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Cousin Island is a small island that is part of Seychelles. The island is two kilometres west of Praslin Island. The whole island is a nature reserve since 1968 when it became the first internationally owned reserve. It is protected by Seychelles law and managed by Nature Seychelles.
It has also been declared an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International. Dedicated ornithologists regularly visit the island to see the Seychelles magpie-robin, Seychelles warbler and Seychelles fody, which are only found on four other rat-free islands in the country.
The Island Reclaimed
Cousin was made a coconut plantation in the early 1900s and most of its native plants were removed or destroyed. In 1968, all of the coconut trees were removed so the native flora and fauna could recover. Today, the island is a diverse ecosystem that has its original vegetation along with the return of its endemic species of land birds.
Rats, mice and cats that were brought by the people who planted the coconut trees have all been removed from the island. They were destroying land birds and other natural fauna. Today, there are strict policies about ecotourism to avoid any alien animals getting on the island.
The Island Today
In spite of its small size, which is only 27 hectares with a 69 metre high hill in the centre, Cousin has several habitats and species. The forest on the plateau has mapou, Indian mulberry and bwa sousouri where most of the land birds are seen.
The fresh water wetland is home to dragonflies, moorhens and terrapins, and the hill provides the nesting spot for shearwaters and bridled terns. Wedge tailed shearwaters burrow among the trees and rocks on the hill and can dive to depths of 40 metres into the sea to catch fish and squid. Crabs and shorebirds are thick on the sandy beaches that surround the island. Coastal vegetation includes casuarinas, bwa malto suriana maritime and vouloutye scaevola sericea, which protects the coastline and provides habitats.
Fairy terns nest on Cousin Island in December and January. They do not build a nest or burrow a shelter. They balance their one egg precariously on the branch of a tree.
Lesser noddies build an impressive nest high in the trees from Pisonia leaves that are cemented together with brown algae.
Frigate birds arrive on Cousin Island to feed and return to Aldabra to breed in one of the largest Frigate bird breeding colonies in the world. The male has a red spot on his neck that he inflates to impress the females.
Cousin Island is one of the most important nesting sites for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean. Between 30 and 100 turtles come to lay their eggs every year during the day time, which is unusual because in most places they lay their eggs under cover of darkness.
The island is also home to Aldabra giant tortoises and four common skinks as well as an indigenous green gecko. These give Cousin Island one of the world’s densest lizard populations per hectare.
The Special Reserve also includes 400 kilometres of surrounding marine area. Compared to other protected marine areas, the reefs around Cousin have the highest fish biomass. Because of the rise in ocean temperatures in 1997 and 1998, the coral is bleaching. Conservationists are studying how the reefs can recover from this.
The storm in 2002 left some clearings where invasive weeds started to grow. These weeds are being removed, so the forest canopy can repair itself after the storm.
Nature Seychelles has been working on making Cousin Island carbon neutral. In 2009, a carbon management company from Europe assessed the island including all the tourist activities and found that the island was responsible for over 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents every year.
A certain amount was absorbed by the restored forest on the island, but most of it had to be offset. Today, the management of Cousin participates in three initiatives to offset carbon footprints including a cook-stove project in Darfur, a deforestation prevention project in Brazil and a project to upgrade a power station in Indonesia.
Over 10,000 people visit Cousin Island every year. Some are educational groups as well as local Seychellois. Trips to Cousin are arranged by travel agencies for foreign visitors. They go to the island in a special boat that does not dock on the island. Visitors are ferried to the island in small boats. This is to prevent the accidental arrival of pests such as insects and rats, into the reserve.
Visitors can see Cousin Island from Monday through Friday between 10:00 a. m. and noon. The island is closed to visitors at weekends and on public holidays. There is no accommodation on the island for spending the night. Regular visitors pay an entry fee, but film crews and commercial photographers must pay commercial fees. They also need to contact the Mahe office of Nature Seychelles before going to the island. There is no fee for residents of Seychelles.
On the plateau, visitors will see several giant tortoises that eat the leaves and fallen fruit. There is a trail to the top of the hill that passes through the granite bedrock where the shearwaters, brown noddies and bridled terns nest. On top of the hill the view is fantastic. Visitors can see the granite Roche Canon reef and hundreds of seabirds.
It is generally a safe and rewarding experience to swim or snorkel in the waters surrounding Cousin Island. However, it is recommended that swimmers always wear aqua shoes or diving boots to avoid sharp coral, stonefish, urchins, scorpion fish and rocks.
There are strong tides and abnormal currents, so it is not recommended for people to swim or dive alone. Diving during rough weather is also not recommenced and people should tell someone where they are planning to swim. Nurse sharks and reef sharks are plentiful, but they are considered harmless and will avoid swimmers.