If you can dream it, you can do it …
An incredible 50th birthday present from my husband and daughters left me unexpectedly heading for a month of volunteering in Seychelles, to take part in the GVI Island Conservation Programme. I really didn’t know what to expect and ended up packing far too many crazy items that I didn’t need! Myself and four other volunteers (Patricia, James, Gareth and Chase) arrived on Curieuse to find that the camp is actually based on one of the most beautiful beaches in Seychelles, Anse St. Jose, with white sand, turquoise sea and great views of Praslin. I was surprised to find that we would living in a newly constructed dorm with comfy bunk beds, loads of space to store your gear and sit down toilets! I miss the sound of the waves at night. I loved the outside shower, even if it was only allowed every 2 days (it’s amazing what you get used to and don’t miss). I didn’t expect to find a kitchen with a gas cooker, kettle or a fridge. There was always plenty of food available and meals were always looked forward to (some of us developed an obsession with food and ate and drank far more than usual! In fact I have never consumed so many chocolate bars, crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks). I ate the best barbequed fish and chicken I have ever tasted on Friday nights on Curieuse!
Curieuse is home to giant tortoises, giant centipedes and millipedes, huge crabs and enormous spiders. I took so many photos of creatures I didn’t realise existed. Our survey work was great fun; particularly the ‘Tortoise Tickles’ at the Rangers Station, where we took measurements to monitor their growth. Giant tortoises love being tickled and I swear they have smiles on their faces. The expression on a giant tortoise’s face when it is asleep is adorable! ‘Wurtles’ (turtle walks) involved hiking to Grand Anse to record the nesting activity of Hawksbill and Green turtles. We looked for tracks and recorded the location of new nests. While helping to excavate a nest with Becky and Bridgette, I was privileged to discover two Green turtle hatchlings trapped inside their nest. Watching these tiny hatchlings successfully make it to the sea was absolutely priceless and dare I say it, a little emotional too. We also found a rare unhatched egg containing perfectly formed twin turtles! I learned how to identify six different species of mangrove tree and how to use a refractometer to test the salinity levels in the soil. Despite being bitten by mosquitos and getting plastered in mud, were always fun and during my last one with James, we tested 30 poles. Also in the mangroves, I learned how to identify Seychelles birds while on a ‘Tweet’ with Becky. These surveys were surprisingly therapeutic as we sat quietly for ten minutes at each point and waited for the birds to appear around us. Wading in the shallow water at dawn or at dusk with nets, trying to catch juvenile sharks while on Lemon shark surveys was unsuccessful but we did manage to see rays swimming close to our feet. Beach profiling surveys took place on the beaches close to the Rangers station, where we recorded data to monitor changes. Coco de Mer surveys were the most physically challenging tasks for me, but this didn’t stop me from climbing up these trees to measure their leaves. I survived my Coco de Mer survey covered with sweat, cuts, scrapes, bruises and ripped shorts, but with a sense of achievement. A beach clean on Mandarin Bay resulted in four black sacks full of washed up plastic rubbish being removed from the beach, to clear the way for nesting Hawksbill turtles when they come up to nest in September.
The GVI staff delivered professional and informative presentations during our first week that helped us understand what we were aiming to achieve during the surveys and why we were doing it. As volunteers we were trained sufficiently to carry out the surveys competently and accurately. We were even given a whole day of First Aid training by Emily who came all the over from Cap Ternay! I have never snorkelled before and to be honest I was a bit nervous to start with. James gave me the confidence to just go for it after a one-to-one lesson from the shore. Snorkels at Anse Lazio and Anse Petite Cour became the highlight of each week, especially as we swam with a Hawksbill turtle! I never expected to see so many colourful fish or to feel quite at home in the water. Getting back into the boat was really difficult and on more than one occasion a helping hand was required to haul me in! Thank you so much to anyone who helped me here! I think we all enjoyed going out in Dexter with Alan.
On our first weekend off we visited Praslin and stayed at the Indian Ocean Lodge on Grand Anse. A luxury breakfast at the Paradise Sun Hotel was a real treat. We all took the public bus to Anse Lazio, which was an incredibly beautiful beach where we bought cold beers and bitter lemon at the honesty bar behind the rocks. Exploring La Digue on bicycles was so relaxing during our second weekend off. La Digue has stunning beaches and a laid back vibe which everyone enjoyed. A four-course dinner for us all at the Chateau St Cloud Hotel for only 250 rupees was very civilised!
During my fourth and final week, I was extremely lucky to go to Bird Island for four nights and I took the mini plane from Praslin to Mahe, then another from Mahe to Bird. I was the only volunteer who had signed up for this trip so I had the luxury of having a bungalow to myself (shared with geckos, a friendly Noddy and a bright orange male Madagascan Fody of course). A giant tortoise fell asleep on my veranda during the afternoons, which was really sweet! My table for one at meal times turned out to be a very sociable experience and I met so many interesting people: Seychellois families, professional photographers, the owner of the island and Robbie, the nature expert on the island. I have never been anywhere as wild or as beautiful as Bird! 800,000 pairs of sooty terns were nesting near the North point. Robbie took us to the edge of the colony where you were hit by a wall of noise. I walked around the whole island twice and didn’t meet anyone else on the beaches. I loved the feeling of being so remote and walked around the North Point every day (sometimes twice!). I still can’t believe how it is possible that the sand could be so white and the sea could be so clear. I loved the Great Frigate birds, the White-Tailed Tropicbird chicks and the Lesser Noddy chicks in nests on the beach. I spent hours on the beach watching the sunset and stargazing. I left Bird in a Zil Air 4 seater mini plane (wearing a set of headphones and a microphone) and was treated to a jaw dropping view of the island and the reef.
It is impossible to choose a list of highlights, as there were so many amazing things that happened. I am looking forward to random but unforgettable moments that will pop up in my mind when I am least expecting them to over the coming months that will make me smile. Things like: going for a walk on the beach and bringing a coconut back to camp to husk and crack open, the BBQ with the SNPA Rangers, the fish that James scaled, gutted and barbequed, riding bikes on La Digue in the pitch black with no lights, sitting on Anse Source D’Argent under an umbrella in the pouring rain eating a weird smoked cheese and marmalade sandwich that Patricia ‘prepared’ from the breakfast buffet, and having the whole beach to ourselves on Curieuse when the tourists had gone home. I will miss: hanging out with everyone on camp in the Bommie, the meals that everyone spent hours preparing, living outside for a month, crawling into a sandy bed at 8pm feeling totally exhausted and ready for sleep, the baby skink that fell asleep in Chase’s hair, and laughing uncontrollably with Patricia, a true friend.
I am leaving Seychelles having made an incredible connection with, and formed a huge respect for, nature. I have acquired and developed new skills in conservation and fieldwork that I may choose to use in a new career in the future. I have made new friends and shared new ideas with amazing people from around the world. I never imagined that at my stage in life I would have an opportunity to do something like this. I had always dreamed of visiting Seychelles but actually being part of team and working as a volunteer on a project that has a clear purpose and a positive impact on the local environment was better. Take me back to Curieuse now please!
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