The Alphonse islands have been described as “tiny, isolated specks in a big blue sea”. The sea bottom between the Amirantes Bank and the Alphonse shelf fluctuates between 300 and 100 metres. To the west, south and east of the Alphonse shelf the bottom plunges to 5,000 metres or more.
The 164-hectare island has been named after the French mariner Captain Alphonse de Pontevez in honour of his birthday. He sighted the island on 27 June 1730 returning from Juan de Nova(Farquhar) on his ship “Le Lys”. The next day St Francois was sighted and named ,lies 368 km south-west of Mahé.
On the rim of a submerged atoll, south of Alphonse, 8 miles in diameter and consisting of a group of sand and coral banks, lies two(2) islets, Bijoutier and St. Francois. The two(2) may not be more than 25 acres but the atoll itself extends over 50,000 acres.
ST. FRANCOIS ISLAND
The low-lying flat island lies 395 km from Victoria and 8 km south-south-west of Bijoutier. The passage between the two islands is only possible at high tide.
2. PROVIDENCE GROUP
Comprising of five(5) islands, Providence Island itself, Cerf Island(‘Banc du Sud” ), St Pierre Island, Wizard Reef and Umzinto Bank, the group lies around 320 km south-west of the Alphonse group, 48 km north of Farquhar.
The atoll , said to have been named after the stranding of a French frigate, ”Heureuse” on its reef in 1763, is 624 km from Victoria near the northern end of a 40- km long reef running north to south, covered with sand-cays and sand banks. It proved the salvation(Providence) of the French sailors
West of the 155-hectare atoll, the sea-bottom plunges steeply to 160 to 200 metres only,2.5 km beyond the fringing reef.
Lying near the southern end of the Providence bank, it is also known as Bancs du Sud or the South Banks visible 13 to 18 km off because of its “fringe of tall green palms”
ST PIERRE ISLAND
St Pierre which is an island of raised coral, hardly 16 metres at its highest point , sits on its own little submarine bank. The sea-bottom, within half a mile of its shores, drops sharply to depths of 700 metres.
It is a small bare island, barely 1.5 km in diameter . It was very rich in guano , being a great roost and breeding spot for seabirds , between September and November, with its ‘”bleak rocky surface”.
Much of the rich guano phosphates was shipped to New Zealand over the years.
Its “rugged coral reefs” are eroded with numerous blowholes through which the breaking waves are said to “ force themselves with spectacular jets”!
St Pierre is 32 km west of Providence Atoll, 288 km from Astove Island, the most southerly island of the Seychelles
A “navigational danger”, visible by day, the reef lies 37 km north of Providence Island. It is about 3 km long and 1.5 km wide.
Wizard Island is two(2) miles long, the land being sandy and fairly open. The ‘Merry Monarch” was wrecked in 1874 on her way from India to Boston. In 1922 ,some of the wreckage was still seen lying on the Southern side of the ‘island’
It is very narrow, one and three quarters miles long.
It lies on the Southern reef and is very small, twenty(20) feet high. It is one and a half miles westward of Wizard Island and the South-East passage is between them.
“Discovered” in 1896 by a steamship of the same name(well known in South African ports), the bank of coral reef and sand lies east-south-eastward of Cerf Island.
3. COSMOLEDO GROUP
This group of island ,which shares a ‘common bank’ ,has been classified as a ‘group’ consisting of Cosmoledo Atoll, Assumption and Astove Island is . It is around 960 km from Mahé, being the most distant of the Seychelles’ archipelago. Astove, which is 270 km from the north-west tip of Madagascar, is the most southerly island of Seychelles, Assumption being the most westerly---600 km from the African coast.
In the past they were ‘loosely’ termed the “Aldabra Islands” …as they appeared on maps.
Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the French underwater explorer, is said to have described the waters around the islands as “a submarine paradise”…..“Never before had we seen so many fish in one place”….
He encountered “an unbelievable profusion of tropical fish of every shape and colour, with enormous vivid sea-fans everywhere”. The reefs were said to hold more marine life than anything he had seen in the Red Sea. He said it was like “fairyland”.
The atoll not only has been the breeding ground of green turtles but home to large colonies of frigates, terns shearwaters and booby birds. The island was well known for the export of what the Chinese called ‘trepang’ and the French “bêche de mer”(sea cucumbers or sea slugs) , a delicacy used as an “aphrodisiac’ ,shipped to the Chinese community in Mauritius. It also exported mother-of-pearl shells mainly to West Germany. The contents of the mother of pearl shell was said to be “more meaty” than oysters.
For the whole group of islands some 6,000 turtles were captured annually for the manufacture of ‘calipee’ and ‘quitouze’(‘salted turtle’) which is illegal now. During the colonial era the yoke of the gulls(Sterna Fullginosa) collected during the breeding season was exported, preserved in salt and boric acid, to Europe. As many as 35 tasks or six(6) tons of yolk were exported in a year.
The island which has the length of 16 km and width of 11 km lies 928 km from Mahé. The Cosmoledo lagoon is shallow though it reaches the depth of 10 metres in parts, obstructed with rocks but teeming with fish as the sea outside.
The principal islands are Menai, North, Goelette, Polyte, Wizard and South.
It is the largest island of the group, in the centre of the lagoon with tall mangrove trees, sixty(60) feet high and on the north-east is a ridge of sand hills abot 40 ft high.
It is at the Northern point of the atoll reef while GOELETTE is south eastern, a distance offour(4) miles from the eastern point of North Island.
It is a narrow strip of land nearly a mile in length lying North and South.
Assumption was named after the Catholic feast which fell on the day following its discovery by the French Captain Nicholas Morphey on 14 August 1756. He took formal possession of Seychelles(‘Séchelles’) for the King of France in November of the same year.
It is 16 km long and 2.5 km wide with “low cliff shoreline and sandhills” which barely reaches twenty(20) metres and lies 1008km from Victoria. Assumption Island is 660 km from Tanzania on the African mainland, 368 km north-east of the Comoros and 29 km south of Aldabra.
With the ‘beautifully clear’ waters surrounding the island and the abundance of fish in the fringing reef, nearly two-thirds of the underwater photography in Commandant’s Cousteau box office, “The Silent World” hit was filmed around Assumption island..
The island was once a “guano gold mine” pure phosphates were mined from open pits mainly. Salt fish was also an important export as was ‘calipee’ obtained from a quota of a thousand(1000) green turtles a year to be used for the Lord Mayor’s soup in London.. The ‘wholesale slaughter…was thinning the turtle ranks alarmingly” then(Alexander, 1972).
The atoll is 3 km long and has an area of 280 hectares. The most “southerly link in the Seychelles’chain” it lies 912 km from Mahé, 37 km from Cosmoledo and 450 km from ‘les Grandes Comores”.
It is encircled by corals on which ‘the sea pounds heavily…..surges strongly into the lagoon filling it with a shimmering expanse of blue- green water at high tide”
In 1911 a ‘modest’ treasure trove of 107 silver coins with a quantity of forks, spoons, shoe buckles and bosun’s whistle was found.
© ZAN KLOD(Jean-Claude ,P.MAHOUNE)
© Ivans ANDRĒ
PHOTOS(Outer Islands of Seychelles(Skerrett/Pool)