Jean-Claude "Zan Klod" Pascal MAHOUNE (Anthropologist/Political Scientist)
The most easterly group in the Seychelles archipelago, those coralline islands lie east of the 56th meridian and just inside the Indian Ocean cyclone belt. Situated on a shallow bank, the group consists of Coetivy island itself, Lys Islet and Fortune Bank. The "vast, crescent-shaped submarine Mascarene Ridge which sweeps down from Mahé and Praslin in the North, to Mauritius and Réunion in the South forms part of the shelf on which the group stands.
Coetivy was discovered in 1771 by a French navigator, Chevalier de Coetivy, transferred from Mauritius to Seychelles in 1908 and administered for a long time by the Delhomme family. Settled for almost two centuries, with some thick-walled ‘century-old’ buildings, it derived its drinking water from wells.
Covering 918 hectares, it is the largest sand-cay in Seychelles...In the past; it had one of the richest coconut harvest…tens of thousands of nuts collected every week. These were processed by the island’s copra mill and shipped aboard a Ceylonese (today Sri Lankan) vessel which came in once a month. To help with the coconut and copra harvests was a species of wild donkeys which roamed around the island. The waters were very rich in fish with ‘enormous groupers lurking in the reef caves" (Alexander, 1972). It exported dried fish and tortoiseshell back then.
The small islet is joined to Coetivy by a reef.
BANC DE FORTUNE
Named by the French explorer, Kerguelen, after his ship "La Fortune" as he explored it in 1779, it is said to be the most "easterly landfall" in Seychelles lying 42 kilometres east of Coetivy.
FORMER "BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORIES (BIOT) The nearest of the coralline Islands, the Amirantes (200 and 400 kilometres south-west of Mahé), had been acknowledged as part of Seychelles since the French rule in the eighteenth century whereas the status of the far Outer islands remained unclear.
In 1879, the Board of Civil Commissioners9formed in 1872) asked the British government to formally confirm the annexation to Seychelles of the Cosmoledo group of Astove, Assomption and Aldabra and the Farquhar group of Providence and Farquhar atolls.
In 1892, Thomas Griffith, the Administrator of Seychelles, travelled to Aldabra and formally affirmed the British claim over the Cosmoledo and Farquhar islands as were the Chagos islands from the early nineteenth century(Shillington,2009).
The largest coral atoll in the world, it is 30 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide but less than 20 metres high. As the most westerly island of Seychelles, the "Aldabra group" includes Assumption, Cosmoledo and Astove Islands.
The magnificent 135-square kilometer ‘shimmering green, blue and aquamarine salt water lagoon "(Alexander, 1972) could have given Aldabra its name derived from an Arabic word as it was first recorded on Arabic charts. Bradley (1940) wrote that it was first mentioned in 1511 as "Ilhadara’ and later as "Alhadra’-from the Arabic word "Al Khadra"-the green……. or "Al Dabaran"--one of the brightest stars of the Taurus group (Filliot, 1982). For historian Bradley this star could have helped the Arab captains to set their course when off Aldabra.
It is the home of a million seabirds and land birds including the only flightless bird of the region. The tyomityo after the extinction of the dodo in Mauritius and…..of Rodrigues, sea turtles and the largest number of land tortoises in the world---more than the Galapagos.
The land rim of the Aldabra atoll has a circumference of 96 kilometers and is split into four islands: Ile Picard(West Island), Polymie Island, Ile Malabar (Middle Island) and South Island or Main Island.
The latter is the largest of the four land segments where "most of the giant land tortoises roamed wild in harsh and monotonous terrain which is covered with thick, coarse pemphis bush and lined by a bleak coral cliff coast"(Alexander, 1972). A feature of the Aldabra coast has always been the ‘curious champignon coral which has been worn away by the seas, and scatters the shoreline as isolated, weirdly-sculptured mushroom-shaped grey crags and pinnacles,
Obstructed by islets and reefs, it is navigable by small craft at high tide and when the sea is relatively calm, the Lanier Pass being the passage usually taken through the Western Channel. The 3.000-metre ‘wide green-blue lagoon scattered with islets’ with 7 or 8 mangrove between "La Passe Femme’ in the north and La Passe Grabeau in the south. The exposed reef Iles Chalen is just inside the western end. In the West is Iles Moustiques-a mangrove swamp.
The biggest island in the western sector is Ile Esprit (Euprates Island) and two (2) islets-Gro Ilot- one near Johnny Channel and the other situated close to South Island…mangrove marshes (?).
Cocoanut Island is in the eastern sector and is the "hub of a scattering of 60 or more tiny islets, rocks, sand-banks and coral outcrops". Aldabra is said to have "an assortment of rare and unusual wild life…that a trip there is compared to visiting a museum of natural history" (Alexander, 1972)
Grande Passe (Main Channel)
With an anchorage 7 to 8 metres deep, 700-metre wide and coral-fringed it is said to be a fast-flowing passage….spring tides ripping through it at 6 to 7 knots. It runs about 2.5 km into the lagoon.
Johnny Channel and Passe Houareau (East Channel) which is 350-metre wide. It was believed that the German commerce raider Königsberg and her supply vesselsSomali and Kronborg passed through it during the First World War. Königsberg is said to have been the only German warship in the Indian Ocean at the outbreak of the First World War.
The wide green blue lagoon of Aldabra is scattered with islets. The 3000 metre wide Western Channel had no fewer than 7 or 8 mangroves islets between La Passe Femme in the north and La Passe Grabeau in the south. Inside the western ende is the exposed reef Iles Chalen. In the west Iles Moustiques—virtually mere mangrove marshes.
Ile Esprit or Euprates Island is the biggest island in the western sector … and Gro Ilot near Johnny Channel are the two (2) islets the other situated close to South Island Ile Michel or Cocoanut Island-a sandy, grass-covered island grown with coconut palms and filaos, in the eastern sector, the hub of "a scattering of 60 or more tiny islets, rocks, sand-banks and coral outcrops". Aldabra is said to support ‘an assortment of rare and unusual wild life…is compared to visiting a museum of natural history". (Alexander, 1972) Aldabra’s marine, bird and wild life are protected as is its shore and reef and its giant tortoises protected over 100 years….As far back as 1972 there were between 70,000 and 100,000 --- a greater number than even the Galapagos island- the main concentration was on South Island …and big colonies at Anse Mais.
The sea or green turtles were slaughtered in very great numbers in the past---as many as three thousand (3,000) were exported to the British market "to satisfy gourmet desires for rich soup and exotic stakes" while the hawksbill turtle was hunted for its "beautiful shell". In the 60’s Aldabra was transferred to the British Indian Ocean Territory to be turned into a military base along with Farquhar, Desroches and the Chagos Archipelago to be turned sadly into a military base.
The island’s original name was "Juan de Nova" (pronounced "Zann Nova" by Seychellois elders) was sighted by the Portuguese navigator Juan de Nova who sighted the group of coralline islands during his visit in the Indian Ocean in 1501.The low-lying atoll which lies in the cyclone zone and is more exposed to the sea than either Aldabra or Cosmoledo ,and inner lagoon rather shallow, was the first part of Seychelles to be sighted by European explores.
An old Seychelles Government report wrote that "some of the coralline islands, Farquhar especially, are of evil repute for sailors and have proved the graveyard of many a fine ship" (Alexander, 1972). They lie on a shallow bank of sand and coral "that simply materializes in mid-ocean from tremendous depths. The bank is not wide. Not far from the islands the sea-bottom plunges away steeply again". The ‘Aymestry" is said to have struck a reef only 1, 5 kilometres from Ile des Déposés.
Farquhar island is more exposed to the sea than either Aldabra or Cosmoledo The schooner "Isle of Farquhar" in the past run by Mr. Paul Moulinié was the most regular caller to the Farquhars which did not get many visits.
Farquhar, the most southerly islands of Seychelles, renamed in honour of Sir Robert Farquhar who was one of the British Governors of Mauritius was transferred to the BIOT in 1965 and retransferred to its rightful owners upon independence.
This is where the island settlement-"Grande Poste" was situated and where the labourers hired from Mahé used to "while away months in dreary loneliness catching and curing fish, and producing copra, to be able to pick up a nest-egg on their return to Victoria and maybe marry and settle down (Alexander, 1972).
It is the highest Farquhar landmark-sand dunes piled up 23 metres above sea-level.
Manahas lies between North and South Island.
It lies 2, 5 kilometres south-west of South Island
Lying at the north-west of the atoll the cluster of three (3) islets consists of Ile Déposés which is said to have been inhabited by "Creoles" in yesteryears, Ile du Milieu and Ile Lapin.
A key navigational landmark.
Desroches was named after a French Governor in Mauritius who ran the islands with Pierre Poivre. The 402-hectare island is said to have produced at one time in its history the best nuts in the Indian Ocean and copra was its main export. It was surrounded with a good fishing ground where crayfish abounded… The island which lies around 298 kilometres from Victoria and 32 kilometres east of Poivre Island is barely above the high-tide watermark. Around eight (8) kilometers north of Desroches lies "Shark Rocks". Desroches which became part of the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1965 was transferred back to the independent republic upon independence (See Also Amirantes).
CHAGOS ARCHIPELAGO (BRITISH INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORY)
The archipelago, about 320 km long, north to south was discovered by the Portuguese navigator, Pedro Mascarenas as he explored the Indian Ocean in the early part of the 16th century. He is said to have given Chagos its name in memory of Christ’s wounds (Alexander, 1972). Some 2,520 km from Port Louis, Mauritius, and 1,760 km east of Mahé, the ‘mid-ocean chain of flat, low-lying" island was administered from Victoria in Seychelles.. Copra was the main economic activity of the islands which produced the best in the world. With Agalega Islands yet another dependency of Mauritius, they were two (2) of the world’s chief producers of coconut oil. The copra plantations were managed by Moulinié and Company (Seychelles) Limited. The "dozens of atolls, sand cays, reefs and banks scattered over a shallow bank on the submarine Maldive Ridge".
In "History of Modern Seychelles" (2009) the author writes that the British government had in September 1965 "secretly agreed" to detach some islands from Mauritius and Seychelles. This was of course against international conventions. It created the so-called British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT}. According to the author (Shillington 2009), the Mauritians were virtually blackmailed into accepting the excision of the Chagos islands and the so-called "resettlement of the "Ilois". It was of course in defiance of the Charter of the United Nations to move permanent residents from a territory against their will. The Commonwealth Office is said to have admitted to the Governor of Mauritius in November 1965….."We cannot…assert that there are no permanent inhabitants…it was decided that the best policy would be to avoid any reference to the term ‘permanent residents’ with regard to Diego Garcia and refer instead simply to a resettlement scheme"
On 8 November 1965 a British government decree set up the B.I.O.T and th Chagos islands were leased to the U.S.A. on a 50-year lease with an option to renew. Diego Garcia was to become the largest military airbase in the Western Indian Ocean destined to be used as a major US bombing base during the Gulf and Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003(Shillington 2009:72). The remainder of the B.I.O.T, were made up of the former Outer Islands of Seychelles consisting of the Cosmoledo group of Aldabra, Assomption and Astove, the Farquhar group and Desroches(the easternmost of the Amirantes). It was after the "excision" of the Outer islands that the Legislative Council of Seychelles was informed….not being consulted beforehand and the Governor of Seychelles became the Commissioner of the B.I.O.T. The "excisions" had reduced the territorial waters of Seychelles, with its fishing rights, by around fifty per cent (50%) (Shillington 2009: 74)
It consists of five (5) or six (6) distinct groups (Peros Banhos, Salomon Islands, Eagle Islands, Three Brothers, Danger Island group, Egmont Islands and Diego Garcia.
Peros Banhos consists of twenty nine(29) islets and it has been described as "a necklace of coral islands lying in the blue sea like emerald beads dropped there by the gods"* (Bulpin).
Salomon Islands is described as an atoll of 11 islets and sand cays ringing an oval lagoon, the most fertile in the archipelago, it was periodically visited by vessels from Port Louis. The islets included, Ile Boddam - on which was a settlement-Ile Takamaka and Ile Fouquet.
Eagle Islands, Three Brothers, Danger (or Six Islands and Egmont Islands were all coconut islands. On the Egmont Islands group there was a settlement as well, rich in coconuts and visited periodically from Mauritius.
Great Chagos Bank lies in the vicinity of Eagle and Egmont islands.
Today, one of the most important U.S.A. bases in the world, its native population has been deported to living as destitute refugees. The most southern and most important landmark of the Chagos archipelago it was described as enclosing "a superb green-blue lagoon", 20km in length and 5 to 10 kilometres in width making a "wonderful anchorage" used as an Allied flying boat base during World War II. The 8-kilometre wide entrance to the vast lagoon was obstructed by three (3) islets-East Islet, Middle Islet, and West Islet and coral reefs-dividing the entrance into three channels: Barton Pass and Main Pass.
© Jean-Claude "Zan Klod" Pascal MAHOUNE/Ivans K ANDRE
Photos: ’Outer Islands of Seychelles"Skerrett/Pool/Skerret
ISLANDS OF THE SEYCHELLES ARCHIPELAGO (Part 7)
Jean-Claude, P. MAHOUNE(Anthropologist/Political Scientist)
1. ALPHONSE GROUP
The ‘Alphonse Group’, consisting of coralline islands , lie around 80 km south-south-west of the Amirantes Bank and 380 km from Mahé . It is made up of Alphonse itself, Bijoutier and St. François
THE GRANITIC INNER ISLANDS OF THE ‘MAHĒ GROUP’
Mahé is by far the biggest of the granitic islands of Seychelles--—27 kilometres long and 5 to 8 kilometres wide, surrounded by sister islands and islets!
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