Much of the Mascarene Plateau (estimated size of 130,000 km2) was exposed over 16,000 years ago when the sea level was much lower. Now, only the mountain peaks, which form the granitic islands, and the more recent coral islands, exist above water. Such geological features and history make the Seychelles one of the world’s natural wonders.
Plants and animals of the older granitic islands are of mixed origins. With distant relatives in Asia and Africa, the endemic plants and animals of the granitic Seychelles adapted through various ancestral stages. Whilst the coral islands have a much more recent natural history, the biodiversity they support are also very interesting.
The Seychelles share many common links with Madagascar and Asia, but endemism is high for example in amphibians there is almost 90% endemism. In fact, Seychelles has the highest degree of amphibian endemism of any island in the world, holds the record for the largest seed, and many other wonders of the natural world. There are also 82 endemic plants, 2 endemic mammals and 12 endemic birds. Much work needs to be done to understand those species and their habitats.
<- The Valle de Mai – Garden of Eden (Starship)
One of the first remarks made by the early settlers was that Mahé consisted of thick forests impenetrable in most places. Within the granitic Seychelles, there are over 1,500 plant species which have been identified, of which about 25% are thought to be native.
According to recent surveys (1990’s) in the granitics, at least 10 endemic species could still be found at all the altitudes, except in the coastal region. However, endemicity is at its greatest at an altitude between 300 and 500m. Many areas have been set aside in Seychelles for the protection of plant and animal species and constitute at least 50% of the entire surface area of the archipelago.
Many of the plant species of the islands originate from the continental masses surrounding the Seychelles, namely Africa and Asia, and thus have strong affinities with plants of these land masses.
Unfortunately, many of the original forest and woodland species found on the islands are now restricted to certain locations. With the increase in agricultural development during the 18th and 19th centuries much of the coastal and mid-altitude forests were modified. Currently there are efforts to restore many of these original forests, for us and future generations to enjoy.
Forest habitat on Silhouette (SIF)
Animal life on these islands, a thousand miles from anywhere is unique but fragile. Consequently, given the small surface areas of the islands as well as the potential impact of the more aggressive introduced species, many endemic animal species have been brought back from the the brink of extinction.
The group of invertebrates comprises many marine invertebrate species (including corals and sea anemones), marine and terrestrial molluscs, spiders and insects. Although all of the species cannot be represented here, the most important groups are discussed in sub-links to this page.
More is known about the vertebrate species, which includes the tortoises and turtles (reptiles), the scops owl and sooty tern (birds); frogs and caecilians (amphibians), and bats (mammals). A number of introduced vertebrate species also exist, notably the aggressive rat and cat, as well as feral goats. Many introduced species also compete for food and territory once available to local and endemic residents of all the islands of the Seychelles.
A cute baby giant tortoise (SIF)
Sooty terns sunbathing(Starship)
|The Indian Ocean is the smallest of the three great oceans on the planet earth. The Seychelles is home to over 1000 species of fish, and countless forms of other marine life.
Many of those who spend time at sea encounter majestic and beautiful marine mammals, notably the whale, porpoise and the graceful dolphin. It is even possible to swim with some of these amazing creatures.
The coral reefs of the Seychelles may have taken 10,000s of years to reach their current size, and they support a very important number of fish and marine invertebrate species (for example sea cucumbers, jelly fish, and sea anemones). Depending on specific environmental conditions some species of coral form associations or groups such as the Acropora association and the Porites association.
Marine fish in the Seychelles fall into two main categories: bony fish and the sharks and rays. Some scientists are currently hoping to find the rare Coelacanth in Seychelles waters. Species of marine fish found in Seychelles range from gender-bending fish like the skunk clown fish and sea goldie, to moray eels, needle fish, groupers, snappers, barracudas, parrotfish, and damsels.
The Indian Ocean is also a whale sanctuary, with over twenty-one species observed.
The coast of the granitic islands, easily seen from the sky as one approaches the Seychelles islands by plane, comprises the beautiful sandy white beaches and precipitous and exposed granite boulders, beautifully carved by the action of waves over many millions of years.
Most infrastructure in the Seychelles is built on the narrow coastal plain of Mahé, which lie no more than two meters above sea level. These coastal calcareous deposits have accumulated over the last 6,000 years in tune with the last major sea-level change.
Waves carving beautiful monoliths of granite (Starship)
Typical coastal zonation on the granitic islands (Payet)
Remnants of coral growth, further inland ( e.g. on Silhouette) further support this theory that the sea level was much higher before the dawn of human civilization than it is now.
The coastal areas of the granitic islands are also enriched by the presence of several large bays, and romantic little coves.
Fringing reefs are also part of the coast, especially along the east coast of Mahé. They form an important part of traditional artisanal fisheries and many people enjoy on a daily basis the taste and smell of fried, curried or stewed fish. Tourism, now a core economic pillar, is heavily dependent upon the quality of the beaches and the reef.
Over time many painters have sought to capture the natural landscape of the granitic islands of the Seychelles. From Marianne North (1883) to Michael Adams and Donald Adelaide (present day), artists interpretations of these landscapes are often stunning, reproducing the various shades of green endemic palms, the steep slopes emphasizing the granite outcrops, the beautiful beaches adorned by coconut palms and graceful turquoise waters, and of course the birds.
So it is no wonder that the people of Seychelles also seek to preserve the natural landscape. Taking a drive into Sans Souci on Mahé, a helicopter ride over Morne Blanc or tour round the island by boat, presents a 3-dimensional perspective into the real beauty of this extraordinary landscape moulded by the forces of nature.
Many of the outer islands also have rather unique landscapes. For example, some coral islands have very high sand dunes formed by the action of the wind, and absolutely spotless lagoons teeming with marine life.