While following a guided tour, a honeymooner chatted to me about the project. ‘4 weeks away – don’t you miss home?’ he asked. I gestured towards the beach and said, ‘Of course not, I’m in paradise!’
Nearly every volunteer has written about how incredible Cousin Island Special Reserve is. The sea is infinity shades of blue and turquoise and changes every day. There is so much biodiversity that the seabirds, geckos, skinks, and crabs literally get under your feet. A Hawksbill turtle plopping her eggs into your hand or a Seychelles Magpie Robin flitting through the forest on your whistle are things that need to be experienced first-hand to be fully appreciated.
The wildlife, sun, and sea had me dazzled for the first couple of weeks. However, as I got settled into the daily CBC routine, my ‘regular’ life in the UK slowly faded back into focus and I found myself wondering what I would take away from Cousin. Rather than having some incredible yet alien experience for 4 weeks and then returning to my daily slog, I was keen to identify elements that I would take forwards in my life. On reflection, there are a few themes my thoughts have centred around.
Firstly was the importance of communication in conservation. Although I have an educational background in conservation, I had never done field work before and was a bit nervous about coming out. However, one thing that my desk job as a CSR Manager had unexpectedly prepared me for was the marketing angle: the simpler and more captivating you can make something, the more easily people will get on board with it.
The guided eco-tours on Cousin have proven so popular that the director of the project, told me that they have made the island more profitable than when it was a coconut plantation – with the funds now able to be put back into conservation. Following the wardens’ tours as well as giving my own provided an opportunity to simplify and tell captivating stories about what we do here on the island, with the aim that more positive reviews will be written, tourists will continue to come, and Cousin’s conservation will fund itself. The importance of simple and emotive communications is a principle I will carry forwards in my conservation career, with Cousin as a strong case study.
My second, and entirely unrelated, theme of thinking was marine plastics. I arrived at the project in the wake of Blue Planet II, and a particularly passionate colleague insisted before I came that I would be astonished by how much plastic I’d see. I now have to admit that he was right. On my daily turtle patrols, I picked up the rubbish I saw on the beach that had washed ashore, normally consisting of plastic bottles, bottle tops, Styrofoam, lighters, and (strangely) lost shoes.
Seeing this on such a remote location, which is otherwise so well protected, forced me face-to-face with the plastics issue. Although I already prided myself on being an eco-conscious consumer, there is more that I could be doing.
My final focal point was the people I’ve met on Cousin and their different perspectives. One of the most refreshing things about my experience here has been the distance (both mental and physical) I’ve gained from my usual life and the discussions I’ve had with the other volunteers and staff. Although people are drawn in by the island’s conservation, everyone has a life beyond that and can offer you a perception outside of your typical frame of thought – whether you’re discussing the best way to remove a tropic bird from a mist net, or mulling over your relationship and career options. Don’t underestimate the impact of an escape on your mental health!
As evidenced by my meandering thoughts, the Seychelles Island project has been a transformative experience for me. Although I won’t miss the long-drop or the loss of my toenails to scrambles over unforgiving granite boulders, I would repeat the experience if I had the chance and would encourage others to as well. The diverse experiences I’ve had in conservation, as well as my reflections beyond, would have been worth it alone, and the incredible setting is just the icing on the cake.
– By previous volunteer, Caitlin Schindler
If you are interested in joining our Seychelles Island Conservation project on Cousin Island as a volunteer, then check out the project page here.