Ban on Sooty Tern eggs collection extended for further population studies

This morning, Mr. Rodney Quatre, the Director General for Biodiversity and Conservation Management, along with Ms. Ashley Dias, the Director for Biodiversity and Conservation, and the senior legal officer for the Environment Department, jointly delivered a presentation to members of the media. They provided insight into the reasoning behind their proposal to the cabinet, which was submitted last week, advocating for the extension of the ban on the collection of sooty tern eggs.

Sooty Terns are found on several inner and outer islands of the Seychelles, with main populations on Recif, Aride, Farquhar (Ile aux Goelettes), Cosmoledo (Grand Ile, Wizard), Bird Island, Desnouefs, African Banks, and Etoile. These islands are managed by the Island Development Company (IDC) and the Ministry of Environment, with Bird and Aride Islands being privately owned.

The 2023 census did not cover all islands, resulting in data gaps for population estimates. On some islands, the census was not conducted during peak breeding season, impacting the accuracy of population estimates.

There is also a lack of human capacity to conduct the census, enforcement challenges particularly on the outer islands, and logistical difficulties. Some islands, accessible only by helicopter, pose significant cost challenges, while others like Recif are difficult to disembark due to rough seas and bad weather conditions, complicating access even for the coastguard.

The major threats to Sooty Terns include overfishing of tuna and invasive alien species, with secondary threats stemming from climate change-induced habitat alteration. Notably, the greatest decline in population has been recorded on the African Banks, with numbers decreasing by 100%.

To ensure the sustainability of Sooty Tern populations, several recommendations were proposed. These include conducting a national Sooty Tern census biennially and a national seabird census to monitor trends in other seabird species and understand potential food source issues. Improved site management, including vegetation management on breeding and nesting islands, is also essential. An intensive educational campaign about the importance of preserving Sooty Terns as a natural resource should be developed and implemented. Additionally, a national plan of action for Sooty Tern management involving all stakeholders, including government, parastatals, NGOs, independent researchers, and island owners, should be created.

Furthermore, the team highlighted that poaching continues to be a problem, and there they will intensify surveillance and enforcement during nesting seasons, especially on African Banks, Boudeuse, and Étoile. Moreover, research targeting the breeding phenology of Sooty Terns in relation to local and regional oceanographic conditions should be commissioned. This research should assess the impact of industrial tuna fishing on Sooty Tern populations and further investigate their migration patterns.

In conclusion, the Cabinet has concurred with the recommendations put forth, thereby endorsing a two-year extension on the ban of sooty tern egg collection. Additionally, they have mandated the revision of all pertinent seabird protection legislation and the enhancement of site management protocols on breeding islands.

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