NORTH ISLAND has reported on the progress of some of the key conservation initiatives that form part of its Noah’s Ark island rehabilitation programme in the Seychelles.

wilderness 4A lesson in conservation (Andrew Howard)

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.

wilderness 1Diving at North Island (Anthony Grote)

“While there remains a great deal of work to be done, we are delighted with the progress that has been made so far,” said C J 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.”

wilderness 3Presidential Villa on North Island (Andrew Howard)

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.

wilderness 6Island piazza and sunken lounge (Andrew Howard)

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.

wilderness 5Relaxing on the beach (Andrew Howard)

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 on to 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.

wilderness 7Presidential Villa interior (Andrew Howard)

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.

wild 9Quiet, romantic walk on the beach (Andrew Howard)

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.

wilderness 2Green turtle hatchlings making their way to the sea at North Island (Olwen Evans)

Seabirds such as boobies and tropic birds 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.

wildrness 8Lunch on the beach for two (Andrew Howard)

“We certainly don’t intend to rest on our laurels,” said 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.