required result. “If not, then in 2020 this issue will be revisited and we will consider other approaches as necessary”, she says.
Nature Seychelles has consulted with the key operators who bring eco-tourists to Cousin Island Special Reserve and Dr. Shah says they all agree that special places like Cousin must be protected at all costs. Cousin Island Special Reserve has won international ecotourism and conservation awards and is host to Seychelles’ longest running ecotourism program, started in 1972 by BirdLife International and Linblad Travel.
To enhance and better manage this legacy program, “2 new positions of specialist wardens focusing on ecotourism have been created and we expect young, enthusiastic Seychellois to fill these very soon” says Dalius Laurence, the Special Reserve’s Chief Warden, himself a young Seychellois conservation manager.