THE SEYCHELLES ISLANDS CAN TEACH US A LOT ABOUT PRESERVING THE LITTLE THINGS

by
Janine Avery
14 August 2015

As we hoisted the sails and made our way out of the Eden Island Marina on our Moorings Catamaran, we noticed we weren’t the only ones harnessing the power of the wind. A wind farm sits at the habour of Port Victoria on the main island of Mahé, producing power for over 2,000 homes and saving the country from using an estimated 1.6 million litres of diesel fuel per year.
But that is not the only way that the Seychellois are making the elements work for them. Solar panels were a regular sight as we travelled the islands – we spotted them on top of street lights on the main roads of Mahe, and they powered the exterior lights of hotels on the tiny island of La Digue. And while this island archipelago might be far from perfect, the Seychellois are doing their best to reduce the country’s dependency on fossil fuel, to the extent that the government offers rebates to those who embrace solar power in their business and homes.

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A hatchling hawksbill turtle ventures into the ocean for the first time ©Fregate Island Private.
A private home on a small Seychelles island ©Janine Avery.
White-tailed tropicbirds are generally solitary and can be identified by their long tail feathers for which they were previously killed to make hats ©Seychelles Tourism Board/Raymond Sahuquet.

In the words of Rose-Mary Hoareau of the Seychelles Tourism Board, “the Seychellois were protecting the environment before it became fashionable to do so.” And for me that was obvious – it seemed so ingrained in the communities to conserve and protect their heritage, rather than treat their land as a commodity or something to be exploited. This refreshing way of thinking was evident in little things like grey-water being used in gardens, air-conditioners that switched off when you left the room and shells left on beaches to be admired where they lay instead of taken to decorate homes. And each house seemed to have its own vegetable garden and fruit trees, all lovingly tended and cared for.

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One of the wind turbines on the main island of Mahé. The wind farm here helps power over 2,000 homes. ©Janine Avery

On the paradise that is Fregate Island Private, where we were delighted to spend three nights wishing we never had to leave, our meals were made using produce grown in the gardens on the island, which include a massive hydroponic section. Fresh fish was supplied by whoever did a deep-sea fishing excurison that day and staff were welcome to help themselves to the garden pickings. What was not used was sold in the markets on Mahé so nothing went to waste.

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It was about growing local, eating local and appreciating where you are – even the products in the island spa, such as lotions and oils, were made from fresh fruit and vegetables grown in the garden – you can’t get a more holistic experience than that! Invasive alien trees and plants are also being removed from the island of Fregate – often painstakingly by hand – and the island is home to its own nursery, started 30 years ago with the aim of restoring the island to its native glory by replanting only indigenous species.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the Seychelles islands is that conservation defines them – even paradise is not immune to the problems facing our environment such as pollution, habitat loss and poaching.

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On Fregate Island it’s about growing local and eating local ©Fregate Island Private.
One of Fregate Island’s 300 Aldabra giant tortoises, some of which are over 100 years old ©Janine Avery.
Lesser noddy’s flock to Fregate Island in their thousands to breed, building their nests in the splits of tree branches ©Janine Avery.
The magpie robin is Fregate’s most precious bird species. The programme to protect them has seen the population increase to 200 individuals from as few as 40 in 1990 ©Fregate Island.

Take the magpie robin for example: thanks in a large part to humans, less than 40 of these black and white birds remained by 1990, all restricted to Fregate Island. A Robin Recovery Team was founded and thanks to a lot of hard work, which included supplementary feeding, habitat creation, control of alien predators (to the extent that the island is now cat and rat free) and nest box provisioning, Fregate is now home to over 200 individual birds. Magpie robins have also been reintroduced to some of the other Seychelles islands, thereby re-establishing a population that was almost confined to the history books.
Mornings and evenings on Fregate Island are bird heaven; glimpses of the golden sky were often seen through a multitude of wings. Over 100 species of birds can be found on Fregate with 13 taking up permanent residence. Another conservation success story includes the Seychelles white-eye and the re-introduction of 31 individuals to Fregate Island which have continued to thrive and whose status has since been downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

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Fregate even has its very own beetle: the Fregate Island giant tenebriod beetle. The world’s only naturally wild population exists on this one island and the local conservation staff work tirelessly to research and protect this one-of-a-kind species. But the most iconic of all the species is perhaps the Aldabra giant tortoise, which faced serious population decline due to poaching and hunting. The Seychelles has ongoing programmes which aim to breed and re-introduce the tortoises across the islands, a project which now sees over 300 tortoises roaming around the tiny island of Curieuse while Fregate Island has its own tortoise enclosure in order to protect and raise any baby tortoises found wandering around busy hotel areas, while those in less populated areas are free to wander as they please. When they are old enough these tortoises are released back to join the other 2,000 tortoises on the island, some of which are over 100 years old!

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One of more than 10,000 fruit bats that inhabit the Seychelles Islands. Often referred to as the “Flying Fox”, the fruit bat can weigh up to 600g with a wingspan of 1.1m ©Janine Avery.
A baby Aldabra giant tortoise, moved off a foot path by a resident conservationist and set free again to wander in the wilds of Fregate Island ©Janine Avery.

I have to stop myself because there are just so many stories of conservation to be told about the Seychelles, from the protection of the largest nut in the world, the legendary Coco de Mer, to the variety of local bird species, many of which occur on just one or two of these tiny islands – each spot of land protecting its own secret ecosystem of life. Compared to rhinos and elephants these species may seem to pale in comparison, but for me these small creatures pose a bigger question to each and every one of us – if we can’t start with protecting and nurturing the small things – including those in our own backyard – what hope do we really have?africa-geographic-logo

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About the Author

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JANINE AVERY is the first to confess that she has been bitten by the travel bug… badly. She is a lover of all things travel from basic tenting with creepy crawlies to lazing in luxury lodges; she will give it all a go. Janine is passionate about wildlife and conservation and comes from a long line of biologists, researchers and botanists. She is the general manager of Africa Geographic when she is not out exploring Africa and, as seasoned sailors, this honeymoon marks Janine and her new husband Ryan’s first trip on the ocean as newlyweds.

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  • cascadian12

    Wonderful article. Thank you.