What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?
Cousin is a model for ecotourism in protected areas. It is one of Seychelles’ most visited eco-tourism sites, providing a unique experience to visitors. It attracts some 10,000 to 14,000 visitors/year and caters for educational groups and locals who have free access to the Reserve. It is part of the most popular tours by local tourism operators. All visits to Cousin are run by local people who rely on the island for their livelihoods. Operators take visitors to Cousin where they are then transferred to the Cousin boat, a measure implemented to prevent the accidental introduction of pests onto the Reserve. Once on Cousin, a guided tour is given to all visitors by trained Wardens of the Reserve. Tourists also receive information in three languages on the island. Visitor safety is of high priority and visitor facilities are provided. A survey in 2000 revealed that: 98% of visitors found the service of a very high standards; 99% found the guided tour interesting, informative and well organized. Training and employment programs for young, local people are in place. Cousin’s waters are protected which provides a nursery ground for fish stock that local fishermen rely on. 100% of the ecotourism revenue goes into management, conservation & research, education, and training for wardens, practitioners and teachers. Cousin was Highly Commended by the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow program for being a role model in responsible tourism in 2003, and won the Ecotourism Award for Best Destination by Conde Nast Traveller Magazine in 2004.
In terms of eco-tourism, adherence to regulations is complied with to ensure quality of experience and to maintain a low impact. A Code of Ethics is circulated to all visitors and operators. Recently due to climate change awareness, attention has turned to the carbon footprint left behind by tourists who visit far flung destinations like Seychelles. There are concerns that such travel produces greenhouses gases and causes other environmental damage. This might result in a voluntary roll back on long distance trips by tourists, which would have far reaching consequences for Seychelles, largely dependent on tourism and for Cousin conservation, dependent on eco-tourism revenues. To counter this, visitors need to be reassured that carbon emissions related to their travel are being offset. In 2010, we ensured Cousin is carbon neutral by investing in carbon credits from a project in Sudan that is actively reducing greenhouse gas emissions by distributing efficient cook stoves. In terms of conservation, we invest in science and research and have been involved in hundreds of studies. Currently we are invested in looking at climate induced impacts in species and the ecosystem such as reefs.
The widely publicized decision to become carbon neutral is expected to encourage visits to Seychelles and to Cousin. Eco-visitors can to come to Cousin Island conscience-free, knowing their carbon footprint has been neutralized. We aim to purchase carbon credits each year to maintain carbon-neutral status. The offset process is audited by an independent firm to ensure its reliability. Our research helps us to continually monitor species and take action when its needed.
What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.
Cousin Island will continue to be protected and totally reserved for conservation. Cousin’s vision is to be acclaimed as the best-managed small island protected area in the world. It aims to be one of the best destinations for present and future generations of eco-tourists. In order for this to successful we need to invest in projects that maintain the integrity of Cousin. Currently projects are science based such as monitoring, and investigating impacts of climate change on species. An improvement of ecotourism infrastructure is ongoing.
What would prevent your project from being a success?
Reduction in tourism revenues and investment in scientific projects