Chagos Environment Training Course Blog 2012
2012 sees the start of a new training initiative for the UK Chagossian community, run by ZSL. The group were selected for their enthusiasm to learn more about the environment of the Chagos archipelago, its role in the wider environment, and how we might conserve its unique nature now and in the future. It is now the charge of ZSL to deliver a range of practical and theoretical sessions to match this enthusiasm. The mission will be to bestow the participants with the basics of what they might need to become ambassadors for this environment within their community, and active and aspiring conservationists of the future.
Follow the blog below from the course students themselves as they embark on this 9 week intensive foray into the world of conservation...
Week one - Communicating conservation
This week's workshop introduced the group to means and motivations for communicating science and conservation. As well as discussing the various methods, the students received basic training in film-making and planning, creating their own storyboard to help direct a film they will make throughout the course. To showcase their achievements and relay their feelings as they learn more about Chagos and it's environment, the film will be edited and shown officially at a graduation ceremony later this year. Here's what Yannick Mandarin had to say about the opening session:
“The first workshop was amazing. I met Xavier, Rebecca and Jon who have done a fabulous job introducing the new course to the Chagossian community and the new generation to raise awareness about the ecosystem and what’s happening in the Chagos archipelagos, bringing new opportunities to those passionate about the fauna and the flora to be part of protection and conservation programmes. My commitment to the course is to achieve a good level of understanding of the marine biology and terrestrial environment so I can pass it on to future generations, to maintain a good balance of the ecosystem for the future. As a team we will work together to achieve our target through motivation, dedication and inspiration. I can’t wait for the second workshop to start.
Big thanks to Xavier, Rebecca and Jon, who are doing a really good job once again.”
What Claudia had to say about her catch-up session... "Not recovered from my trip yet but had to put a brave face on for work today.
Catch up workshop on friday was amazing, loved it, had all the trainers to myself. Felt privileged and spoiled, lol!. Also had a fantastic experience backstage in the aquarium with Brian, from whom I have learned a lot; how the water and the corals get treated. You have no idea about the amount of time, effort and dedication that the conservationists are putting into their jobs for the world and future generations to see and enjoy, the amazing things that we have the privilege to see and enjoy today. It was also shocking to learn that certain marine species have completely been extinct in the wild and they can only be seen in aquariums and zoos. What a shame! Anyway had a great day.
Second workshop, the guys made my day, they were so funny. Enjoyed watching and counting the birds using the binoculars and the little game at the end. The trainers were lovely too, as usual. It was good exercise too don't you think so guys, lol. This project is so amazing and such a great opportunity for us to know more about both land and marine environments in the Chagos archipelago and worldwide. And also to be abe to share our experience with others. It can be a small step today but a small step which is going to make a big difference for the generation of tomorrow.
LOOKING FORWARD FOR THE NEXT WORKSHOP AND TO SEE YOU GUYS AGAIN!"
Week two - Bird conservation and monitoring at RSPB Pulborough Brooks
In the second workshop Ian Robinson of the RSPB, a seasoned Chagos visitor and surveyor, introduced the group to the excitement and difficulties of monitoring birds on tropical islands. Following an in-depth talk the group were able to visit a local RSPB reserve where they experienced real-world bird I.D. scenarios and practised nest monitoring methods.
"The second workshop which was Island Ecology and Bird Monitoring was very exciting for me. We started off with an introduction from Ian Robinson from the RSPB and later on headed to Pullborough Reserve to do some bird monitoring. We picked up valuable pointers on how to monitor birds, how to identify the various species and how to do group counts; which may sound easy but can be quite tricky. It was a privilege to be able to have worked with Ian as he's had hands on experience on the Chagos and he's shown us pictures of the "crazy glade" (like he calls it) which is the aftermath of cutting down all the trees that are killing other species.
It was a very relaxing day which was then livened up with a little exercise of cute bird dolls and fake eggs that we had to spot on the grass whether they were occupying a nest or not. I wish I'd done bird watching before as it's so relaxing, I highly recommend it. We also had a brief description of the different endemic species on the Chagos islands and the other introduced species living on the islands. This training will definitely help us in the future on how to preserve and balance the various species of birds and their habitats on the Chagos. I loved how everyone made it fun for each other and I'm so looking forward to the next workshop which I think will be my favourite.
Thanks to the team again: Xavier, Rebecca and Rudy. You guys are amazing!!"
Week three - Coral I.D. and conservation
For the third workshop a ZSL team of coral scientists presented the group with the basics of coral ecology and physiology, as well as introducing the threats and status of our reefs worldwide. The trainees then had a practical session at London Zoo hosted by the aquarium staff, identifying and learning about the corals the aquarium currently houses. Using coral I.D. keys the teams gained hands-on experience of surveying corals in the field.
"I wish everyone had a great time last week because I did.
Last weekend we went to London Zoo to learn about coral reefs, it was fun and a great day as well because I learnt a lot there; like how small, big and colourful coral can be.
I also learnt their names. I really enjoyed it thank you guys."
Week four - Marine Protected Areas and Sustainable Fisheries
Led by ZSL staff Dr. Heather Koldewey and Dr. Matthew Gollock, the trainee's fourth training session focussed on sustainable fisheries - problems and solutions.
An introduction to fisheries, bycatch and destructive techniques was complimented by presentation of the current and future benefits and trends in the world's Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
The role of various stakeholders in the designation of protected areas was explored through a rather enthusiastic role play exercise and the course participants were faced with the tough choices legislators and policy makers must sometimes face.
A section on certification and consumer power in promoting sustainability was reinforced with a trip to Selfridges, Oxford St., where trainees were sent on a 'Good Fish Hunt' throughout the store.
Week five - Communication strategies and evaluation
ZSL's Discovery and Learning Team got involved in our fifth session, with Paul Bamford and Cassandra Murray presenting their views and experience on how to deliver and evaluate the effectiveness of conservation communication and outreach.
A highly interactive and debate-heavy workshop ensued, with the trainee team firstly developing their own media strategy for the Chagos Archipelago, and how this would be communicated both in the UK and overseas. Central to the learning was an emphasis on knowing your audience, planning your methods and making sure you both aim for, and achieve "SMART" objectives.
The trainees also came up with their own inspirational tagline for the project:
"Preserving the natural heritage of the Chagos Archipelago for future generations: from the land to the sea, and the sea to the land"
The development stages of this strategy then fed in to an introduction to evaluating your performance, across all facets of conservation. Trainees learnt how to assess success through use of social surveys methods.
Finally, the team split up to test what they had learnt through delivery of speed presentations, questionnaires, 'Vox pops', and posters.
Week six - Land restoration and management - Hampstead Heath
The weather was luckily on our side for an outdoor session up on Hampstead Heath learning about island restoration, the realities of land management and practicalities of working outdoors and in the tropics.
Ian Robinson of the RSPB took the morning session, introducing the group to the current and future restoration work going on in Chagos. The team were then tasked with the challenege of coming up with a rat eradication and vegetation restoration plan for Vache Marine. Some distance from Diego Garcia, this was intended to be logistically and financially tricky!
In the afternoon City of London took over and we headed out for a tour of Hampstead Heath's various habitats, exploring the ways in which the staff here manage the largest green space in London and its vast number of visitors. Then came the fun part, with a heather planting and restoration session being followed by chainsaw and tree climbing demonstrations to display the numerous roles and skills necessary for land management on this scale.
Week seven - Tropical Plant ecology - Kew Gardens
The tropical plant display houses were a welcome refuge from a somewhat damp day for the trainees at Kew Gardens. However, unperturbed the group made the most of their hosts for the day - Dr. Colin Clubbe and Barrie Blewitt who gave them a first class introduction to tropical plant biology and ecology with the wonderful backdrop of the gardens. A morning session in the classroom had the group using microscopes and various techniques to explore plant structure, followed by a foray into the variability of pollination strategies and plant identification.
Colin and Barrie then led the group through some of their colourful and odourful displays, including wonderfully diverse orchids, carnivorous plants and the huge, rotten carcass smelling Titan Arum plant which was (luckily for us) in its dormant phase. The wonderful trees and vegetation of the outdoor areas lent excellent examples of how plants adapt to their environments globally and the team were universally impressed by the weird and wonderful strategies plants adopt during their evolution.
Week eight - Environmental Wilderness Weekend - Sayer's Croft
The trainees were hosted this weekend by the wonderful Sayer's Croft staff at their beautiful field centre and nature reserve in Surrey. Once the group were kitted up with wellies and waterproofs, and after hammering the centre's record for the team building exercise, showing excellent communication skills, the group re-discovered their competitive sides in a battle of the sexes archery competition (well done boys - just). Their confidence was then tested on a high ropes course before hosting a somewhat rainy barbecue - not a problem for Tony and Claudia who powered through to serve a delicious Mauritian feast for all!
Rounding off the weekend was a restoration project in the protected area within the grounds - clearing and replanting errant saplings to stabilise the soil. With this level of man power, even in a short time, the group managed to completely transform a significant area and in a few years will have created an area of woodland. All participants, staff and students, had a great time and the group were able to demonstrate skills they didn't even know the course had given them. A big thank you to the Sayer's Croft staff is necessary, and we hope to be back next year!
Week nine - Try dive at London School of Diving
For our last workshop, we wanted to give our trainees a taste of the underwater world. There was only one place in London that could help us with this: the London School of Diving. In a biting cold morning, and coming all the way from the mountains of Wales, Professor John Turner (University of Bangor), arrived for our morning session on biological surveys. After a quick cup of coffee, the morning session saw John telling us all about the hows, the whys and the planning and conducting of biological surveys. After a very short lunch break where Louis kindly provided delicious chicken fried noodles, John delivered a practical session on how to conduct an underwater transect. But not 15m deep - the survey took place at sea level in the classroom and with a bit of imagination (ok, a lot of imagination), desks became table corals, chairs became sea fans and invertebrates printed on sheets of paper came to life.
A transect line and a chain allowed students to better understand how to record reef composition, as well as working as a team when undertaking such a survey. Meanwhile, down in the basement and the warmth of the pool, the other half of the group were suiting up with fins, masks and BCD to get their first experience of SCUBA diving. Some of them had some basic notions of diving with oxygen they remembered from Mauritius, but for most of the group it was a real first! Karim, our enthusiastic French-English speaking dive instructor for the day briefed our would-be divers in the shallow part of the pool. After a few moments to adapt to the very unnatural experience of breathing underwater, the trainees went off towards deeper waters (3.5m), enjoying the weightlessness and slow motion. All had a great time and wanted to stay longer, so we will be back soon. In fact, it seems that this session inspired a few to become qualified divers.