Mahé Island, Seychelles

The month of February, 2016 was spent in the field in the Seychelles Archipelago. I was based on Mahé, the largest island, which has a population of 90,000. Mahé and two neighboring islands, Praslin and La Digue, host the majority of Seychelles’ population. These “inner islands” are the oldest islands in the WORLD and the ONLY granitic islands in the world. Needless to say, Seychelles is a spectacular place.

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The Seychelles Archipelago is the oldest island chain in the world!

My main objectives were to collect tissue samples of various Carangid species, but mostly the giant trevally, aka GT (Caranx ignobilis). These tissue samples will be used for genetic and stable isotope analyses. I was also there to meet with the Seychelles Fishing Authority and set up collaborations with sport fishermen and NGOs who operate in Seychelles.

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Leading a PRIMER workshop at the Seychelles Fishing Authority

This was by no means an individual effort, and I was accompanied by some fantastic fishing hands and friends! Sheena Talma, a MSc student at Rhodes/SAIAB and a Seychelloise citizen, also traveled back to Mahé with me on a mission to collect samples of bonefish (Albula glossodonta) for her population genetics study.

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Sheena and I in the Johannesburg airport eager to go into the field!

Also with me for 14 days was my good friend and fellow Alaskan, Kevin Siwicke, who was on a world-wide tour in between oceanography cruises with NOAA. Some fantastic comrades from Yale (Bobby Gibbs, Allen Sanchez and Noah McColl) joined at various points as well to explore the island and help sample. And, last but not least, fellow Explorers Club member Gaelin Rosenwaks of GlobalOceanExploration and the amazing cameraman Chris Theibert came for 10 days to help catch GTs, document the fieldwork, and produce media footage to connect with the public and the sportfishing community.

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Chris Theibert, me, Kevin Siwicke, and Gaelin Rosenwaks stop at a lookout point on Mahé after a long day of filming and fishing.

While we may have been on a tropical island with white sandy beaches, beautiful blue water, and long sunny days, it didn’t mean the sampling would be easy! Bonefish are incredibly skittish and are hard to catch on the inner islands because the habitat isn’t ideal for them there. And without a boat, we were often limited to fishing for GTs from shore, which meant a lot of scouting and exploring to find accessible channels, currents, and rocky areas where the smaller GTs like to hang out. Luckily, we were able to find some great spots on shore AND get out extensively on a boat, thanks to Stephan Holzhausen of Big Time Charters.

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Allen with his first juvenile GT caught from shore!

Another method of sampling was frequenting the Victoria market to see what the local fishermen were bringing in. Carangids have consistently made up ~30% of the catch of small-scale commercial fisheries in the Seychelles since the 1950’s. Most of what they catch these days are bludger (Carangoides gymostethus), yellow spotted trevally (Carangoides fulvoguttatus) and bigeye (Caranx sexfasciatus), but if GTs are caught, they’re also sold.

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Collecting samples in the Victoria Market

 

In the end, we collected ~50 carangid samples, including 20 GTs and some species not yet in SAIAB’s collection! Sheena and I established a great base of contacts, including the Seychelles Sports Fishing Club, whose members have already collected over 100 tissue samples for us from various locations that we couldn’t visit on this trip. The support from the Seychelles Fishing Authority, sport fishermen and non-profits has been amazing and we’re excited to keep collaborating with them over the course of the next few years.

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My first giant trevally!

 

Exploring a new country is always exciting, but now it’s time to get back in the lab!

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