Seychelles: GAEA Seychelles Assesses Healthiness of 15 Rivers On Three Seychelles' Islands

Developing a freshwater biodiversity information system for long-term conservation and management in Seychelles is a first-of-its-kind project currently being implemented by a not-for-profit organisation Gaea Seychelles on the islands of Mahe, Praslin and Silhouette.

The three-year project also aims to assess the healthiness of freshwater sources and monitor alterations and changes of the islands' rivers.

Elvina Henriette, founding member of Gaea Seychelles, told SNA that even though the island nation has available freshwater, no information is available about them.

"There has been much development and change that we have not yet accessed its implications on this extremely rare resource," said Henriette, adding that the project, which is being funded through the JRS Biodiversity Foundation at $260,000, aims to collect, store, analyse, and share data for better decision-making and better management of rivers.

The JRS Biodiversity Foundation is an independent grant-making foundation based in the United States that awards grants to increase access to and use of biodiversity information in sub-Saharan Africa.

"As this is an understudied field, we will also provide capacity-building opportunities for our staff but also for other individuals or organizations," explained Henriette, stressing that the project will also assess the understanding of rivers and their importance in benefitting the local population.

Project officer Mersiah Rose explained that the project, which was launched in September 2023, will focus on fifteen rivers and will have different components.

"These are freshwater biodiversity data collection, which will include getting to know what we already have, capturing existing data such as museum specimens, publications, grey literature, existing databases, and putting all data into one public access database," said Rose.

She added that "Another component is the development of monitoring programmes such as establishing a long-term monitoring programme based on 15 rivers to monitor changes in ecosystems, particularly due to climate change, baseline surveys and biodiversity inventories of fish, micro and macro invertebrates. We will also monitor changes in ecosystems due to climate change as well as the collection of genetic material and DNA to build the reference database."

Since its launching, several activities have been held, including a training session by Juan Tedder, an ecologist from one of Gaea Seychelles' partners, Ground Truth, based in South Africa. The training focused on aquatic biomonitoring for macroinvertebrates. Participants learned techniques to identify and monitor species that normally receive little attention and discover how their presence or absence can indicate a problem arising from the river in which they live.

Several local organisations and institutions are partnering with Gaea Seychelles, including the Seychelles Parks and Gardens Authority (SPGA), Seychelles National Herbarium (SNH), Plant Conservation Action Group (PCA), Terrestrial Restoration Action Society of Seychelles (TRASS). International partners include Ground Truth of South Africa, the Natural History Museum of Paris, and Nature Metrics of the United Kingdom.

The University of Seychelles (UNISEY) is also a crucial local partner for this project. "We are hopeful that the project can provide enough materials for the inclusion of more targeted freshwater biodiversity content into UniSey's BSc Environmental Science programme," added Rose.

Henriette, a conservation biologist, emphasised that the project's scope extends beyond wildlife observation. It will also investigate various facets of river usage, including how people interact with and utilise these vital water sources as well as incorporating the human and social elements into the interaction between people and rivers.

"I think we have lost a lot of that respect because nowadays we mostly use the river as a place for us to throw our trash in, without realising that what we are drinking is what is keeping us alive," said Henriette. She said that Gaea's commitment is integrating the cultural dimension as well. In the past, communities had a particular way of coexisting with rivers, demonstrating a deep respect for these vital water bodies.

The 15 rivers targeted for this project are spread over the three islands, Mahe, Praslin, and Silhouette of the Seychelles' archipelago in the western Indian Ocean. These rivers include those rich with aquatic life where species such as river prawns, tadpoles, Golden Panchax, eels, crabs, and limpets are found and others with fewer species.

Information and data collected at the end of the project will be used to inform conservation action decisions better, as well as what new policies and laws need to be put in place to preserve the rivers.

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