Olga Savina's Diary

Monday, December 25, 2006 Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007 Friday, June 1, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007 Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007 Friday, July 6, 2007
Saturday, July 7, 2007 Monday, July 9, 2007
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007 Sunday, July 15, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007 Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Monday, December 25, 2006 Today, we got the email about the opportunity to participate in ecological expeditions around the world within the project initiated by Earthwatch and Alcoa. Great! For the first time, Alcoa Russia employees will be able to take part in this project.

“Incredible! It would be fantastic to participate in the Earthwatch program!” was my first reaction to this news. There were a lot of things to do before Christmas and New Year’s, but I put aside all my New Year’s cares and started to fill in the Alcoa Employee Fellowships 2007 form. It took several days to complete this document. 

So, the application has been sent…New Year’s and Russian Christmas are coming…and I am looking forward to receiving the results!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 Since the beginning of February, I have checked my email every day. I am waiting for the results and hope that I will pass the selection. The anticipation is growing every day, because I want to know who has been chosen to take part in the expeditions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007 In the morning on the way to the office, I had a minor car accident and was very upset. The day promised nothing good, so you can imagine how happy I was when I got to the office, turned on the computer, and saw that the first message was from Alcoa’s Earthwatch sponsor. I read the words of congratulations and understood that luck was with me! I was really excited!

It was my big dream to take part in such an expedition, because I love nature. Since childhood, I have been fond of books about expeditions devoted to studies of plant and animal life. Earlier, I could only wish it. But now, thanks to Earthwatch and Alcoa, I have a chance to go on a real journey! I immediately started to share my joy with my colleagues.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 The first congratulations I received on participating in the Alcoa Earthwatch program was from Alcoa Pittsburgh Corporate Security. Yes, this proves that our security people are really the first to know all the news.

Later, many Alcoans congratulated me. My boss wrote to me, “Well done—make your own life, build your own future. Nobody can/will take care of us as good as we ourselves.” I received many nice and warm words. It is really great to work in a large company like Alcoa, which gives you not only work but also team spirit. Thanks to all those who congratulated me.

Monday, May 28, 2007 During the last two months, I was busy preparing for my expedition named Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles. I carefully studied the general information about the project and read about my daily schedule and tasks. Taking into consideration the health information, I had a meeting with the doctor, and we discussed all details of the expedition from the medical point of view, including immunizations. I checked visa requirements as well and started to buy required items according to the expedition packing checklist.

Friday, June 1, 2007 Today, there was conference call organized by the Alcoa Earthwatch sponsor. I participated in this event with my colleague Alexandra Gluschenkova from Alcoa’s Russia Samara location. She is a 2007 Earthwatch fellow for the Bahamian Reef Survey expedition.

We got a lot of useful information and discussed details. We were really inspired by the upcoming expeditions! We are sure it will be a wonderful experience as well as a great opportunity to help make the world a better place.

Friday, June 29, 2007 All June, I was busy preparing for my expedition. Time flies quickly, and today is my last working day in the office. According to the packing list from the expedition briefing, I have collected all required things, including sleeping bag, daypack, dive booties, camera, binoculars, and many other items.

I have made acquaintance with Rosana Leim, my colleague from the Alcoa Brazil location. We will work together on this expedition. She will arrive on the Seychelles earlier and will book me a seat on the ferry for July 3. I am looking forward to meeting her on Mahe Island.

I am leaving for Moscow on July 2, and then will take the flight from Moscow to Dubai and then Dubai to Mahe. We will meet at the Island Development Company office at 11 a.m. on July 3.

Silhouette is a little known and unexplored island, and I am absolutely sure that our expedition will be very interesting and educational. We will feel like pioneers!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 I arrived on Mahe at 6:50 a.m. and made the rendezvous in time.

My first impression of Seychelles was bright sun, warm air, and high humidity.

I took the taxi and met Rosana for the first time. Together, we went to the Island Development Company office to meet the members of the expedition and to catch the ferry to Silhouette Island.

The first two members were already there. Theresa is from Great Britain, and Annemiek is from the Netherlands. Then five more people arrived. All of them work for Mitsubishi Corporation. Our coordinator, Jen Alger, is from Earthwatch Institute of Europe.

Our team consists of 10 people. It is really international—Dutch, British, Brazilian, Japanese, German, and Russian. Earthwatch brings people and organizations together from different countries and cultures to work toward a sustainable environment.

It took about one hour to reach Silhouette. When we arrived, I was surprised. What a lovely, spectacular place!

On the island, we were met by Justin Gerlach, the scientific coordinator. He will be our principal investigator for the project and is associated with the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.

Upon arrival, we were taken to the guesthouse where we would stay. It is just 20 meters (65 feet) from the sea and harbor.

We then went to the Silhouette Centre for Ecology and Wildlife Conservation, where Justin works on the Seychelles Giant Tortoise Conservation Project. Here, we met a tortoise named Adam, who is about 150 years old, and some of the other Seychelles giant tortoises—each up to 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) long—that live on this island and are the subjects of a breeding program.

On our introductory walk, we were told about Silhouette Island and what we were going to do as assistants on this scientific project.
The Seychelles archipelago is just south of the equator in the west Indian Ocean. Silhouette is a sparsely populated, little-visited island of this archipelago. The climate is tropical, and the island includes most of the primary lowland forest that still survives within the archipelago. The coastal marsh is mostly free from any species introduced to the Seychelles. On land, the island is relatively unexplored.

Our project will be entirely coastal. Our study will map the richness and diversity of fauna and flora on this particular island of the Seychelles. Our team is motivated and excited to get started assisting the scientists in the Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles project.

The first day thus passed very quickly.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 Our daily schedule for the next two weeks is:
7:30 a.m.    Breakfast
8:30 a.m.    Start (prepare equipment if needed)
9:00 a.m.    Start science and survey
6:00 p.m.    End field or laboratory work, clean and put away all equipment
7:00 p.m.    Dinner
7:30 p.m.    Briefing for the next day’s session

We will get two days off.

During this expedition, we will be mapping the major habitats and assessing their biological richness and uniqueness. We will establish coral and intertidal monitoring sites for future years.

We started our second day in the conservation center. We unpacked the equipment, and Justin explained how we were going to use it. We will do the mapping by using quadrats, which are one-meter-by-one-meter metal squares that outline the area we will inventory. That means counting all flora and fauna life. Later, we will put all the data in the computer. That is how we will record the diversity and abundance of different organisms.

On our first exploration day, we discovered the following species in five quadrats in the mangroves and five quadrats in the intertidal area on the beach:
  • millipedes;
  • spiders;
  • snails,
  • flies;
  • centipedes; and
  • ants.

See the photo gallery for pictures of how we made our quadrats. This is the most practical method to do this kind of research.

On our way to the mangroves, we saw different animals—palm spiders, mudskippers, and skinks. The mudskipper is an extraordinary amphibious fish that lives in and out of the water. They use their fins to move on land, and they breathe through the damp skin. Their eyes are situated on top of the head for all-round vision and to permit seeing out of the water.

By doing the quadrats and watching what was around us, we learned a lot about what lives on Silhouette Island. It was a really interesting day.

Friday, July 6, 2007 Every day starts with feeding the tortoises. They love the breadfruit leaves that we collect, and they also love to be stroked.

Today, we did quadrats on the La Passe beach and in the ocean water. We learned how to identify crabs and discovered these different types:
  • Purple hermit crab;
  • Orange hermit crab;
  • Horned ghost crab; and
  • Pale hermit crab.

The water underneath the stones was teeming with life. We found the following:
  • Soft corals;
  • Flatworms (one of which was quite distinctive—blue and red);
  • Tubeworms;
  • Amphipods;
  • Isopods;
  • Brittle stars;
  • Shrimp;
  • Sea urchins;
  • Gold ring cowries;
  • Money cowries;
  • Little swimming crabs;
  • Shells;
  • Limpets; and
  • Sea cucumbers (not fast moving). We have seen a black sea cucumber and brown one.

The waters around Silhouette Island form the largest and least known of the six marine national parks in the islands. It was interesting to know that many plants and animals are endemic, some even to the island itself.

Saturday, July 7, 2007 Silhouette Island is geologically younger than the others in the archipelago, and its oldest rocks are about 63 million years old. It peaks at 770 meters (2,526 feet) and contains much of the most important forests and coastal marshes in the Seychelles.

Today, we did a forest walk to about 390 meters (1,280 feet) above sea level. Coconut palm, vanilla, cinnamon, and cola plants are very common in the tropical woods. Some of them are endemic, and some are introduced.

In the forest, we saw the coco-de-mer palm that the island is famous for. Justin told us that a fruit of this palm is so desirable that it is guarded against poachers.

It was interesting to see that stilt palms have roots like stilts at the base of the stem to stabilize them. Sometimes termites make large, brown clay nests on the roots of these palms. Termite colonies, each of which has single king and queen, are important decomposers of vegetable matter.

In places, the road was steep and slippery, and it was hard going for all members of our group. The walk took about five hours, and we were allowed to rest in the afternoon.

Monday, July 9, 2007 Every day we have one to two hours for snorkeling. We could easily see fish, some corals, the seabed, and sea urchins. Different sorts of butterfly fish, eels, gold bar wrasses, and surgeon fish are abundant in this part of the Indian Ocean. We needed to be very careful because of the strength of the currents.

Justin wanted to know the type and quantity of seeds that are washed up, so we collected seeds on the beach. We found about 1,870 pods that contain 50 seeds each of the casuarina, about 400 seeds of takamaka, about 100 seeds of terminalia, 10 mango seeds, and, of course, many coconuts. The sea is important in seed spreading, and Justin told us that these seeds will be able to germinate.

In the evening, we’ve seen fruit bats in the garden of our guesthouse. These animals are extremely noisy. Seychelles fruit bats are large, with bright yellow heads and necks. They can fly between islands and play an important role in seed dispersal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007 Today was our first day off! We all went to the beach and enjoyed snorkeling and swimming in the Indian Ocean. The weather was nice, and the temperature of the water was 25° Celsius (77° Fahrenheit). In the afternoon, we played boule with coconuts because we didn’t have the balls. It was fun.

The day passed very quickly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 In the morning, we went by boat to another part of the island called Grande Barbe. The trip took about 40 minutes in a very small boat, and we had to wear life jackets because of the huge ocean waves. The assistant to the island manager was the skipper on our boat.

For a hundred years until 20 years ago, Grande Barbe was a coconut plantation, and the ruins of the plantation house and the coconut dryers are still there. In the past, 40 families lived in this place. Now, only six people are permanently living here. However, the jungle is coming back, and this place is returning to a wild state.

Upon arrival, we did five quadrats on the beach rocks. We counted mostly limpets and also periwinkles and nerites (coastal shells). Then we collected seeds and walked around.

In the forest, we met five wild giant tortoises. Once humans came to live on the islands, they hunted the adults for food until they became extinct except for the ones on Aldabra. From here, they are now being reintroduced.

Last December, tortoises were released into the wild by the Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles. Grande Barbe is a place that suits them quite well. They like to eat the breadfruit that was planted when the area was a plantation. Adrian, whose picture is in the photo gallery, is the largest of these five tortoises.

This part of Silhouette Island has a very peaceful atmosphere and is an extremely scenic part of the island. We enjoyed staying here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007 For the last three days, we did quadrats on the reef. In early morning, we made use of the low tide to cover as much of the reef as possible. Still, it was very difficult to keep standing in the waves while recording all the plants and sea animals.

We did several quadrats in the inner, middle, and outer edge of the reef and found the following:
  • Brittle stars;
  • Sea cucumbers;
  • Amphipods;
  • Tubeworms;
  • Crabs (many different species);
  • Snails;
  • Shrimp;
  • Cowries;
  • Sea anemone (these are also animals);
  • Flatworms; and
  • Isopods and other sea animals.

We are now expected to identify the different species of crabs, snails, and flatworms that we find. We do this using a CD and book called A Guide to the Seashores of Eastern Africa and the Western Indian Ocean Islands.

Sunday, July 15, 2007 This morning, we explored for one more time the tropical forest. We climbed 380 meters (1,247 feet) to the ridge between two mountains, and it took us four hours to reach halfway to Grande Barbe. The weather was changeable. It rained several times, and the path became very slippery.

On the top point of the ridge, we made several quadrats. We were looking especially for small frogs that are endemic to Seychelles. We also found snails, spiders, and termites, but the most interesting finds were amphibian caecilians.

Amphibians are absent from most oceanic islands, but because the Seychelles was once connected to the continent, it has quite a large amphibian population. Also, most of those are endemic because the Seychelles became islands.

Most amphibian species have thin skin, which they use for oxygen exchange and must keep damp at all times. They usually lay their eggs in water, and their young spend some time in the water before coming on land as adults. As there is not much freshwater on the island, the Silhouette amphibians are different. Unlike most frogs, the Seychelles frogs do not require water in which to breed. In some species, the tadpole is carried on the back of the adult. In others, the frog develops into an adult within the egg.

On Sunday evening at the restored plantation house, there was a performance of traditional Creole music. We enjoyed hearing the music from the guesthouse.

Monday, July 16, 2007 Today was the last working day of the expedition.

From early morning, we were on the beach doing quadrats. On different parts of the reef we find different animals and plants. We divide the reef into inner, middle, and outer edge. The sea conditions determine where the sea animals live.

On the inner edge we found tubeworms, amphipods, sea anemones, and crabs. On the middle of the reef there was not much we could see, because the rocks were very hard and we couldn’t see underneath them. We discovered isopods, crabs, clams, tubeworms, and polychaetes. As the tide was very low, we could do quadrats on the outer edge, which is the part of the reef closest to the ocean. Here we found three colonies of live pink-colored coral. This was great, because corals around granitic islands have been badly affected by periods of high water temperature caused by El Nino events in recent years. It was good that we saw evidence of the corals coming back.

We spent three hours on the reef, and we did 12 quadrats in all.

In the evening as usual, we inputted the data into the Coastal Ecology Project database. All of our data are going to be analyzed by our principal investigator. He will have the complete picture of distribution of organism across the reef and also possibly the impact of currents and the topography of the island on the distribution.

Our main activity was doing an accounting of flora and fauna, which is the basic science for coming up with scientific explanations. For Silhouette Island and much of the Indian Ocean, this has never been done before. This project will establish a first baseline survey of the animals living in the shallows and intertidal zone.

Understanding coastal richness and diversity of an undisturbed island like Silhouette gives input into how coastal environments withstand disturbances.

Our results will be reported in peer-reviewed international publications and at scientific conferences.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 We packed after breakfast and took the ferry to Mahe.

We were a good team, and the atmosphere in the group was very relaxed and friendly. I will miss everyone of our group’s members—Annemiek, Rosana, Theresa, Nicola, Kim, Jen, Gunter, Noriko, Kayo, and Justin!

Photo Gallery

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Coral and Coastal Ecology of the Seychelles

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