Podcast: Nirmal Jivan Shah | Nature Seychelles

In 1968 the global population of a small brown bird called the Seychelles Warbler, according to Nature Seychelles, was down to just 30 individuals. Habitat destruction and predation by introduced species like rats had driven the birds to the very edge of extinction and it was listed as critically endangered.

Cycle forwards 50 years to today and after island restoration work and translocations of the species there are now over 3,000 birds flying around and the species are the first to come off the endangered list altogether.

A global success story for nature conservation.

In this podcast we speak with Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles, Nirmal Jivan Shah. Nirmal is a well-known name in nature conservation, working at the forefront of the movement nationally and internationally.

As you’ll hear in this Nature Seychelles podcast, he’s full of passion and knowledge about wildlife conservation in the 21st century. He also provides some great careers advice for the budding conservationists looking to get their careers going. 

As always, if you enjoy our podcast, please let us know and do leave us a review. We read them all and they really help us to get in front of more people.



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Audio Transcript

NICK: Hi there, Nick Askew from Conservation Careers here, welcome to the podcast. In 1968 the global population of a small brown bird called the Seychelles Warbler was down to just 30 individuals. Habitat destruction and predation by introduced species like rats had driven the birds to the very edge of extinction and it was listed as critically endangered. Cycle forwards 50 years to today and after island restoration work and translocations of the species there are now over 3,000 birds flying around and the species are the first to come off the endangered list altogether. A global success story for nature conservation. Joining me on the podcast today to discuss this story and much more is Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles, Nirmal Jivan Shah. Nirmal is a well-known name in nature conservation and works at the forefront of the movement nationally and internationally and as you’ll hear in this podcast, he’s full of passion and knowledge about wildlife conservation in the 21st century. And he also provides some great careers advice for the budding conservationists looking to get their careers going. So without further ado, as always, let’s just jump straight into the interview. Enjoy. 

NIRMAL: Hi, I’m Nirmal Jivan Shah, I’m the Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles, which is this year celebrating 20 years of existence. I have over 35 years of experience in conservation, environmental management, resource management including fisheries and agriculture. And my passion is of course Seychelles wildlife.  

NICK: And you’re well-known for your passion in Seychelles wildlife too, we’re gonna dig into that in some more detail as well. I’m sat here in the UK right now, it’s wet, it’s cold, we’re coming into autumn. You’re in the Seychelles, I mean for people who don’t know the Seychelles particularly well, would you mind just taking a minute just to kind of describe the country that you’re in and the place that you look to conserve? 

NIRMAL: So the Seychelles is what I would call an archipelagic state, an archipelago of islands, we are over 155 islands, name islands and islets. The main islands are granitic, so they are pre-Cambrian granite, millions and millions of years old, and the other islands are 74 or some 75 or 80 islands are made up of coral, and several types of construction – some are sand cays, some are limestone islands, some are high limestone islands, so we have a variety of island types and therefore a variety of ecosystems. The granitic islands themselves have been isolated for millions and millions of years, so they have quite amazing endemic life and very typical of island life, you have giantism, you have dwarfism, you have a lot of trapped birds for example but very, very threatened birds because many of them were living on a few islands, and when the first settlers came 250 years ago, they basically devastated all these ecosystems because they wanted the endemic hardwoods, and they also wanted land to plant coconuts and to plant cinnamon. Today the Seychelles is a high-income country, it’s still a very small country, it’s the fourth smallest country in the world, we have less than 100,000 people and we have to manage this huge exclusive economic zone of ocean, this EEZ, which is 1.3 million square kilometres, so we have more ocean territory than land. Our exclusive economic zone is the land area of Germany, France and UK combined, so it’s huge, it’s a huge area and with less than 100,000 people trying to manage this, you can imagine the problems. 

NICK: So I guess you’re way more water than you are land. What are the kind of key species that you’ve got in the Seychelles that are either nationally or even internationally important? 

NIRMAL: When Birdlife International came here 50 years ago, they came here because the Seychelles have the dubious distinction of being the host of some of the rarest birds in the world, so in particular the Seychelles Warbler which had dwindled to approximately 20 individual birds, and this was located on only one island, Cousin Island. In fact the first Red Book said that this was going to be a major scandal. They used the word “scandal” because the island was a British colony at the time and the British government was allowing this very threatened bird to slide into extinction. So this is when Birdlife International purchased Cousin Island, the last refuge of the Seychelles Warbler, to save this bird. And that’s where also probably modern conservation started in Seychelles, because it was the first international conservation organisation to have a permanent foothold in the Seychelles.  

NICK: And what was threatening the Seychelles Warbler on Cousin at the time? 

NIRMAL: What had happened was that when the first settlers came, as I said, they wanted to have plantations so they cut down all the lowland and mid-level forest to plant coconuts. And with the forest of course went the other biodiversity that we associate with the forest, like birds for example. So we haven’t had a lot of extinctions, we’ve had only three endemic birds become extinct, but the others were sort of isolated on the little islands that became like arks, and those are the last refuges of these highly threatened birds, critically endangered, the Seychelles Warbler, the Seychelles Flycatcher, the Seychelles Magpie Robin. So the Seychelles Magpie Robin was confined to Frigate Island, the Seychelles Flycatcher was confined to La Digue Island. 

NICK: What happened then? So this was 50 years ago you said, let’s talk about the Seychelles Warbler as a good example, you were down to 20 or so individuals. In stepped Birdlife International, they purchased this island, Cousin. What happened and where are we now? 

NIRMAL: So what happened was that Cousin was declared a nature reserve, Birdlife International was then called ICBB, we started work on the island to restore the vegetation. So we started to take out coconut trees, there was some planting done but not a lot, they allowed the natural vegetation to sort of regenerate. Then they… as the warbler population started to bounce back, because at the time it was only found in this mangrove swamp that this… this little mangrove swamp on Cousin because that was the only natural vegetation left. That’s why in those days it was called the brush warbler, because it was found only in brush. But as the natural vegetation came back, it obviously preferred the native forest and then Birdlife started to translocate this bird to other islands, the neighbouring island of Cousine where Birdlife had to remove rats. There were no cats there but they had to remove rats, and they transferred the bird there, then the bird was also transferred to other islands like Aride Island which is also a special reserve like Cousin.

Nature Seychelles took over that work and started to not only reintroduce but transfer the birds to other islands that may not have had this bird historically, like Denis Island for example, which is a sand cay, and we worked very hard with island owners to restore the vegetation and to remove alien predators like rats and cats. So that was much of our work, much of Nature Seychelles’ work over the last 10 or 15 years, was to restore islands, in fact entire land ecosystems, we had on some islands like Denis for example, we had to remove many hectares of coconut trees and plant native forests, we helped them to eradicate rats. That’s the first step before you kind of introduce endemic birds, because these endemic birds are naïve, they can’t deal with predators, in particular mammalian predators. Because what people forget is that the Seychelles separated from the continent before modern mammals had evolved, so there were no native mammals in Seychelles except bats. The bats flew in and differentiated and became endemic species, but there were no other endemic mammals. So when you introduce something like rats, it devastates all the wildlife including forests and so forth. 

NICK: And this is a story that’s been retold across so many different countries around the globe, I’m thinking of the Pacific too. You’ve got, in New Zealand the only species there is a bat also isn’t it, so you know, this invasive species problem has been found internationally.  

NIRMAL: That’s right and Cousin was the first I think, it took seven years to negotiate the purchase and so this whole process of restoring the island and then transferring the Seychelles Warbler to other islands has taken quite a long time, and today I’m proud to say that the Seychelles Warbler is the only critically endangered bird ever to have been down listed in the Red List, to actually where it is today, which is near threatened, through solely conservation action. Because there are birds that have been maybe down listed, like we actually down listed the scops owls from critically endangered to endangered, but that was through research. We found out that the population was in better shape than it had originally been thought. But this is the first species that we’ve been able to down list all the way down to least threatened through solely conservation action. It’s a huge conservation success. 

NICK: You don’t mean in the Seychelles, right? 

NIRMAL: No I mean worldwide, I think that it’s the only bird species that we’ve ever… maybe it’s the only species, in fact, that we’ve been able to do that with. Because as you know, it’s only doom and gloom these days, you know, every year IUCN releases a new list of species that are doomed to extinction if nothing is done. Birdlife as you know maintains a list of threatened birds, it’s not even on that list anymore. 

NICK: It’s an amazing success story and so nice to kind of hear the story told by you Nirmal, you’ve been so involved in it. And just in case the listeners who don’t understand the terminology, we’re talking about this Red List, which is a classification of species across the globe,  so each species is categorised as to how close to extinction it is, and you have ‘critically endangered’, which is the worst, just before extinction, then you have ‘endangered’ and ‘vulnerable’, together those are called ‘endangered’ as one, and then off that list the next one down is ‘near threatened’. So once you get to near threatened you’re off emergency list, yeah, you’re into the kind of more safe zone, so taking it right from close to extinction into safety. Did you celebrate when you got to ‘near threatened’?  

NIRMAL: Well we tried to celebrate but we just want to get it completely out before we celebrate, and maybe that’ll be my retirement present. 

NICK: That’ll be a nice thing to finish up on, indeed. What does Cousin look like today? You know, if I jumped on a boat or… I don’t know how, I presume you get there by boat, what does it look like if I were to arrive on the island? 

NIRMAL: Today it looks like probably what it was before people came to the island. In the 70s when Birdlife started to work there, it was bumper-to-bumper coconuts, we have aerial photos actually that show these neat lines of coconut trees. Today there are very few coconuts left, they’re only natural there on the coastline, and it’s basically native forest. It’s all native forest. Mostly all regenerated by itself, it’s a climax forest because it’s reached what a very famous botanist said it would reach, Professor Farnsworth of the Smithsonian Institution had predicted back in 1972 that it would reach a climax forest of basically Pisonia trees, and that’s what it is today. 

NICK: And is it a place that people can come and visit if it sounds good to them? Is it open to the public? 

NIRMAL: Because it’s such a global conservation success story, we do allow visitors, it’s a very select number of visitors so we get about 10,000-12,000 visitors a year. They come in the morning. We don’t take care of the marketing or whatever it is, they anchor off-shore, our wardens come in small boats and land them, and it’s the same conservation wardens who land you and who also do the conservation work who take the visitors around. No other guides are allowed so it’s our conservation wardens who guide you. This is a morning and then you’re off by 12. And this is how also we generate funding so this is another success story for Cousin Island. Cousin Island actually generates enough revenue to run itself. 

NICK: So it’s a sustainable conservation activity, too. 

NIRMAL: It’s very sustainable with very few people coming, 12,000 people every year. Like I said, it generates enough revenue to run the entire island but also there’s money left over for other conservation work, like for many years we funded the Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles, we fund other sort of conservation projects and so forth. Very successful revenue generation mechanism. 

NICK: Now you talked in jest about your retirement a few minutes ago, and you’ve been involved in nature conservation activities in the Seychelles and globally for a number of years. Where did your journey and passion in nature conservation start, you know? Can you imagine a time, place, person, that kind of triggered this huge fire? 

NIRMAL: Well this started when I was about 5 years old, really early in my life because my father, although very successful businessman, was also a passionate conservationist. He was a passionate historian and folklorist. His great interest was to conserve the environment of Seychelles, and he was one of the pioneers actually of conservation. And in those days, all the scientists who used to come to Seychelles from Europe largely, would come and visit him, stay with him, use his facilities and I would be the sort of field assistant. So by the time I was 10 years old, I could tell you the Latin name of any fish or any bird or any plant that you would show me from the Seychelles obviously. And so it started like that, that passion was just inculcated at a very early age.  

NICK: And you’re now Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles, a local NGO based in the Seychelles obviously. What have been the kind of career highlights between that 5-10 year old Nirmal to where you are now? Have there been important points in your career, you look back now and think, actually that was really key? 

NIRMAL: So I think one of the key things was being appointed by the President of Seychelles as the first Director of the Conservation and National Park Service. So that was actually because my whole education was not really in conservation, it was more in ecology and very theoretical ecology so he gave me the mandate to actually create the new service. And that was the first time that I realised that actually conservation is as much about people as it is about wildlife. Ok, that’s when I started to realise we need to manage people rather than manage wildlife. So that was a very big highlight in my career. The other highlight was when I left government and I started the first environmental consultancy business in Seychelles. And I had to do many projects ranging from ecotourism to agriculture to phase out ozone depleting substances to coastal zone management. And the other sort of insight that I had doing that was, wow – conservation is really something that needs to be linked to everything else. The reason why conservation doesn’t succeed in some countries, yes because of poverty and so forth but I think it’s because we are not linking or mainstreaming conservation into these other subjects that are of importance to people, like agriculture, like tourism, like rural development and so forth. These things are very important and if conservation stands apart from those, we will never be able to succeed. So that was the second sort of big kind of insight that I got. And then of course, now with this NGO I also understood, or I’m really passionate, about civil society. That civil society can actually roll out big successes, not just government. So I think again, people who rely too much on government, we are pinning our hopes on a huge entity that may not deliver, but actually that individuals can roll out successes, you as an individual can actually make a difference, civil society organisations like NGOs and community-based organisations can make a huge difference. And that’s where my heart is, is that we can make a difference at the civil society level rather than trying all the time to advocate to government to do this or that or the other. 

NICK: So your career’s really sort of navigated through government, private corporate, when you set up your consultancy, now you’re in the charity sector working with civil society. Do you think conservation’s all about partnerships nowadays? Do you think everyone’s got their role to play but it’s about working together? 

NIRMAL: I think it is working together, it’s about partnerships but it’s also about realising the sort of priorities of the partners. If we don’t understand the priorities of the partners, then we can’t succeed. If we don’t understand that the Ministry of Finance, actually its main mandate is to have a sustainable budget for government, and we’re trying to push it to do things that it wasn’t designed to do, then we will fail. We need to make conservation relevant to all kinds of entities, all kinds of partners. Why would they come on board if it’s not important for them? So we’ve got to create that value, that business proposition, that value proposition for all our partners, otherwise we will not succeed. 

NICK: So digging into that a bit further then, if you had a meeting, maybe you do, you know, have meetings with the Minister for Finance in the Seychelles and you wanted to conserve, let’s say Cousin is a good example right now, what arguments or what sort of discussion would you have with someone like that? 

NIRMAL: The first argument I will tell him is that when Cousin was a coconut plantation, and in those days the coconut was king, the Seychelles ran on coconut and cinnamon, that was the economy. Today, conservation earns more money, much more money, than coconut ever did. So that’s the first argument that you have to put forward. That’s how you catch his interest. The second argument is that today, everybody can get involved in making money from Cousin Island. The little person on Praslin who can take his little boat, the little fisherman or little leisure boat, take two or three visitors to Cousin every day and make money from it. So the community benefits. And then of course little businesses spring up, we have seen this in the last 15 years where there were two large companies dominating the tourism to Cousin Island. Today not so. One big company brings 30% of tourists and so many other local operators from taxi boats to tourist vessels to just leisure people will… are allowed to bring these tourists and are making money from it and we are generating value for others because of the business that is generated, that we have boats, we hire people from Praslin, we hire contractors from Praslin, there’s a whole sort of network of money being transacted because of this tiny little protected area. So if this tiny little protected area can make so much money for so many people, then we must have more protected areas like it to make more money for more people. 

NICK: And have you had these discussions with ministers? Do they listen? 

NIRMAL: Definitely. Ministers in Seychelles definitely understand this. I sit on a trust fund called the SeyCCAT, the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust Fund, very famous because it receives them and I’m a member of the trust and we have five ministers on there, including the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, they understand that completely. This sort of equation is well-known in Seychelles. So now, what we are talking about right now is actually how to slice this pie, how much does biodiversity get, how much does climate change action get, how much does sustainable agriculture get and so forth. The main argument that many African countries still haven’t reached, which is to mainstream conversation in these development areas and to convince policy makers – we’ve done that. Now our part is, who gets what and what do we do with it in a transparent manner. 

NICK: And that’s when things start to get really exciting, right? 

NIRMAL: That’s right, things get really exciting because at the moment now Seychelles is also with this huge marine area, we final… we’ve almost finalised our marine spatial plan, which is this plan, it’s like a land use plan but for marine area where all the stakeholders have come together to say, what should we do with this area and that area, where do we fish, where don’t we fish, where do we mine for oil, where we don’t mine for oil and stuff like that, very, very interesting. 

NICK: So we’ve talked about 50 years of Seychelles history so far, natural history and actual history, where do you see Seychelles 10, 15, you know, 20 years from now? Now you’re at a point where the resources are becoming available, it’s about allocating them and now you’re looking, and we talked before also about it being largely a country of EEZ and sea and ocean and this huge plan that’s coming in, where do you see things going in the near future? 

NIRMAL: Yeah, I think we’re poised to become the sort of eco-country or eco-capital of Africa because of all these sort of achievements that have been done, and these achievements are not just popping out of the woodwork, this is what I explained even to Seychellois, I mean we are standing on the shoulders of giants, it’s been a progression. You can see from the first days of ICBB when they came in, trying to save this rare bird, today where we have only one critically endangered bird left, and I’m very certain that that will be downlisted again very soon. And we have all kinds of other measures which are very important for conservation, which are like managing pollution, managing waste, climate change action and so forth. So I’m very optimistic, I’m very optimistic about conservation because I see for the first time this integration of conservation with national development. 

NICK: And I think the message that conservation works is such a strong message, too, that you’re kind of drilling home and showcasing in the Seychelles and really species can bounce back so quickly, you know, once we kind of tackle the problem and resolve things, you know, so I’m also very hopeful for the future but we’ve still got a lot of issues to tackle more globally. So if I could just kind of turn back to your role, Nirmal, we’ve talked a little bit about your career history and where your passion came from, you’re the Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles, very few people in this listenership and in this world are going to be in a position like you, what’s it like to do your job day in, day out? What are your kind of main priorities? What do you enjoy about the role? 

NIRMAL: Well I think you have to ask my staff that... The role is basically like I’m running a non-profit organisation. But the non-profit organisation is also no longer just a conservation organisation because we’ve had to change with the times and this is why I think we are successful. Many organisations, including businesses, we know many great businesses that have failed recently globally because they haven’t changed, and Nature Seychelles has been evolving ever since, we’ve evolved from a strictly bird conservation organisation to more of an environmental organisation to now more of a sustainable development organisation, because we want people to understand that it’s all part of the puzzle. All these bits and pieces will work towards saving biodiversity. So that’s my role but when you reach a certain level in your career, especially in smaller countries, other people also call on you so government has been calling on me a lot over the last decade or so. So I’m also the chairperson of the Seychelles Fisheries Authority, so that is a department of fisheries in the Seychelles. I chair that organisation. I’m on the board of the University of Seychelles, I’m on the board of various other organisations like this trust fund, for example, so you see that you can leverage your experience in other ways and I think for young people, this is a good lesson that if you’re successful in your discipline, and you roll out real results that government and private sector can see, they will call you for other things and you must answer that call despite the difficulties, because this is where you can really influence things at a national level. I’ve just been appointed for example on the Foreign Affairs Forum, which is a very select committee that’s been put together to advise the government on its foreign policy. So you can see already that I can now be in a position to influence government’s role in the world, the global role of Seychelles government. And this is what happens when you reach that sort of position, and you must not turn away from it. A lot of my colleagues turn away from that because they’re so involved with their own work and their own research and their own business. You mustn’t because that’s the crux of one’s career. 

NICK: Yeah, taking those opportunities when they come. What advice do you have for people who are kind of struggling to get their career in conservation going? You know, there’s lots of young people coming out of university or people mid-career doing something they don’t particularly like and would love to work in wildlife conservation. It’s really competitive nowadays, is there any key bits of advice you could give those people? 

NIRMAL: Yeah, I think one is attitude. I’ve had the privilege of working in many of the sectors and realise that in other sectors like in business for example, attitude is very important. So the CEO of a telecommunication company will tell you I hire for attitude. So attitude in conservation is very important. I see a lot of these young volunteers coming from Europe and from the UK, they’ve got a masters in conservation leadership or whatever it is, but the attitude is wrong. They’re coming and they don’t understand that really, even though you’ve got a masters or PhD, you’ve got to start at the bottom. You’ve got to start at the bottom, you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to deliver and the real world really is not academia. If you want to stay in academia, then you do research. If you want to really role out conservation results, then you come out in the field and you get bitten by mosquitoes and you have to sleep on planks and you get wet and you get dirty and you get hot and you might fall down on mountains, which we’ve all done. That’s the way it is. And you have to cook for yourself – we see a lot of these young people coming and they don’t know how to cook, so they starve unhappy. I think attitude is very important and this is what we try to build, this conservation bootcamp, it’s the link between academia and what I call the real world of conservation, we throw you into the deep end and if you swim, you swim, if you can’t, you drown. 

NICK: (laughter) Almost literally as well, right? So you have this thing called a conservation bootcamp I’ve seen in Nature Seychelles and that really piqued my interest, what is it, you know, who are you helping and what do they gain from it? 

NIRMAL: This is something that I came up with through these years of being exposed to academia professors as well as many of these young people coming to Seychelles, either as volunteers or as staff, because Nature Seychelles hires a lot of expatriate staff, we don’t have enough Seychellois to do a lot of this work so we hire expatriate staff. And I realised that there was a link that needed to be done between academia and real world conservation. The real world conservation especially in the developing world and in the tropics. Many people would not have really thought about it, they may not be expecting this kind of reality. So it’s a different reality. My interest was to situate them in the reality that we as conservation leaders at the tip of the spear are experiencing. So that was it, and it’s to learn by doing. We don’t have formal training courses, these kids have done their bachelors or maybe even their masters or planning to do a masters. It’s to learn by doing, you learn how to monitor turtles, you learn how to do seabird censuses, and so forth, by doing it but you also learn how to work with others you’ve never met before, you learn how to live with other people from a different culture. We also expose them to ecotourism, so they have to do some guiding and what not, so that  also develops their ability to explain science to non-scientists, to a lay audience, which I believe is extremely important. So that was the sort of idea that I have and it’s really worked out really well, but one of the surprising things of it that has surprised me is that over 50% of the people who have come already have not been what I would call conservationists, ok? They’ve been people from tech, they’ve been business people, recently we had an older couple who came with two kids, it’s people who are looking for something completely different and the conservation bootcamp has really opened their eyes to something completely different, they may not take conservation as a career, but it’s influenced them to the point where, for example, one of these tech people, this lady who was never intending to do a masters, now wants to do a masters but wants to do her masters by developing a software or an app that will be applicable to our work in conservation. 

NICK: That’s great isn’t it. And those are the sorts of people we need more of in conservation I would argue, you know, bringing these professional skills in from other industries and bringing that knowledge to bear on wildlife conservation issues. We spoke to a guy called Alasdair Davies in a previous podcast, who’s a creative technologist and this is exactly his role, so we should probably hook your lady up with that particular episode, I would think. 

NIRMAL: Absolutely, absolutely. 

NICK: I would like to just sort of bring the interview towards the close really by asking you some fairly open questions, actually. You’ve had a depth of experience in wildlife conservation. You’re obviously really optimistic about the future and that’s great. Reflecting on there’s still a lot of conservation challenges in the globe, you know, when these new Red Lists come out, usually it’s doom and gloom, usually we see species, you know, even more on the brink of extinction. Where do you think the conservation movement is going wrong? What do we need to do more of in the world? 

NIRMAL: I think one thing, because you mentioned it, is it was too much doom and gloom, and I remember actually at an IUCN world congress many years ago where I gave a presentation, and because it’s supposed to be a round table, on the conservation successes in Seychelles, because soon after the magpie robin had been down listed it told for huge success stories, no one came for that talk because IUCN had just released its new Red List with I think 40 or 50 animals that were sliding into the brink of extinction. And then all the media and everybody went there and I had very few people attending my talk. But now we can see that there have been some articles and some papers published on successes in conservation. I think that’s one. We must demonstrate success. We must demonstrate leadership, ok? Who are the leaders? Who are the champions? Because we must showcase these champions, wherever they are. Whether they are big shots working in some high-level conservation organisation or people working in the community, because those are the people who will inspire others. I think that’s key, conservation champions. Thirdly I think where we’ve gone wrong is that people believe conservation is about saving biodiversity. No, conservation is not about saving biodiversity. Conservation is about managing things, activities and people so that we can save biodiversity. The first comes first, the first bit of that sentence comes first. We need to be able to do these things so that we have that outcome. People I think have started from the wrong end of the spectrum and we haven’t had enough resources, we haven’t had enough attention, we don’t get the sort of big guys in wherever to try and help, and now you can see it’s happening. But it’s happening in terms of things that people understand, like plastics for example. Plastics have suddenly become the next big conservation challenge, out of the blue. And yet we knew as conservationists that plastics was a problem for many years, and that it was affecting wildlife. But today suddenly come out because some very famous names and some big companies are talking about it, so this is where I think we have failed in the past, is to try and link conservation with day-to-day activities that people can understand, that people can actually take part in. We must give people a value proposition and I think that’s what’s been missing in a lot of conservation, is this value proposition. Why is biodiversity important for you? You’re living in a big city, why should you care about the Seychelles Magpie Robin? Fine, maybe you don’t care about the Seychelles Magpie Robin, which is ok but maybe you should care about these moths that are found only in this forest next to your city. And why should you do that? Because it’s important for cleaning the air, it’s important because if it disappears, the whole genetic knowledge of that particular species disappears. Lots of kind of arguments that we can have but we must be able to convince people that biodiversity conservation is not only economically important, it’s also important in many other ways. It has value, not just a monetary value but other types of value. 

NICK: So providing hope, inspiring others, giving them clear actions to allow them to get more involved. That’s… I love it Nirmal, thank you. If you could change one thing that would make a really big impact on the planet, you know, I’d make you the global tsar for a day and you can click your fingers, what would you like to see happen? 

NIRMAL: I would like to see a different development paradigm. At the moment, our economic model is based on consumption and consumption and more consumption. There’s no other economic model. All countries, including Seychelles, are trapped within this economic paradigm. So if you could change it to have a more sustainable type of economy and not just based on this continuous consumption that obviously we are going to run out of a lot of resources, we’re going to pollute the planet, we’re going to blow up the planet, I think that’s the key. I don’t know what other economic model there is but if I could change it, I would. 

NICK: That’s the way you’d go, brilliant. Nirmal Jivan Shah, it’s been so nice to talk to you again, it’s been almost 10 years to the day since we first met and I first interviewed you, so maybe I’ll speak to you again in another 10 years and we’ll see what happens again then but until then, it’s been really nice to talk. If people wanted to find out a little bit more about Nature Seychelles, and particularly the bootcamp, where should they go? 

NIRMAL: They should go to our website, we have a very active website, it’s www.NatureSeychelles.org, it’ll have all the information about Cousin Island, about our conservation programmes, the conservation bootcamp itself, the staff that we have working for us, maybe some job opportunities that are available as well because we also advertise for jobs internationally and for also volunteer positions sometimes, so please visit our website. 

NICK: And we’ll obviously link that in the show notes too. Thanks again Nirmal, it’s been great to catch up. 

NIRMAL: Thank you, bye bye. 

NICK: Ok well I hope you enjoyed that everyone, if you did then please do hit that ‘subscribe’ button to get notified when new episodes are live and also give us a rating as it really helps us to get in front of more people. If you enjoy the interviews we’ve collated the best advice from over 400 professional conservationists into a free e-book, which you can download from the bottom of our website. And finally, if you’ve got any questions or suggestions for the podcast, please tweet them to @ConserveCareers, we’d love to hear from you. Ok, till next time guys, this is Nick signing out.

Careers Advice, Podcast, Senior Level, Restoration & Rewilding