Seychelles Seacology Travel
According to the Lonely Planet guide, "Among the 115 islands that make up the Seychelles are some of the most beautiful island getaways in the Indian Ocean, or indeed the world. Here you can find the lush tropical paradise you may have seen in seductive advertisements." The group of islands around Mahe (home of the international airport and the capital city of Victoria) are made of granite while the remaining islands are coralline atolls. The Seychelles lie 1,600 kilometers off of East Africa, its nearest neighbor. As a result of this isolation the Seychelles are rich in rare plants which flourish nowhere else on the planet. Perhaps the most famous of these is the coco de mer, the world's largest coconut weighing as much as 20 kg. In addition to their prodigious size the coco de mer is famous for its rather erotic shape (pictured right). I will let readers' imaginations run wild on this but if you want to see this coconut in person head for the beautiful Vallee de Mai on the island of Praslin. I recently led a Seacology group to visit the Seychelles and some of us are still blushing after seeing these rather evocative coconuts. The Seychelles visitors bureau knows a good thing when it sees one and the coco de mer not only appears on posters and brochures everywhere but the Seychelles official passport stamp is in the shape of this naughty coconut.
As beautiful as the beaches of the Seychelles are, and as interesting as the coco de mer may be, it was not these attractions that brought us to these Indian Ocean islands. The Seychelles are home to one of the world's most successful nature reserves - Cousin Island. Founded by BirdLife International and run by Nature Seychelles, the Cousin Island Reserve, though only 1 km in diameter, is home to 300,000 nesting seabirds. Because they are protected, the birds are not afraid of humans so you can get up close and personal with some beautiful and endangered birds. The reserve is responsible for saving the Seychelles Warbler and the Seychelles Magpie Robin from the brink of extinction. The reserve is also the western Indian Ocean's largest nesting site for hawksbill turtles. A highlight of any visit is seeing some Aldabra Giant Tortoises and whoever named them was not kidding when they used the word giant. Seacology, the world's premier NGO with the sole focus of preserving island environments, was so impressed with the critically important role Cousin Island is playing that we have supported several projects there. The waters surrounding Cousin Island are a no-take marine reserve and Seacology was pleased to provide funding for demarcation buoys so that local fishing community will know where they can and can not fish. Because Cousin Island is a major tourist attraction Seacology also provided signage (pictured above left) so visitors will understand the importance of the various bird and turtle species living on Cousin and the reserve's vital role in protecting these species. Finally, Seacology provided funding for state of the art composting toilets for rangers and visitors as another important step in keeping the ecosystem pristine.
Our visit to Cousin Island was a very moving experience. It is truly a natural paradise and reminds me of the Galapogos Islands - only smaller and prettier. Outside the Galapagos I can't think of anywhere else in the world where one can observe wildlife from such close range. We were often within a meter of some of the 300,000 Cousin island birds and not one of them seemed to care that we were there. And to see some of the birds that just a few years ago were on the verge of extinction is nothing short of miraculous. Dishon Murage, Seacology's Kenya based east Africa field representative, said of this visit, "It is such a humbling experience to see conservation success within one's own lifetime. I feel lucky to be here."
No discussion of Cousin Island would be complete without a mention of the very charasmatic and extremely competent director of Nature Seychelles, Nirmal Shah. In many ways Shah is "Mister Environment" of the Seychelles. He has followed in his father's footsteps and between the two of them they are likely responsible for almost every major environmental achievement in the Seychlles in the last 30 years. Shah is also a world recognized expert on island ecosystems. In the words of Nirmal Shah, "Many islands are, in the face of global changes, tethering on the brink of catastrophe. Because of the clear and present danger, one would have thought there would have been many dedicated organizations funding island conservation. But Seacology is the only one that has understood the vital nature of saving these precious and unique island environments."
The Seychelles are home to some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The forests and granite rock formations are breathtaking. The creole people and creole cuisine are wonderful. All of these are good reasons to visit this island paradise. If you do go, make sure you take a moment to visit the birds of Cousin Island that were saved from extinction and reflect on what an incredible environmental success story this is.