Cousin Island, the cradle of biodiversity, opens to visitors

It has been long since the normally busy shores of Cousin Island Special Reserve have seen any form of tourism activity. But now, ahead of the possible re-opening of the country's borders, the island that belongs to birds is preparing to receive visitors and opened as of 22 March 2021.

Cousin safe travel certification

Cousin Island is certified safe to welcome visitors since last year

Safety first
Visitor safety to Cousin has always been of high priority for Nature Seychelles and wardens are trained to ensure the safety of all persons on the island at any given time. With regards to Covid-19, Cousin Island is certified safe to welcome visitors since last year, indicating its compliance with health and tourism safety requirements. Staff were trained by health officials on maintaining safety during visits, and signage directing visitors to observe hygiene and other protocols put up. This year, the entire team on the island was vaccinated and have received their vaccination certificates after the second dose was administered. As part of a digitization process, Nature Seychelles has provided an online payment option for ease of ticketing. Tour operators have now been contacted and apprised of health authority's requirements before the reopening.

Soft opening
According to the Reserve Coordinator, Eric Blais, the opening is a soft one aimed at preparing the staff for busier times should they come. "Staff have not been involved in ecotourism lately. They have been busy with conservation work. This soft opening is aimed at gently easing them into this activity. If we do receive any visitors, they will not be in high numbers. And this way the wardens can test the protocols in place for their effectiveness," he says. In addition, staff are busy preparing the island in readiness for visitors, clearing nature trails, and sprucing up boats and visitor shelters.

The team is preparing to receive visitors

The team is preparing to receive visitors

Showcasing conservation in action
Cousin's success has come through deliberate efforts to provide an excellent ecotourism product and its operations are aligned to international ecotourism standards. Visitor numbers have always been controlled, even before Covid-19, through allowing visits during prescribed times only - limited to half days, five days a week. Local tour operators from the nearby island of Praslin take visitors to Cousin where they are then transferred to the island's boats, the only ones allowed to land onshore to prevent the accidental introduction of harmful pests onto the Reserve. Once on Cousin, a guided tour is given by the highly trained and multi-lingual wardens to enhance visitor appreciation of nature. Wardens ensure adherence to regulations so the quality of experience and low impact are maintained. There is no picnicking, overnight accommodation, or taking of specimens or souvenirs. Distance is kept from sensitive biodiversity such as nesting birds and turtles.

Visitors have found the service of a very high standard and the guided tour interesting

Visitors have found the service of a very high standard and the guided tour interesting (File photo)

Tourists love it!
Hundreds of visitor comments left behind are a testimony to the island's unique experience: "National Geographic Live! Fantastic island, fantastic birdlife, fantastic guides! Keep doing your great work," they say.

Countless reviews have been written about the island in travel magazines and websites and the reserve has won several tourism awards. A survey we did revealed that visitors found the service of a very high standard, and the guided tour interesting, informative, and well organized. Additional comments about the wardens said they were "humorous, patient, knowledgeable, and approachable."

"Our challenge is to keep maintaining the integrity of the island as a cradle of biodiversity and popular ecotourism site," Dr. Nirmal Shah, Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles concludes.


Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Cousin Island Special Reserve’s main financing mechanism is an eco-tourism-based, Tourist User Fee (TUF), which is charged to visitors to the island. As a result the reserve has been greatly impacted by the collapse of tourism in Seychelles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which began affecting travel to Seychelles early in 2020. We are grateful for the support of the European Union and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States through the BIOPAMA Programme, who will be supporting the island reserve for the period between January - June 2021 through the project "Supporting management effectiveness and improve socio-economic resilience in the Cousin Island Special Reserve, Republic of Seychelles." The project will fund the salaries of staff on the reserve to ensure that they can remain stationed on the island and continue to carry out conservation, research, and surveillance activities.

Disclaimer
The contents of this story are the sole responsibility of Nature Seychelles and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union nor of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

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