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Tiny Seychelles island coaxes bird back from brinkBy ATTA®
Giant tortoises amble across Cousin Island as rare birds flit above.
The scene attests to a stunning success for BirdLife International, a conservation group that bought the tiny Seychelles isle in 1968 to save a songbird from extinction.
Thick vegetation smothers ruins that are the only reminder of the coconut and cinnamon plantations that covered the island when the group stepped in to protect the Seychelles Warbler.
Now teeming with flora and fauna and boasting white beaches, Cousin Island is firmly on the tourist map, with managers scrambling to contain visitor numbers and soften their negative environmental impact.
More than 16,000 people visited the island in 2018, compared with 12,000 a decade earlier.
“Tourism is important for Cousin. That’s what allows us to finance the conservation projects we run here.
“But 16,000 tourists… that was too much,” said Nirmal Shah, director of Nature Seychelles, which is charged with running the special reserve.
Before the island was in private hands, the population of Seychelles Warblers was thought to have shrunk to just 26, barely hanging on in a mangrove swamp after much of their native habitat had been destroyed.
Now, they number more than 3,000 and the greenish-brown bird has been reintroduced to four other islands in the archipelago.
The former plantations have transformed into native forests, teeming with lizards, hermit crabs and seabirds, and the island is the most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) waxes lyrical about the “unique biodiversity and conservation achievements” of Cousin, “the first island purchased for species conservation”, a model since replicated around the world.
Tourists have been allowed onto the island since 1972, but the message is clear: nature comes first.