Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Seed collection on Silhouette Island

The team on the slopes of Mont Pot-A-Eau
This week the Green Islands Foundation organized an excursion to Silhouette Island to collect seeds of endemic plants to restock the North Island tree nursery. Three days were spent on Silhouette Island with a team consisting of plant experts Charles Morel and Bruno Senterre, ICS ranger Nigel Boniface, North Island staff Elliot Mokhobo and Elliott Ntsele, Ministry of Environment’s Kevin Moumou and myself, Arjan de Groene.

For several years North Island has been putting a lot of effort in transforming this old coconut plantation into a forested area that resembles how the island must have looked before man arrived. This has helped
the introduced Seychelles White-eye flourish and paves the way for possible future introductions of endangered endemic birds. Coconut trees and other unwanted introduced species are cleared and removed from the forest. Native trees are left and provide shade under which endemic and native trees, grown in the North Island tree nursery can be safely planted. 

Picture by Elliot Ntsele
However, this process requires a constant supply of native and endemic trees to fill up the gaps left in the forest. Many of the these plants can be grown from seeds, cuttings and seedlings collected on North Island itself, but to generate a more genetically diverse forest seeds from other islands need to be introduced once in a while. Also, with the rainy season coming up, there will be a lot of replanting, which will empty the tree nursery. And lastly, due to its closeness to Silhouette we assume that many of the same tree and plant species could originally be found on both sites. Seeing as North Island doesn’t have some of the species that would logically have occurred on the island, we needed to find seeds for those too.

All in all enough reasons to assemble this highly motivated team and set out for Silhouette!

After getting all the approvals, we gathered in the guesthouse on Silhouette and immediately set out to explore the slopes of Mont Pot-A-Eau. Not being bothered by any regard for where the trails were, Bruno and Charles led the way following a river bed and clambering up large boulders in search of the species on ‘the list’. Just not being able to reach the top, we returned to the village, where the less exploratory minded team members massaged their aching joints and muscles. 

Glacis near Anse Mondon
The next day we visited the native tree garden that the ICS team is creating to investigate our options there and allow the plant experts to identify some trees in that garden that Angela Street, the ICS conservation manager, wasn’t sure of. Afterwards, we followed the trail to Anse Mondon to explore a glacis area which was said to house many of the species that would do well on the North Island hilltops where we indeed found many interesting trees, some of them bearing large numbers of seeds. Most of the team continued from there to try and reach the top of Mont Pot-A-Eau and after a couple of strenuous hours succeeded! 

Elliott, environment staff from North Island (in the background)

And along the way we met many of the interesting flora and fauna that make Silhouette the conservationist’s Mecca. We came across wolf snakes, caecilians, stick insects, flowers smelling like excrement, chameleons, huge millipedes, bulbuls, a burrowing skink, and a plant species that none of the experts recognized (!). And this doesn't even describe the fascinating views...

We managed to collect seeds for several of the species on ‘the list’ that will be useful for the rehabilitation project. Of course, not all species produce seeds in September, so we will have to come back later to look for seeds, cuttings and/or seedlings of the species for which we couldn’t find seeds during this excursion. What a bummer :o)

Wolf snake

 A big thank you goes out to IDC, MoEE, ICS (especially the Silhouette team for their unwavering support!) PCA and last but not least: Charles and Bruno for their mountain-goat-like guiding and invaluable knowledge of everything Silhouette. Next time I promise to follow you to the top!

Stick insect


All pictures by Arjan de Groene unless otherwise stated

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