SEYCHELLES TO PROTECT INTACT MARINE ECOSYSTEMS AT D’ARROS ISLAND AND ST JOSEPH ATOLL
Geneva, Switzerland – 26 March 2020 –The Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF), together with the Government of the Seychelles, is delighted that waters surrounding D’Arros Island and St Joseph Atoll have been designated as marine protection areas (MPAs). D’Arros Island will receive a zone 1 designation, with St Joseph currently forming part of a larger zone 2 designation. This is part of Seychelles’ Marine Spatial Plan Initiative and comes after almost a decade of scientific work by the foundation to demonstrate that these islands hold exceptional ecological value and should be safeguarded.
“The SOSF has been actively engaged in the public review for these new protected areas in the Seychelles and is very pleased to welcome greater security for the marine habitats of this beautiful archipelago,” says the organisation’s CEO, Dr James Lea. “The natural wonder of the Seychelles instilled a deep passion for the islands in our Founder and he has made protecting this wonder a core priority for the foundation,” he continues.
The announcement comes as part of the promise made by Seychellois President Danny Faure to protect 30% of the Seychelles’ ocean space by 2020. “We are developing a comprehensive marine spatial plan to ensure that future generations of Seychellois can enjoy the incredible marine biodiversity in our waters,” said Faure during the historic speech he delivered from a submarine just over a year ago.
The marine biodiversity of D’Arros and St Joseph is indeed incredible. Their waters are a sanctuary for vulnerable marine animals, including a large aggregation of manta rays and at least 514 fish species. St Joseph Atoll is the most important nursery area on the Amirantes Bank and a critical breeding ground for sharks, rays and turtles.
“The waters around St Joseph and D’Arros host some of the most intact marine ecosystems in the Western Indian Ocean region,” says world-renowned turtle researcher and SOSF project leader Dr Jeanne Mortimer. Because the islands are so remote, they have been protected from pollution, coastal development and overfishing for decades. This has made the ecosystem exceptionally resilient. Even after the most widespread and severe coral bleaching event in global history, the reefs around the islands are showing recovery.
The Save Our Seas Foundation’s D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF-DRC) has been active since 2012 and has hosted researchers from around the world. So far, more than 20 targeted research projects have been conducted at D’Arros and St Joseph in collaboration with numerous international institutions, and a new species of fish has even been discovered. The centre also supports six long-term programmes, including one of the Seychelles’ longest-running turtle-monitoring projects, which has been carried out by Seychellois turtle monitors since 2004 under the management of Dr Mortimer. D’Arros and St Joseph are the only location in the Seychelles to support nesting and foraging populations of both Endangered green and Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles and may represent the most important location for hawksbills in the entire Western Indian Ocean.
The SOSF also has a strong history of marine education dedicated to the youth of the Seychelles. The organisation has run various programmes on Mahé, as well as week-long camps on D’Arros Island and St Joseph Atoll. More recently, it has developed a close partnership with the University of the Seychelles (UNISEY), sponsoring its environmental sciences curriculum and providing equipment for its laboratory. The SOSF also supports Terence Vel of UNISEY, the founder of Wildlife Clubs Seychelles, who is actively involved in re-establishing the secondary school camps at D’Arros and St Joseph and hopes to extend the camps to university students.
“The SOSF programme with Wildlife Clubs and UNISEY of taking youngsters to D’Arros and St Joseph not only helps them to understand healthy ecosystems and how they can preserve St Joseph and D’Arros, but also cultivates in them a desire to develop a culture of keeping the Seychelles beautiful,” says Terence.
The Government of the Seychelles has set a positive example for the whole world by protecting its ocean heritage. The designation of these critical MPAs means that the ecological riches of D’Arros and St Joseph will be safeguarded for generations of Seychellois. As a critical sanctuary and nursery, their waters will support the regional recovery of fish and wildlife stocks, providing future income in other parts of the Seychelles from fishing and ecotourism.