The first island purchased for species conservation
22 April 2010 | Fact sheet
Cousin Island Special Reserve, Seychelles
A nature reserve since 1968, Cousin Island is one of the world’s first sea and island reserves and has unique biodiversity and conservation achievements. Formerly a coconut plantation, it was purchased by the International Council for the Protection of Birds (ICBP), now BirdLife, to save the Seychelles warbler, which was going extinct. In 1975 the Government of Seychelles gave it Special Reserve status.
View photos of the area
Cousin Island is one of the longest established marine reserves in the region. The Reserve is 27 hectares, including the surrounding marine area up to 400 metres offshore. It is an IUCN Protected Area Category 1a, which is a strict nature reserve where people are restricted from visiting and their impacts are strictly controlled to ensure protection of the conservation values.
Nature Seychelles, a local NGO and the BirdLife partner in the Seychelles, took over the management of the Reserve in 1998. It is managed entirely by local people who live on the island. The staff comprises an Island Coordinator, a Conservation Officer, a Chief Warden and five other Wardens.
- Cousin Island is designated as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife.
- A 2005 IUCN/UNEP management effectiveness appraisal of the island ranked it among the top Marine Protected Areas in the Western Indian Ocean (http://www.birdlife.org/news/news/2005/06/cousin_island.html).
- Cousin Island receives some 10,000 visitors a year. Visitor fees and donations sustain the management of the reserve as well as research, conservation and education projects both on and off the reserve.
- The Island won the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow 'Highly Commended' Award in 2003 and the Conde Nast Traveler magazine Ecotourism (Destination) Award for 2004.
- No accommodation or restaurant facilities are available on the island in order to minimise waste production; bins are not provided so that visitors take their rubbish off the island.
- Visitors may not have picnics or collect shells or souvenirs from the beaches or the trails. Flush toilets are not used on the island in order to save water and to prevent huge volumes of wastewater from accumulating in the ground.
- Only Cousin Island boats are allowed to land on its shores to prevent the accidental introduction of pests onto the Reserve.
Cousin Island lies 2 km from the nearest occupied island of Praslin (second largest in the archipelago).
Fauna and Flora
Cousin Island boasts a huge number of species and habitats. Over two decades of conservation has turned the previous coconut plantation into a predominantly native forest dominated by species such as Pisonia grandis, Morinda citrifolia and Ochrosia oppositifolia. Coastal vegetation includes Scaevola and Casuarinas. There is also a marsh in the interior of the island. The plateau forest is characterized by Pisonia grandis, Indian mulberry Morinda citrifolia and Ochrosia oppositifolia where many of the land birds can be seen.There are wetlands where fresh water attracts dragonflies and moorhens; the hill creates ideal nesting sites for shearwaters and bridled terns; on the seashore, crabs and shorebirds abound.
Conservation on the Island has helped save some of the Seychelles' endemic birds, globally important seabirds, Critically Endangered marine turtles, precious coral reefs and fish. Cousin Island is the most important nesting site for Hawksbill turtles in the Western Indian Ocean. The island has one of the longest-running turtle monitoring programmes in the Western Indian Ocean which started in 1972. It is home to a number of reptiles such as giant tortoises and five endemic lizards, giant millipedes and hermit crabs.
Seven species of nesting seabirds, in numbers exceeding 300,000 individuals, and five of Seychelles' eleven endemic land birds - Seychelles magpie robin, Seychelles sunbird, Seychelles fody, Seychelles blue pigeon and the Seychelles warbler - are found on Cousin. Of the nesting seabirds, fairy terns Gygis alba and white tailed tropic birds Phaethon lepturus nest all year round, while lesser noddies Anous tenuirostris, brown noddies Anous stolidus and bridled terns Sterna anaethetus have different breeding seasons. Two varieties of shearwaters, Audubon’s shearwater Puffinis lherminieri and the wedge-tailed shearwater Puffinus pacificus are found on the island. The former breeds all year round whilst the wedge-tailed shearwater breeds from May to October.
Some 300 species of fish are found in the Island's marine area and prior to the coral bleaching of 1998, it had the largest fish biomass of any reserve in the granitic Seychelles.
Conservation activities include monitoring of the island's biodiversity, research, re-introduction of endangered species such as the Seychelles magpie robin, ecotourism and education.
The 2005 IUCN/UNEP assessment found climate change to be the biggest threat. In the Seychelles, the 1998 warm water event resulted in up to 90% coral mortality. Slow but continuous reduction of structural complexity due to erosion of dead coral is evident on Cousin. In addition, algae is increasing as a result of widespread coral mortality. Coral reef restoration projects in the Western Indian Ocean, including on Cousin, are in the pipeline.
Cousin is self-financed through eco-tourism. However, conservation and research projects still require a high level of sustained fund raising. Funding for NGOs in the Seychelles, like in many other countries, has been impacted by the global economic recession making fundraising an ongoing and high priority.