A Seychellois girl won a spot on a marine education camp at the Save Our Seas Foundation D’Arros Research Centre. Seven years later she returns as a research assistant trainee, joining new staff members from Seychelles and abroad as they dive into research and education projects.

Geneva, June 18th 2021_Stana Mousbe burst out of the small plane onto the D’Arros airstrip. Cold raindrops hurtled through the warm, thick tropical air, splashing onto her face. But they didn’t dampen the spirits of Stana and the other Seychellois students. ‘The energy and excitement were so high,’ she recalls, grinning. In 2014 she was one of 16 students who’d won an essay competition about the importance of the ocean. The prize was a spot on the D’Arros Experience, a marine education camp at the Save Our Seas Foundation D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF-DRC). She was just 12 years old.

‘I learned to snorkel properly in the waters around D’Arros and saw blacktip sharks, corals, fusiliers, turtles, brown spotted groupers and more,’ she says.

Exposure to marine conservation careers

‘The experience the foundation gave me was my very first introduction to the realm of marine biology and conservation,’ explains Stana. ‘Before that I didn’t know this kind of career was an option.’

Several of the 32 students who attended the D’Arros Experience camps in 2013 and 2014 have gone on to pursue careers in marine conservation. Among them is bubbly Stana, now 19, who is thrilled to be back at the SOSF-DRC as a research assistant trainee. In May she joined the SOSF-DRC team, which includes research assistant Ellie Moulinie. Also born and raised in Seychelles, Ellie had arrived the previous month.

Contributing to the conservation of Seychelles’ marine heritage

Ellie loves the island life and working hands-on with megafauna, including mantas and sharks, for the first time. She comes from a family of fishers living next to the ocean and grew up swimming, snorkelling and diving. Her love for animals, nature and the ocean led her to complete her Bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the University of Seychelles. She went on to intern for Global Vision International (GVI), where she learned about the critical role fish and marine invertebrates play in ecosystems, as well as how to conduct surveys to monitor them. She ventured further into marine research by volunteering with the NGO Green Island Foundation, helping to conduct surveys on islands such as North, Denis and Fregate. In 2018 Ellie joined an Earthwatch team on Curieuse Island, where she participated in its Coral Communities in Seychelles Project. Always moving her conservation career forward, she most recently worked as a field research officer with Seychelles Island Foundation on Aldabra Atoll. As a research assistant for the SOSF-DRC, Ellie is playing her part in conserving her country’s marine heritage.

Cutting-edge research and marine conservation

Sharks, turtles, rays, reef mantas, fish and corals, as well as habitat assessments and environmental surveys, are the focus of the SOSF-DRC’s existing research projects, which continue to contribute to marine conservation in the region. Under the leadership of Dr Robert Bullock, the research director, the SOSF-DRC is now also supporting external researchers who have received SOSF keystone grants as they conduct marine mammal surveys and sample coral. Robert did his PhD research at the Bimini Biological Field Station in The Bahamas (a major partner of the SOSF), after which he worked as a postdoctoral researcher for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), assessing extinction risk to marine species. He believes in science-based conservation and took up the position as one of the SOSF-DRC’s directors in mid-2020.

Training Seychellois youth

‘The priority moving ahead will be to start several interesting student-led projects with a focus on the conservation of species of concern,’ explains Robert. ‘I am also looking forward to building the team here on D’Arros. I am enjoying teaching the two Seychellois early-career scientists [Stana and Ellie], learning from them and growing the SOSF-DRC with them.’

Helena Sims, the SOSF’s Seychelles ambassador, adds, ‘Seychelles has a strong reputation for engaging youth in environment and conservation through the eco-schools programme. It is positive to see other entities such as the SOSF-DRC continuing to support the engagement of young people, particularly women, in science and conservation.’

Powerful education partnerships

For the SOSF, it is a high priority to continue running the D’Arros Experience that first ignited young Stana’s fascination with the underwater world. Henriette Grimmel, the SOSF-DRC’s programme director, explains that the camps hosted secondary school students and educators at the centre. Henriette took up the position in mid-2020 after completing two MSc degrees. The first was in marine biodiversity and conservation, including field work at the Bimini Biological Field Station in The Bahamas, and the second was in marine spatial planning. She is fascinated by ocean processes and ecosystem services and how humans use them, as well as finding a path to governing their use in a sustainable manner. On behalf of the foundation, she is collaborating with the University of Seychelles to provide internships for Seychellois Bachelor’s students at the SOSF-DRC.

Advancing marine conservation

Stana believes that the opportunities the SOSF provides are vital in enabling Seychellois youth to learn about and experience the richness of Seychelles marine life and the research that helps to inform conservation in their country. She is deeply grateful for the career opportunities the foundation exposed her to as a child. She knows this research assistant training will springboard her into an exhilarating career in marine conservation. Meanwhile Ellie, already a flourishing marine conservationist, firmly believes it is her duty and responsibility to protect threatened species and ecosystems from anthropogenic stressors that are causing the loss of biodiversity.

The SOSF’s founder, His Excellency Abdulmohsen Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh, says, ‘I am delighted to welcome our new team members and see them expanding our conservation efforts in Seychelles. Alongside research, education is at the core of the foundation and it is heartwarming to be inspiring the next generation of Seychellois ocean ambassadors.’