Island Conservation in the Mozambique Channel

The April 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine has a fantastic photo-essay on two French islands of the Mozambique Channel: Europa and Bassas da India. The article describes the pristine marine environments around the islands along with some amazing dive shots. I was privileged enough to work on Europa Island throughout 2008, not on the marine environment but its terrestrial environment (Bassas da India is submerged at high-tide and so terrestrial conservation is somewhat outside its scope). Europa and Bassas da India are two of five island groups which make up the Îles Éparses (literally ‘Scattered Islands‘), a collection of French island territories in the Western Indian Ocean administered by the Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF) since 2007.

Europa Island, Mozambique Channel

The National Geographic article describes the important relationship seabirds have with the marine environment, relying on large fish to drive smaller fish to the surface for them to feed on. These seabirds also have an important relationship with the terrestrial environments of the islands, relying on them for safe roosting and breeding sites. My research in the Îles Éparses investigated the impacts introduced mammals can have on the seabirds. On Europa Island seabirds must co-exist with goats (which browse their nesting tree sites until they can no longer be used) and rats (which eat their eggs and chicks). We estimated the density of rats using novel statistical methods at a staggering 65 per hectare over summer.

Black rat on Europa Island
Black rat (Rattus rattus) on Europa Island (Photo: James Russell)

Although the islands aren’t inhabited (except for military garrisons), the seabirds are still impacted by the legacy of humans both on-land (introduced species) and at-sea (over-fishing). The future of conservation management in the Îles Éparses must take a two-pronged approached, focusing on both creating marine protected areas for the seabirds at sea, and on eradicating introduced mammals from the islands.

For a random aside, try a great recipe from Europa Island!

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.