An amazing conservation site is hiding in plain sight

The best kept secrets are not always found in hidden papers or on the net

The secret conservation area

Seychelles has been an acclaimed champion of protected areas. From the nature reserves enacted in the 1960’s to the new marine protected areas (MPAs) legislated this year dedicating 30% of our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to conservation. What is rarely talked about are the other sites that are not legally protected but are being managed for conservation, in a few cases perhaps more effectively so than some of the legislated ones.

An outstanding example is the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman (SARC), an award-winning conservation site nestled alongside the Seychelles national sports complex the Palais de Sport. This is the only managed urban wetland in Seychelles.  The original site was heavily degraded, part of coastal reclamation that was undertaken for various development projects. Over 20 years Nature Seychelles has re-engineered this site to be a model of a fully functioning coastal wetland in Seychelles. Four species of mangroves, all planted, thrive as do other indigenous coastal vegetation. Grey Herons, Chinese Bitterns and Black Crowned Night Herons nest here.

It is a location which is an outdoor classroom for hundreds of  children every year, an attraction for tourists, a site where we have undertaken our Green Health program which has helped busy executives to substance abusers, and a vital green lifebelt which harbours biodiversity, absorbs carbon and acts a a large sponge and filter for runoff from hard urban infrastructure all around.  We installed an 800 metre long boardwalk, a bird hide and a discovery platform, constructed with planks made from 100% recycled PETT bottles. There is also a large activity centre available for groups.

The SARC is not formally protected although it is designated as a Sensitive Area under the Environment Protection Act. It is what is known as an Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measure (OECM). An OECM is a conservation designation for areas that are achieving the effective in-situ conservation of biodiversity outside of protected areas. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) says it is a “geographically defined area other than a Protected Area, which is governed and managed in ways that achieve positive and sustained long-term outcomes for the in situ conservation of biodiversity, with associated ecosystem functions and services and where applicable, cultural, spiritual, socio–economic, and other locally relevant values” (CBD, 2018).

An OECM  like the SARC offers a huge opportunity to increase recognition and support for effective long-term conservation that is taking place outside the legally designated protected areas. There is much for even protected areas managers to learn from an OECM like the SARC. For example, Nature Seychelles has restored and is managing this area without any government funds despite it being owned by the state. The Wetlands unit of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change has never included the SARC in any wetland programs, events or projects. The time has come for the SARC and others like it to emerge from the shadows of their better known and more glamorous cousins, the Special Reserves, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


The world has become generic

Victoria, the capital city of the Seychelles, looks as if another place has come visiting and decided to stay! This small city that I know so well from childhood wanderings in back streets, back of buildings, under bridges and even in streams is starting to look like any other town anywhere else. Large buildings seemingly from a well-thumbed architectural digest have popped up. And the landscaping, apparently originally planned by experts from Singapore, fits in this tidy and clean but bland and generic cityscape.

But it does not have to be that way. Taking a break today from the computer screen I was wandering around the native plants we have growing around our Centre at Roche Caiman, a relatively new District bordering Victoria and I noticed that the Wrights Gardenia was flowering. I already smelled the heavy scent from the beautiful flowers as I approached the tree.

Wrights Gardenia is a plant that grows only in the Seychelles (endemic in biological parlance) and is found in its natural state only on Aride island, near Praslin. I think the flower is probably one of the most beautiful of the endemic trees of Seychelles. It’s named after Edward Percival Wright who visited Seychelles in the 19th Century.

The plant we have growing was one of four, grown from seed collected by Terence Vel our Techical Officer at the forestry station at Sans Souci, Mahe, where some of these trees are growing. They had been planted there by the former forestry director.

I think we are the only organization in Seychelles that landscapes around its building with native plants. The plants we have growing in the front of the Centre are native and were collected and planted by myself, Terence and Lucina, the Centre caretaker. But buildings and public places around Victoria and environs are still landscaped with exotic plants imported from various places. This despite the Government’s own campaign to rid Seychelles of alien invasive plants.

Many alien plants not only take a lot of resources, like water, to maintain, but also gives our country the same feel and look as any other place in the world. Popular Hawaiian and South American plants have tended to homogenize the world. Everything looks the same. What has become of diversity? Is the whole world doomed to look like “More of the Same”? Or can we use our own native plants to showcase our difference and our uniqueness?

Even a so called “recalcitrant” plant like Wrights Gardenia can be maintained and used in landscaping. If it can grow at sea level mostly on coral fill at our Centre, then with some nurturing it, and many other unique plants of Seychelles, can be kept by most building and home owners. Go for it people! Let us celebrate diversity rather than uniformity!

Seychelles Food Security: Try Edible Landscaping

A well known agronomist who recently visited Nature Seychelles’s Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman told me that this demonstration Garden, jam packed with fruit trees, crops, grains and vegetables, was a landscape that needed to be replicated across homes, in back yards, on reclaimed land and around buildings to produce food to feed Seychelles in these difficult times. That remark got me thinking because I had just read an article from the City University of London that made similar observations about Britain.

The City University says Britain will have to rely on a return to past methods of food production. The country needs to re-learn the gardening skills it lost a century ago and to change its diet to one that includes less meat, fewer dairy products and more fruit and vegetables. Britain produces less than 10 per cent of the fruit it eats and experts say that the country has to consider planting on a massive scale as well as encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetable.

The skyrocketing rise in food prices has made most countries re-think their food strategy. With the multiple shocks of high oil prices and domino effect down the food production chain, increase in biofuel production, the credit crunch, higher demand for food in India and China, and the carbon footprint involved in transportation of food, a total revolution in every nation’s agriculture is needed to save them from serious food shortages

The City University says it is no longer acceptable that 40 per cent of the grain produced in Britain is used to feed livestock that provide meat and dairy products. Growing grain which is then fed to animals is an inefficient way to produce protein. Livestock should be confined to hillsides where they can graze and not use up grain that has required oil-based fertilizers for its growth. Prime land should be protected from development and used to feed people directly.

If countries like Britain are already discussing such enormous changes to food production, what of Seychelles? The loss of arable land over the years, the rise in oil prices, and now the impacts of our economic restructuring program all lead to one inescapable conclusion. In the short term, many of our people may not be able to nourish themselves or their families properly.

We need a radical re-thinking of food security and the rapid implementation of activities that include home and community gardens that generate local food for local people. I suggest that, among other things, we need edible landscapes that look like the Heritage Gardens at Roche Caiman across all the urban areas of Seychelles