Seychellois people are proud of their natural heritage

Bright smiles and signs from the students participating in the Protected Area day March.

Photo: Mimi Shaftoe

Hi! I’m Mimi Shaftoe, and I’m currently living in the Seychelles. I’m here with my friend Olivia for a four month internship with the Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles, a local NGO dedicated to providing environmental conservation education to children and youth in schools. I can’t wait to share my adventures with you in this blog!

Also check out our new Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles Instagram account for more about what Olivia and I are doing here.

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It’s so funny how much more you notice about your surroundings when you’re away from home. The plants for instance seem more alive, and they have such huge leaves! The vibrant greenery here is a striking contrast to the grey winter city landscapes in Canada where the trees are sleepily awaiting spring. Even commonplace creatures here like the giant tortoises my aunt has as pets, crow-sized fruit bats, house geckos, and the small orange birds called fodies, which are as common here as sparrows back home, are exciting for Olivia and I. Already, in the three weeks I’ve been here I’ve seen so much beautiful wildlife.

View from along the Anse Major hiking trail.  (Photo: Mimi Shaftoe)

On a hike up Morne Blanc mountain, we saw native thief palms, named ‘Lattanyen’ in Creole, with black spikes on the stems of their leaves, and soaring tropic birds with their long white tails. We heard the loud peeping of one of the world’s smallest species of frog: the tiny sooglossids, though we’ve yet to see one. Kayaking up a river near Port Launay, we saw colourful red and blue fiddler crabs waving their one oversized white claw, and various types of mangroves with their complex root systems. On our first few snorkeling ventures so far, we had not made it all the way out to the reef before getting distracted by the multi-coloured tropical fish, electric blue, bright red and yellow, darting among seaweed and coral.

Underneath the amazement and awe I feel at seeing these incredible animals and plants is a quiet but persistent undercurrent of urgency. These ecosystems are fragile, after all. Next time I come, how much more will be gone? The country is made up of many small islands, so the endemic wildlife here is particularly susceptible to introduced species, habitat destruction, and the effects of climate change. Before human settlement, there were no land mammals in Seychelles besides several species of bats, so the arrival of black rats for example, has wreaked considerable havoc on endemic birds and invertebrates. Human construction projects, from hotels to reclaimed land, have destroyed many important habitats, and coral reef bleaching events are becoming more of an issue.

The Protected Area Day March took the students through the capital: from the Botanical Gardens  the National Archives. Signs read in creole: "Protect our species" and "Marine Parks help protect our fish." (Photo: Mimi Shaftoe)

But the Seychellois people are proud of their natural heritage, and they are taking action to protect it for future generations. For instance, hotel projects are now required to undergo rigorous environmental impact assessments, and there’s a new ban on plastic bags coming into effect this summer. In the few weeks we’ve been here, we’ve visited school wildlife clubs, attended the national World Wetland Day and Protected Area Day events, and been to the launch of a community-based conservation organization. Seeing so many passionate students, teachers and citizens working towards a more sustainable future is inspiring. I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures the next few months hold!

Staff from the Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre show the visiting class a critically endangered Black Mud Terrapin. (Photo: Mimi Shaftoe)

One young Canadian is travelling to the Seychelles Islands as part of in a journey of experiential learning. A\J editorial intern, Mimi Shaftoe, shares her thoughts, experiences and insights in travelling to an island nation that is facing an existential threat from rising ocean levels. She'll share stories of the people that she meets, the lessons that she's learning, and hopes that she holds for the future of both the Seychelles and our planet.

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