The twelve students and four teachers share their experience of the four days spent among the wildlife of one of Seychelles World Heritage Sites.
Early in the morning on Sunday 13th March 2016, a group of environmental enthusiasts left Mahe to head off for once in a life-time educational trip to Aldabra. The group comprised twelve students and four teachers from the top six outstanding Eco-Schools in Seychelles and from Friends of Vallee de Mai clubs on Praslin. The group of participants was under the leadership of Ms. Sonia Mancienne, the Head-teacher of Anse Royale primary school.
The trip is one which is full of fun and hands on activities which start as early as from 6 a.m. on some days due to the tide to late in the evening. Activities vary from snorkelling, turtle and crab monitoring, beach clean-up, walks and experiments. The trip is fully sponsored by Seychelles Islands Foundation, the organization which manages Seychelles two world heritage sites: Aldabra and Vallee de Mai. The participants share their daily experiences of their trip to Aldabra.
Day 1: Journey to a remote jewel in a vast ocean
So here it was – the first day of our trip to the jewel of the Indian Ocean. After all necessary logistics were sorted out, the group of twelve students and four teachers finally took off from Pointe Larue International airport aboard Island Development Company Beech Craft 1900. Thanks to the two competent pilots, Mr Marcus Labrosse and Donatien Lesperance, we finally approached the Assumption island. From the window we saw clouds floating below, like icebergs on the water.
Random rainbows fleetingly appeared and just after we heard this announcement: 'Very soon the plane will land on Assumption island. Before it does so, it will go around Aldabra, so that you can see the beauty of the atoll from the air'. There it was emerging slowly from the window. We craned our necks and snapped our cameras until she was revealed in all her glory, just like the aerial pictures from books we have seen so many times; Aldabra, a remote jewel in a vast ocean.
Once we safely landed on Assumption island, we were greeted by the island manager and started to load all the bags on a tractor which drove towards the beach. At the beach, boats were waiting for us to travel across the sea to Aldabra. Our journey across the sea was memorable – the sea was calm and clear, dolphins and turtles swam past the boats, sea birds flew on top and everything else was so perfect.
Arriving in the Bay of Picard Island (one of the islands which makes up Aldabra atoll), we got off the boat and were unbelievably welcomed by birds and reef sharks. We had the rest of the day to freshen up, get acquainted with the staff on the island and have a glimpse of the rest of the days' planned activities on the island.
Day 2: Exploring the atoll's mangrove forest and old ruins
As we set off early in the morning, we were reminded that nature was just at our footstep and nothing we have experienced back on Mahe island and other islands would appear to be the same on the atoll. In the good hands of skippers and rangers, we travelled across the atoll's massive lagoon to a mangrove forest at Bras M. Clairemont. Many were said by the rangers about this vast green ecosystem located along the edge of the lagoon which is the home of seven species of mangroves. As we floated through the mangrove forest, we started to see how important it was for the wildlife such as birds, hawksbill turtles, rays, sharks and fish.
Settling on the branches were nesting areas for a variety of birds such as the fregate birds. After hours spent in the forest, we headed back to the camp on Piccard island, where we were once greeted by one of the giant tortoises who remains at the camp and is known to all as 'Biskwi'.
The rest of the day we went on a guided tour to old ruins of the first settlement and did a beach clean-up. The beach clean-up is a regular task conducted by Aldabra staff so that rubbish are collected on time to avoid posing any threat to the wildlife especially turtles using the beach.
The day ended with a short quiz and students had to compete in groups to answer questions based on Aldabra. Joshua Sophola, one of the students who took part in the quiz explained that all groups were good at the quiz but at the end their group won the quiz. 'In all the questions were challenging but informative and we had fun' said Joshua.
At night time, the moment all of us had been waiting for, we went on a night time exploration along the shore. It was time to spot as many turtles we could find, laying their eggs in holes dug in the sand. Thanks to a moonlit night, we managed to spot more than three turtles (mostly green turtles). After we silently observed the turtles at work, we all walked back to camp with big smiles on our face, looking forward for the next day.
Day 3: Removal of invasive plants and more boat trips followed by snorkelling
It was another new day and the Island Manager of Aldabra had planned a special task for us before we leave the camp to visit other parts of the atoll. In many places of the atoll, invasive species threaten the existence of the endemic ones. We certainly felt we can also join forces and pluck out invasive plant species. Thereafter, we headed off for a second boat trip within the lagoon. This time more birds were spotted on branches of mangroves.
The highlight in the next few minutes was the fluffy hatchlings sitting proudly in their nests. Heading back to the camp we had another hospitable and well prepared lunch, for us all from Aldabra's main cook, Giovanie.
After we had some time to rest and chat over the morning's activities, we then headed off for snorkelling at La Gigi. It was low tide and the water was shallow, so we managed to walk along the edge of the lagoon. Along the way we spotted a variety of marine life of all shapes, sizes and colour, hiding amongst the corals as well as large chitons attached to the rock. Some of the participants claimed to have seen such marine molluscs for the first time.
Students and adults who were good swimmers managed to snorkel amongst sharks and other marine animals. It was the most daring act I have ever witnessed in my life, but to my amazement and of others, the sharks were harmless.
Our third day ended with a presentation of the upcoming Aldabra House project, yet to come to fruition on the main island of Mahe.
Day 4: Last day on the island
During the last day on the island we managed to experience turtle hatchlings emerge from their nests. It was a race for their lives, as the turtle hatchlings slowly pushed themselves out to sea. For most of us it was partly a sad moment, most of the hatchlings ended up as food for the sharks lurking along the shore. It then came to mind why we should continue to protect turtles since not all hatchlings make it to adulthood and those that do make it, spends a long time to get there. We then set off for a walk to 'Basen Kabri'.
On our way, we spotted a variety of birds such as Madagascar's kestrel, drongo, coucal, Aldabra fody etc… The walk was challenging as we walk in the blazing hot sun stepping over sharp and jagged edges and holes in the limestone. Walking back to the camp involved using a different route which was less challenging. After spending time to catch up our breath and charging up at the camp for the rest of the day's activities, we headed off to one of the channels, where water flow in and out of the lagoon. It was spectacular to compare the differences between the flow and amount of water which passes through when it is high tide.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at the camp; watching a documentary about Aldabra, treasure hunting and doing sport activities. The students and adults competed against each other in various sporting activities. Amongst the spectators were giant tortoises, crabs and birds. The highlight of the moment was seeing a coconut crab removing the husk from a fallen coconut – he truly wanted to impress us with his skill before we leave the island the following day.
As it is customary each time when a new group of students and teachers spend their last day on the island, a special dinner and entertainment were organised. The entertainment was an hour long and was specially prepared by the students for the Aldabra staff. Poems and songs about the students' experiences on Aldabra were presented. Followed by a thought provoking drama, based on the time when the atoll was being exploited for its riches. There were some hilarious impressions by some students from the group based on some of the Aldabra staff.
The night ended with lots of laughter and good chats.
Sadly the group of participants left the following day to return to Mahe and this is what each one had to say about their memory of Aldabra:
Alvania Lawen: 700 miles away, the only place where sharks roam around freely in shallow turquoise waters. Further along, under the royal blue sea that resembles a million sapphires, lays hundreds of turtles, both hawksbill and green as well as a variety of species of fish, forests of corals awaits you... all multi coloured. This paradise on earth holds all the most valuable jewels and wonders. You can't take it all in at one go. You truly feel peaceful here amongst the treasures of the Indian Ocean. You simply cannot begin to capture the beauty of Aldabra with a camera.
Maryssa Samedi: Aldabra you can't describe it with words, its prettier than pretty. Actually it's beautiful, colourful and full of life. It's quite hard to describe Aldabra.
Emerline Forte: Aldabra was a chance of a life time. I would like just to stay on Aldabra. Thank you to everyone who made this trip possible.It was the greatest experience and will forever be in my memories.
Joshua Sofola: Aldabra- an atoll of importance insanely awesome and indescribable. No cities can overpower the beauty of Aldabra with the friendly inhabitant. No other place can be compared to this jewel.
Alina Estico: No amount of words could describe my experience of going to Aldabra. It was like heaven on Earth. As you get close to the atoll you could see the wonderful clear blue water and it was simply amazing.
Nicholas Denis; I am so proud to be on Aldabra. It is an experience of a lifetime. I came so close to sea turtles and sharks. It is a dream come true. The animals, both land and sea are harmless and friendly. The air is clean and fresh and the water is clear, green, blue and cool.
Keith Francoise: the last day was a very sad day as it was hard to leave Aldabra and the wonderful people we have met there. The only wonderful moment on that day was when we saw the pilot whales, on our way to Assumption.
Thank you Seychelles Island Foundation for financing this entire education trip. It meant a lot to all our students and teachers who had once in a lifetime opportunity to visit one of Seychelles precious jewel and natural heritage.
Contributed by the Environmental Education Unit of Ministry of Education and the Environmental Education Section of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change