Study to investigate the role of Cousin Island for fish protection

Nature Seychelles and the Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) have joined forces to investigate the  role of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), specifically Cousin Island Special Reserve, in the protection of small fish that sustain local fish communities. The two organisations on 12th January 2012 formalised this partnership with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement by their Chief Executives Dr. Nirmal Shah and Mr. Finley Racombo.

Under the agreement the two organisations will study fish spawning areas around Cousin, fish movement between the protected area and fished areas, and the connectivity between the reserve and nearby fish spawning aggregations. This will determine whether the reserve and its design fulfil the ecological role of fish protection.

The activity is being carried out under the Government of Seychelles Global Environment Facility financed project, "Strengthening Seychelles Protected Area System through NGO Management Modalities," being implemented with support from UNDP.

"It's going to be the first time in Seychelles where we investigate the design of a marine protected area with regard to this function and we hope it will deliver some very important results for Seychelles and the region," said Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles Chief Executive.

MPAs, like national parks, are areas of ocean where human activity is regulated or restricted. They meet a number of objectives, among them protection of marine species.

Scientific evidence shows that MPAs usually boost the abundance, diversity, and size of marine species living within their borders. They may also be able to replenish fished areas when young and adult fish move out of the reserve.

But at the moment we don't know to what extent our MPAs are fulfilling this function.

"The design of MPAs has become very important," says Shah. "In the past it has generally been assumed that the MPAs are protecting reefs and fish. But as our knowledge about fish has increased, especially coral reef fish, we understand that there are certain biological functions such as spawning and migration routes that need to be protected. This will determine the placement and design of a protected area."

Acoustic transmitting devices will be inserted in key species of fish under study to track their movements over a number of years and seasons.

"It's an exciting project. Cousin is small but it's one of the best protected areas in the country if not the region. This makes it an ideal case study for this activity," Jan Robinson, SFA's Fisheries Research Manager said. SFA has been carrying out pioneering research on spawning aggregations of key species in recent years, in particular around Praslin, and its experience is key for the project.

"The study will also help to answer other questions about what is the best size for MPAs to protect really important populations of fishes such as parrotfish (Kakatwa) and rabbitfish (Kordonnyen)," Robinson said.

The project will also help answer questions about factors that are important in enabling the reefs around Cousin to recover from coral bleaching. Compared to other inner granitic islands, Cousin is showing slow recovery from bleaching and this study could uncover the role important fish species play in that recovery process. Some of the fish involved in the recovery are also important fisheries species.

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