The Aldabra atoll (Seychelles) is one of the most beautiful locations in the world in a remote pristine environment. Kreol extols Aldabra’s qualities.
With 7 billion inhabitants on planet Earth, the number of places where mankind can escape modern technology and landscapes unaltered by human activity is shrinking rapidly. In the Indian Ocean, there is one remaining group of islands that can claim a lack of human activity and boasts NO human inhabitants. The Aldabra Group of islands is part of the Outer Islands of Seychelles, and is home to some of the world’s unique flora and fauna.
Getting to Know Aldabra
Aldabra atoll is the second largest coral atoll in the world, and is located 700 miles from Seychelles’ principal island of Mahé. Situated just 265 miles off the northwest coast of Madagascar, Aldabra is actually closer to mainland Africa than it is the capital of Seychelles. Only Kiritimati is larger than Aldabra. The raised-coral geography of the atoll has created a formation that is 21 miles long (east to west) and 9 miles wide.
The atoll’s lagoon is a unique body of water. The lagoon encompasses an area of 76 square miles and boasts an average depth of just 16 feet. There are three access points from the Indian Ocean, with an average depth of 66 feet. The lagoon and its entrances are highly impacted by tidal flows from the ocean, resulting in strong currents at times. On occasions, at high tide, as much as two-thirds of the lagoon is above water.
The Aldabra atoll consists of a total of five islands, with four larger islands surrounding Aldabra proper. These islands, going in an anti-clockwise direction, include South Island (the largest), Malabar (also known as Middle Island), Polymnie Island, and Picard (or West Island).
Aldabra’s remote location has shielded it from the destructive influence of human civilization. Arab seafarers were among the first humans to set foot on the islands prior to the 14th century. These early explorers gave the island the name Al-Hadra because of its “harsh, sun-baked environment.” Expeditions were made to Aldabra over the centuries, but no attempts at colonization and settlement were made until the island passed into British control.
A lack of freshwater on Aldabra made it a brutal environment, and few attempts were made to set up a sustainable colony on the island. The last attempt to settle Aldabra came during the 1960s. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) considered establishing an airbase on the atoll and sounded out American interest in a joint project. However, with the support of scientists, the effort to establish a base on the atoll was abandoned.
Although settlements have popped up on Aldabra’s surrounding islands, the atoll itself has seen little interference from mankind. Today, its beaches, flora, and fauna remain free of the devastation that often comes with modern development.
Despite its small size, Aldabra is home to 307 species of animals and plants, some of which are unique to the coral atoll. The island is covered by different types of flora depending upon their location in relation to the coastal beaches. On the higher reaches of Aldabra, the landscape is dominated by thick scrub. Closer to the coast and in other low-lying areas, a mixture of trees, shrubs, herbs, and grasses are a more prominent feature.
In total, there are 19 endemic species of flora on Aldabra and 22 species that can only be found on the neighbouring islands in the Aldabra group. Aldabra is home to the tropicbird orchid, which is the national flower of Seychelles. The lagoon on Aldabra is surrounded by mangrove forests and features large, inland sea grass meadows. The mangrove forests provide another unique environment on the atoll, with seven species existing there, three of which are rare.
The highlight of Aldabra’s animal wildlife is the Aldabra giant tortoise. According to the United Nations, the coral atoll is home to roughly 150,000 Aldabra tortoises throughout the year. The massive herbivores feast on the variety of plants, trees, and algae that grow in and around the pools of water on Aldabra. Between the 16th and 19th century, the tortoise was the main lure for colonial powers looking to settle on Aldabra. Now, the protected atoll provides a home for 1,000 female tortoises that lay their eggs there every year.
Protection from the UN
Since 1982, Aldabra has been protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The island’s UNESCO status makes it one of two UNESCO sites in Seychelles, and its conservation and protection is the responsibility of the Seychelles Islands Foundation. Not only is the atoll itself protected from interference, a marine protected area was established that extends into the Indian Ocean out as far as 1 kilometre (.62 miles) to ensure the survival of its marine fauna as well as its terrestrial flora and fauna.
The atoll looks set to remain untouched and unspoilt in the coming years through tight control of access to the island. Ecotourism is highly controlled, with strictly enforced guidelines preventing the introduction of invasive species to the atoll. In addition, the island still has no people living on it and the only humans allowed to visit the island and spend significant time there are scientists and environmentalists keeping track of the conservation and protection efforts.