Hi, I am Megan Dine, I am 21 years old and I live at La Louise. I am currently studying environmental science at the University of Seychelles.
I chose this course because I am all about protecting our wildlife and biodiversity, especially endangered species suche as sea turtles which are now critically endangered. I enjoy going on hikes and snorkeling trips on weekend with my classmates. This course has given me the chance to experience the workings of a conservationist, exploring different vegetation both endemic and introduced species to our islands, marine and terrestrial life. The eco-academia club based at the University gives us the chance to do activities, like vegetation rehabilitation that was done on North island, water sampling at Val D’en dor and even beach clean-ups around Mahé.
I have started my work attachment at CICP (Cerf Island Conservation Program as part of an MCSS (Marine Conservation Society Seychelles) project and it is going pretty well for my first day.
I heard about MCSS when I had a class visit to the Wildlife conservation and rehabilitation Center at the Banyan Tree. In fact, during the presentation I stumbled across the restoration project on Cerf which sparked my interest in applying for my internship.
The Cerf Island project interests me because I want to learn more on how to protect and restore coral reefs. So today I learned the basics of what is a coral, their benefits and threats as well as their different types of life forms as part of their reef building characteristics. Our first activity of the morning was beach cleaning which was followed by a lecture then snorkeling near l’habitation. The last activity was a small hike to the view point and cemetery as we were introduced to all the spots tourists are curious about upon arriving to Cerf Island.
My name is Luana and I am the most freshly arrived volunteer on Cerf Island to work on the coral reef project with Savi. I am a Brazilian Master student, so the water temperature and weather suits me perfectly for this new adventure ! The EMBC ( European Master for Marine Conservation and Biodiversity) has a partnership with six universities and we have to choose two of them to go for our first and second year. From September 2016 to June 2017 I had the chance to go to Faro, in Portugal, where I had a really interesting year having classes about marine conservation, marine mammals behavior, fisheries, data management and underwater methods. One of our classes aimed to provide us some field experience by going for an internship.
The partnership that EMBC has with the MCSS (Marine Conservation Society Seychelles) brought me here and I started my adventure by doing one month at the Wildlife conservation and rehabilitation center in the South of Mahé. There, I could learn many things about sea and freshwater turtles and I also did a study on their nesting patterns. After this one month experience, I wanted to discover the coral restoration program in order to have an overview of MCSS’s work in the Seychelles. So here I am, just arrived to this new program where I am expecting to discover all the species of coral we have here, how to protect and restore them !
Savi has already initiated me to some of the tasks here and we did my first coral nursery swim today which ended pretty fast due to mask and fin problem… But no worries, I finally found one that fits and will be ready for next week’s experiences ! I will let you know how my adventure is going. Keep both eyes on it!"
We added two new frames to the reef system and propogated them with corals fragmented from the original frames. Let Cynthia run through our process with you as the interns also wave Cerf Island and the Seychelles Goodbye.
"Time for us, the European team to say goodbye to the CICP and the Seychelles and put an end to our adventures. But last time, we kept you waiting a bit, as we were just preparing new artificial frames, remember? We know you’re impatient to know more about them, so here it comes!
“But what are those things you keep talking about?!”, you say? They are metal structures that were made specially for the project. Six faces with several horizontal bars, they offer us a lot of space to put our dear coral fragments.
“And you put the corals on the metal like this?! You guys kept on saying that corals were fragile and vulnerable, and you just leave them all alone to survive on metal?” Of course not, we have to protect them from the rust, that’s absolutely right! To do that, we prepared the frames: first, we put some resin – veryyy sticky and chemical – on the whole structure. Before it could dry, we covered it with rinsed sand from the beach, covering it as carefully as possible, not leaving any blank space on the poles. Then, the next day – because it needs to dry perfectly – we put another layer of resin, to protect it all. Another drying session, and the frames are ready to welcome coral fragments!
“And then? How can you stick the coral on there??” For that, remember how amazing corals are: they can grow through fragmentation. So we took advantage of it of course! Using corals of opportunity around the reefs or fragments from our nurseries, we attach them on the frames, simply using cable ties. Super easy isn’t it?
“That sounds great! But why are you actually doing this? So that tourists can have more alive corals to look at?”, you ask? Even if that is true, people love beautiful and colourful corals, right? But it is only a side-benefit. Implementing those frames, we aim on replacing the reef structure. The corals will grow more and more on those, and become a new shelter, a new source of nutrients, and a new playground for the reef fish! It will create new healthy reefs, that were lost after the bleaching events or the tsunami in 2004. Of course, it’s not a magical solution that will solve all problems, because as you know – yes you do, don’t listen to Trump –, climate change is happening, and will trigger more bleaching events… Corals will continue to suffer with these global warming events, but we have to try our best to counteract the consequences of those events and help our beloved corals. With the use of resilient and resistant corals, we are helping to prepare the reefs for these events as we help create the reefs of the future.
So yeah, somehow, we worked on making the world a better place here with the CICP! Which isn’t nothing right? Your turn now… ;)"
Thanks for your enthusiasm and hard work Cynthia! You are very right in passing the baton to our audience. There are so many things one person can do to help our planet. You can lead a beach clean with you community, reduce your meat intake, recycle and up-cycle as much as possible, buy in bulk, say no to disposables, and share your passion for the marine environment with as many as you can. These are of course just a few suggestions but one person's actions is never too small. It takes many snowflakes to build an incredible snowman, but the secret is teamwork!
During the weekends, not only did the interns visit other islands, and the the hikes of Mahe but they decided to start and continue their diving experience with some courses at the Underwater Dive Center Seychelles in Beau Vallon.
Read on as Gabriel and Merijn tell us about their Open water and Advanced open water courses with a group Night Dive!
For me, this internship also meant my first steps, or fin kicks, into scubadiving. Elena and I decided to partner up for our Open Water Diving certificate, as all the other interns already had higher qualifications than that. I sure was glad that I had already completed the theoretical part online, as apparently doing it at the dive centre would have taken me a weekend that I could now spend in the water!
Both me and Elena were happy with our supervisor Michael, he even managed to keep us concentrated during the confined water dives in the swimming pool, as our minds tended to (prematurely) wander off to swimming in the open ocean. Our first diving site was L’islot isle, a tiny island just off the coast of Mahé that you can swim around during one dive. After some initial problems with equalizing the pressure in my ears (I forgot to do it at some point, resulting in high pressure on my ears as I descended a few more metres), the dive actually went quite smoothly and we had some time to look around us and enjoy the corals and other animals at the divesite.
What bothered me a little, was that my first few dives I had the impression that the underwater life between 10 and 18 metres actually didn’t differ at all from the animals I had been able to spot previously whilst snorkeling. Thus I wondered whether I actually found diving worthwhile, considering snorkeling is free. This changed after my last dives to Ray’s point, Grouper point (x2!) and our night dive at the aquarium. The first two mentioned were not so much coral reefs as large granite formations with some corals on them. This resulted in some exciting observations of animals that I had not seen while snorkeling, such as an enormous Bumphead parrotfish, a formation of 5 huge marble rays and two white-tip reef sharks. Emphasizing the difference with snorkeling, Ray’s point and grouper point both had numerous large schools of pelagic fish, as you would expect in the ‘open water’.
Then as a grand finale, we all did a night dive together. For me and Gabriel, it was our first dive, and I expected to be nervous or even anxious the first five minutes in the dark ocean. The opposite was actually true, as soon as you backroll into the water at night, you dive into a very calming atmosphere, things are much less hectic under water than during the day. As you might expect, a different ecological niche is filled during the night by different species of animals, resulting in the sighting of spiny lobsters, nudibranchs, a huge(!) marble ray and… a green turtle! I very much hoped to encounter this creature during my internship, thus I was disappointing when I heard they are usually very shy. Of course the numerous hawksbill turtles I was able to swim with largely made up for this, but being able to lie on the sand next to a (groggy, I think we woke her up…) green turtle was an incredible experience.
For those who don’t know, the hawksbill turtle and green turtle are not that hard to distinguish! First off, as the name implies, the hawksbill turtle has a bird-like bill, almost like a hawk or a parrot. The front of the face of a green turtle is much more rounded. The second step to distinguish between them is to look at the back of the carapace: where this is fairly rounded and smooth with the green turtle, the hawksbill turtle has sharp edges (teeth-like) at the back of the carapace. Green turtles also grow larger than hawksbills.
In my case, I got my Open Water Diving certification three years ago, so I though that Seychelles would be the best place to go for the next level. Thus, I acquired my Advanced Open Water Diving Certification! Michael was my intstructor as well, and thanks to him everything went smoothly. The course consisted of five dives where you can experience five different diving specialitations.
The ones that I especially enjoyed most where wreck diving and deep diving. For the wreck diving we visited two wrecks that were sunk together called “Twin barges”. It was very exciting to dive around (and also inside) the wrecks and enjoying the scenery. I was impressed by the amount of fishes that were living and surrounding the wrecks: Stone fish, Lionfish, morays, large bunches of diamond fishes...It was incredible. Deep dive was also very impressive. It was the first time that I went deeper than 25 meters (28 to be more precise) and I have to admit that your dive perception really changes. Normally, when you are close to 30 meters depth you are not able to think as clear as when you´re dinving in upper zones. I realized it when Michael wanted me to answer a few questions that he had prepared in a waterproof slide for me. I am still wondering how I couldn´t write down my name backwards!
Regarding the rest of the dives, all of them went smoothly. Navigation and Buoyancy dives made me feel more confident underwater. Lastly, I did my fifth speciality in Drift diving. Basically, this dive consisted of gaining hands on marine currents and knowing how to use them while you´re diving, to make the dive safer and more enjoyable. Though it wasn´t as usefull as I expected (the currents were not so strong this day), the dive was still worth it as I saw a white tipped reef shark for the first time in my life! It was swimming around the coral reef and could be observed for 30 seconds. These 30 secs will persist in my mind as one of the best experiences in Seychelles. "
We're happy you guys were able to experience the diving side of Seychelles since we had been so focused on snorkeling and reef ID. Best of luck to your master's and thanks for all your hard work here!
Part Three of the blog saga takes us away from the daily routine of an intern as we dive in to a special visit.
"When you to protect the environment and to save the planet, you get to be a movie star! The work done on Cerf Island brought CNN (yep, the big fancy National TV Channel!) to come here and film us while working and interview Savi (who wasn’t stressed out at all). So they were recording our daily routine (beach cleaning, guided snorkel tours, nurseries maintenance, etc.) during two days. It was a bit strange as we had to repeat the scenes several times to get the correct footage. After this experience, I´ve decided that my career as an actor is done". This 3 part documentary aims at covering climate change effects on the marine environment, active mitigation projects as well as broader impacts. The documentary will be aired on July 7th as part of the program ‘Inside Africa' and will be available for online streaming the following week.
But when the work is completed for the day and the week comes to an end, what do the interns do?
"We usually enjoy hiking or snorkeling with the rest of MCSS volunteers. One of the personal highlights was one of the weekends where we didn’t go to the main island Mahé (it’s nice to get off the small island of Cerf in the weekend and enjoy the ‘busier’ atmosphere of Beau Vallon beach or Victoria!), but we kayaked to Moyenne island, where we got to meet some peculiar locals: Seychelles giant tortoises. It was amazing! They are huge! Also, I didn´t expect that they were so cute. They come to you because they love when people scratch their necks. It was super funny."
The interns continue to regale us about their experience here at CICP...
"Time in the office is also entertaining. We continued working not only on coral growth monitoring, but also on turtle monitoring! Basically, we use a Photo-Identification program (Interactive Individual Identification Pattern) that recognizes the individuals based on some natural marks that they have on their face (the "scutes" or the scales are their identifiers the way we have unique fingerprints). CICP have tried to take mugshots of them during all encounters, so that we are able to log every encounter. We mainly encounter Hawksbill turtles and one of them was so recognizable that one day we could differ it while we´re snorkeling! From the beginning of 2016, about 17 Hawksbill turtles frequent the reefs around Cerf Island with some very photogenic individuals! There’s plenty of other creatures to see here while snorkeling, such as different species rays (Eagle, Feathertail, Whiptail just to name a few ), octopus, and one of the largest moray I have ever seen!"
Don't worry Merijn, we will do our best to encounter a white tip reef shark before your leave!
"Also, we carried out other activities like Coral Reef Mapping. The idea was to create maps for the different snorkel sites to provide the vistitors with an aerial representation of the coral reefs with highlighted points of interest. To achieve this, we had to go snorkeling several times to check the important points (large coral colonies, artificial frames, buoys, etc.) that had to be included on the map. At the end, it was very funny to check the maps we got so far and compare the drawing skills of each of us (I gave Merjin a hand with his map). Now, there’s no way to miss all of the nice spots on the reefs or to get lost ;)
We also carried out transects to assess the benthic communities both living – corals and sponges for example - and not-living – rocks, rubble, algae etc. At the same time, we also assessed the bleaching of the corals of the reefs. It was a very nice activity!"
Though a few colonies exhibited bleaching symptoms from the usual warm months of Mar-Apr-May, it was such a relief after last years disastrous El-Niño event.
...Stay tuned for part 3!
Our team here have made some lasting memories during their internship with us; some good and unfortunately some bad.
In this three part series of blog updates, let Cynthia, Gabriel and Merijn recap their time here on Cerf Island since we last left off.
"It’s almost the last day of May already, and it’s been a little more than a month since we first arrived here on Cerf Island. In the meantime, we have made ourselves useful to the CICP, but of course we also had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves!
When we arrived, the priority was to learn all the corals present here in the Indian Ocean and focusing on those present/surviving at Cerf. Remember the nasty-barbaric genus names? Well, now thanks to Savi’s teaching skills, we know them all and we did great on our coral ID final test! Little coral nerds we became, yes. My definitive favorites are the valley-forming corals, Platygyra and Leptoria, also known as Brain Corals. But we also learnt about some of the reef fish, so ask us whatever you want about the butterfly fish (our BFFs yep!), triggerfish, angelfish and parrotfish! I especially like to put all we learnt into practice during the guided snorkel tours. Most of the people seem to be very interested on it.
Most of our time goes into raising public awareness on the importance of coral reefs and their biodiversity, the dangers of marine pollution, and other threats. We do this by snorkeling with visitors who ask for a guide to teach about the things they can encounter underwater (not in the least the artificial reef frames!), but also by being available for questions when we are in the Cerf Island Resort office. People can also see us beach cleaning every day, so we carry out the message of keeping the beaches clean and placing your litter (as tiny a job as it is, taking away a white plastic bag that resembles a jellyfish, can save a hungry turtles’ life) in the appropriate locations.
When in the office we spend quite a lot of time measuring the coral fragments of the artificial reef frames. Pictures of them get taken on the same day every month, and by analyzing their dimensions with a piece of measuring software(ImageJ and Photoshop), we can see how much they’ve grown (or diminished!) over the past months. It seems like the Acropora genu is far ahead in terms of growth and survival (which is to be expected). Those colonies are doing great believe me! Except when a tourist decided to go coral shopping on the frames and detach some of the fragments to bake them in the sun hoping to bring them home…The corals had been out of the sea an hour and they were quickly rushed back to the reef.
Speaking of which, we are getting a new frame ready as I write! More stable substrate to place corals on, yay! We´ve started working on the artificial frames as we are preparing the welded rebar frames which will set on the reef pretty soon. First we have to cover the iron structures with resin and sand. Once they are dried and ready, we´re going to swim them to the designated location and we´ll attach some fragments from the nurseries and fragments from colonies on the older frames. Sounds pretty exciting!"
More helping hands from Europe!
"Hi everyone! I´m Gabriel, a Spanish student who is on the first year of a Master´s program called “Marine Biodiversity and Conservation” at Ghent University, in Belgium. Thanks to this Master, I had the opportunity to collaborate on an internship with MSCC. Concretely, I joined Cerf Island Conservation Program, on Cerf Island.
As a nature lover and a big fan of every kind of species that might exist, I decided to do my bachelor in Biology, in the Autonomous University of Madrid. Once I got my diploma in Biology I asked myself “Ok Gabri, so what´s next?” I´ve always been very interested in the marine world, so I decided to enroll the Master program in Ghent.
Since I was a child the underwater world always held a great fascination for me. Especially, I was very interested in coral reefs. I was captivated by the huge diversity that you can find of them underwater. Corals of multiple colors and shapes, building up together an entire ecosystem, hosting an immense variety of species and playing an important role on the well-functioning of the ecosystem, it´s literally amazing.
At present, our oceans and seas have been heavily affected and negatively impacted by human activities. Climate change, and his consequent increase of temperature, is threating these ecosystems. This fact is having sad consequences in our precious corals reefs, which get very and most of them finally die. Thus, when I saw the opportunity to collaborate with MSCC regarding “Coral´s restoration” in Cerf island, I didn´t hesitate and I decided to join the group.
I´ve just arrived on Cerf Island and started to work on the project. Normally during the mornings I walk along the beach with my mates Merjin and Cynthia, trying to pick up the trash that sometimes appears on the sand and then we try to separate them to bring them lastly to a recycle spot. Later, we usually go for snorkeling if there are some guests interested in take a tour around the coral reefs. Also, we´ve started with the first workshop of coral identification. Savi is teaching us the great diversity that you can find on Cerf Island. It is very nice but sometimes is difficult to remember all of them…they are super diverse!!
Today, we were enjoying putting in practice what we learnt so far going for snorkeling. It was very nice and we enjoyed a lot now that we know some of them (I think my favorite coral by now is Montipora).
To be honest, this is my first week here and I really feel that it´s started perfectly. I´m willing to learn more about these fantastic corals and enjoy my time with my friends. This project makes me enthusiastic about contribute in a certain way to alleviate the situation."
"I am Merijn van den Bosch, a 23-year old student from Ghent University in Belgium.
Just as Cynthia and Gabriel, I will be staying at Cerf Island for the next two months to help out with the CICP-project.
I have a rather unusual background, and not long ago I wouldn’t ever have guessed that I would ever be in the tropics working on coral reefs. I started out as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where I did bachelor and master studies in philosophy, combining my love for nature with my studies, in the form of a specialisation in environmental philosophy and conservation philosophy.
I then studied animal behaviour and welfare at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where I learned a lot about animal husbandry, and the problems and solutions within this field.
Now I have ended up at Ghent University at Belgium, as a participant in the European Masters in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. We had a few interesting lectures on coral reefs during the lecture periods in Belgium, but it’s hard to really get a grip on the subject of tropical warm-water corals while you’re in a classroom and it’s cold and rainy outside.
This is why I decided to apply for an internship with CICP, and I’m happy I was accepted. I have only arrived last Thursday evening, yet I have already learned a lot. Since we usually go snorkeling in group, we can help eachother to identify marine species, and this morning we had a crash course on coral identification with Savi. I feel like I’m already getting a feel for separating some of the families. Hopefully, by the time I’ll leave identifying corals will go relatively smooth. So far, my favorite corals are the flashy blue-tip acroporas, although I’m also very eager to learn about the ‘brain’ corals with their labyrinth-like appearance.
My little wildlife guide of the Seychelles has also proven to be useful, in letting me identify the many terrestrial animals on Cerf Island, but also on Mahé - where we went over the weekend, and I hope to return to soon!
Overall, it’s a completely new experience for me to be here, for several reasons:
firstly, I have never been in a tropical place like the Seychelles, so it somewhat feels like being on a different planet. Both the tropical terrestrial and marine environment are completely new to me, until last week I’ve only experienced them through pictures or documentaries. Secondly I never really snorkelled before coming here, but it’s pretty much all we’ve been doing over the weekend, and it was both learnful and fun. Thirdly, this Sunday I’ll be having my first experiences as an open water diver, something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Let’s hope everything goes well!"
Don't y'all worry, we have lots planned during your stay to keep you educated, entertained and elated!
My name is Cynthia, 23 years old and I’m French! I’m enrolled in an International Master’s degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (EMBC+), and I joined CICP for a credited internship, for the end of my first year. I don’t have a broad background in Marine Biology, as I’ve only started last September. It was kind of a dream since I was young and I finally took the leap, which is so far the best decision I’ve ever made!
I didn’t do any internships, or volunteering program before now. Although I traveled a lot around the world, first with my family, then with friends, and now through my master’s degree. I was studying in the Algarve, in Portugal for the last 7 months and will continue in Ireland next September! But then, I had the opportunity to do an internship. So I was wondering first “what would you like to study on the long-term, after the master?” My answer was either cetaceans, or coral reefs. Then, I decided I’d rather go a bit away from Europe. I got to know the CICP through the MCSS, which is a partner of my master program. My choice was set!
I just arrived here on Cerf Island and started to get trained on coral identification with Savi. He took me snorkeling onto one of the reefs for the first time yesterday and I already found it amazing. A lot of beautiful corals and their colorful reef fish wondering around. If you’re lucky you can even see cute squids, waiting for you to take a picture of them! But corals are sensitive organisms, and suffered a lot from last year’s bleaching event, and one can notice that very easily on the reef… It’s sad, but then it’s also another motivation to try and get to know more, to protect them better and raise awareness.
When Savi went through the first part of the coral identification training, I was a bit scared by all those genus-barbaric names! How was I supposed to remember those and recognize them underwater?! Even as a biologist, those names are never easy to remember. But the next day, after working a bit on my own identification support, I could actually recognize them quite nicely (not perfectly yet of course!). My little favorites so far are Pocillopora, Acropora and Physogyra! But it will probably change as I’ll learn to get more of them! I now just started using a software which will allow me to help monitoring the growth of the baby corals that Savi settled on artificial frames.
Tomorrow two other interns from my program will arrive and stay on Cerf for two months as well. That’s a big army to learn about the reefs! Follow us and you’ll get to know them too and follow our adventures within the CICP! And know how the baby corals are doing of course!
Just a few farewell words from our Seychelles Maritime Academy work attachment student Farah.
"My two months here at the Cerf Island Conservation Program has come to end, I had such a blast while working with everyone here. I’ve learned so much about the reefs, conservation efforts, and also more coral identification and other marine life. Now that I have learned corals from over 50 genera, I don’t think I have a favorite anymore, I like them all! I’ve also learned to recognize reef fish such as parrot fish, angel fish, butterfly fish, rabbit fish and their important roles to a reef’s ecosystem. Now that I got the chance to experience working in marine conservation; I think that it would be something I’d like to pursue as a career. Hopefully I can visit the program again soon!"
It was a pleasure to have you!