We left the ship at 6:30 a.m. by Zodiac boat for a wet beach landing to be on Aldabra Atoll (Picard Island) near the Ranger Station. Since being designated in 1982 as a World Heritage Site, the area has been administered by the Seychelles Island Foundation (S.I.F.). Scientists are resident on the island for six month assignments. Presently there are just over two dozen people in residence.
We were fortunate on the beach to discover a green sea turtle who had just laid her eggs and was covering them up before returning to the ocean. These turtles lay 1,000 eggs and typically only one baby turtle survives. Aldabra has one of the largest populations of nesting green sea turtles in the Western Indian Ocean.
The island is teeming with sea birds (see our prior blog with photographs from our Zodiac ride). We were not able to capture a photograph of the very fast running Aldabra white-throated rail — the island’s flightless bird that is unique to the atoll. We also saw several of the world’s largest anthropods, the coconut crab. When we ran across a hermit crab with it’s “home” on its back, scurrying across the beach, we were able to make a nice portrait.
Aldabra Atoll is home to the largest population of giant tortoises in the world, with the latest count of Aldabra great tortoises numbering around 150,000. Until recently, the rest of the Seychelles Islands were devoid of the tortoises, as they had been hunted to extinction over the past 250 years. In order to assure their survival longer term as the world’s sea levels rise, the SIF has moved tortoises to other islands for breeding (e.g., Curieuse Island — see a prior blog). These large,stocky animals can grow to 4 feet in length and weigh up to 500 to 700 pounds when mature. They are predominantly plant eaters and have evolved a long neck in order to reach some of their food supplies. The tortoises around the Ranger Station were quite tame and not afraid of us as we walked by (and they were great portrait subjects!).
The scientists in residence are very careful to NOT introduce any new species onto the atoll/islands. They live mostly on fresh fish and seafood caught daily along with frozen fruits and vegetables that are resupplied by ship (on pallets!) every three months. There is a small botanical garden with crops that don’t drop seeds — to prevent their introduction into the atoll’s ecology. When we disembarked from the ship for each visit to the atoll, we had to dip our shoes in a sanitizing water solution and were forbidden to bring any food or beverages to the atoll.
After several hours ashore it was sadly time to depart by Zodiac boats back to the ship, anchored away from the atoll to avoid dropping the anchor onto the coral reefs.