July 2015 – North Island is proud to report on the progress of some of the key conservation initiatives that form part of its Noah’s Ark island rehabilitation programme. Now well into its second decade, the Noah’s Ark project has seen substantial development towards restoring North Island to its original natural glory, and safeguarding the granitic island ecosystem and the indigenous biodiversity that depends on it.
“While there remains a great deal of work to be done, we are delighted with the progress that has been made so far”, commented CJ Havemann, North Island’s Chief Environmental Officer. “Significant areas of the Island have been rehabilitated and we have maintained our rat-free status, as well as clearing large areas of invasive vegetation. Seeing native species return and multiply of their own accord is the best possible proof that we are heading in the right direction”.
Of the Island’s 201 hectares (518 acres), some 60 hectares (30% of the surface area) will be restored by the end of 2015. Work has begun on eliminating the last of the Indian myna birds from the Island – one of the most persistent (and vocal) alien species remaining.
Progress towards terrestrial and marine goals is assessed by conducting ongoing monitoring studies. For example, measuring the change in endemic bird populations over time helps the environmental team understand the success of the myna eradication programme.
Regular censuses are an important method of keeping tabs on conservation initiatives, particularly when it comes to iconic species such as the Seychelles white-eye. In 2007, when a founder population of 25 birds was introduced onto North Island, this was one of the world's rarest birds with a population of 350-400 individuals. The very fact that this release was judged viable was testament to the environmental rehabilitation work that had already been done by that stage.
The most recent census of white-eyes, carried out at the end of 2014, found that this initial batch had increased to between 93 and 101 birds, making North Island a globally significant breeding habitat for these rare, small birds.
Long regarded as the ultimate destination for people looking to get away from it all, North Island has crucially become a place of sanctuary for a number of Seychellois species which have begun to return to the Island in ever-greater numbers, as the ecosystem is lovingly and painstakingly restored and threats are eliminated.
Seabirds such as wedge-tailed shearwaters and white-tailed tropicbirds are nesting on the Island again and there has been a steady increase in the number of both the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle and the Endangered green turtle. Data suggests that North Island is now one of the most important green turtle nesting sites in the inner Seychelles islands.
“We certainly don’t intend to rest on our laurels”, added Havemann, “and perhaps our greatest challenge lies ahead: motivating for the Indian Ocean waters around North Island to be declared a Marine Protected Area so as to ensure the long-term protection of the coral and fish diversity along the reefs”.
In this way North Island hopes to extend the conservation remit of its Noah’s Ark project beyond the shores of the Island, and to spread its message of conservation and hope around the world.