Masters of all trades: A new age of self-sufficiency for conservation of biodiversity on Cousin Island

They are famous for their skilled manoeuvring of boats in both calm and stormy weather. Their expert beaching of boats amazes everyone. The boat ride, the first taste of what life is like on the island, is reminisced on by all who take it. They have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the reserve and are adept at storytelling. They captivate visitors with their vast wildlife observations and anecdotes of life as an islander.

The wardens have amazing boat handling skills

The wardens have amazing boat handling skills

Though they work on an island expressly set aside for conservation, away from the creature comforts of home, they make their work attractive and inspire the younger generation. Alone with thousands of birds, tortoises, skinks, crabs and turtles, one might think that they lead lonely lives. Far from it. Welcome to the life of a Cousin Island Special Reserve warden.

Lately though, with the shifting tides brought about by Covid-19, life has changed considerably for our wardens. They have had to quickly adapt to what everyone is calling the "new normal" and devote themselves to activities that are outside their purview, away from the glamour of ecotourism.

Clearing fallen tree debris

Clearing fallen tree debris

For the last couple of months, the island reserve has been a beehive of activity as they set about fixing and repairing infrastructure on the island. Cousin Island’s prevailing environment, particularly salt spray and wind during the south east monsoon, means that infrastructure has to be looked at regularly. Under normal circumstances, a contractor would be called in to make repairs, but the closure of ecotourism has had a devastating financial impact on the island's finances that are ploughed back into conservation and island maintenance. The wardens have had to become self-sufficient and fix things themselves.

"The back-end of biodiversity conservation is not "sexy" and at the same time takes money to keep up. I'm talking about repairs, maintenance, building and purchasing equipment and infrastructure needed for normal conservation operations. With tourism frozen and no revenues coming in, our Wardens on Cousin Island Special Reserve have had to put on new caps and become masons, carpenters, mechanics and plumbers…." says Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles' Chief Executive.

Fixing broken ceilings of some of the houses

Fixing broken ceilings of some of the houses

According to the island coordinator, Eric Blais, this has included fixing broken ceilings of some of the houses, fixing the water pump which was leaking, replacing damaged mosquito netting on windows in all the houses, and continually maintaining the boats and solar system that powers the island. They are also maintaining all the nature trails, even in the absence of visitors, and creating new ones where they have been affected by erosion.

"This uncertain period calls for resilience and for us all to rise to challenges in new ways. This work might not be professional, but it will meet the purpose for now," he concludes.

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Seychelles Nature, Green HealthClimate Change, Biodiversity Conservation & Sustainability Organisation

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Roche Caiman, Mahe

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Centre for Environment & Education

Roche Caiman,

P.O. Box 1310, Mahe, Seychelles

Tel:+ 248 4601100

Fax: + 248 4601102

Email: nature@seychelles.net