I travelled to the paradise islands of the Seychelles in 2009 to undertake research on environmental education as part of my masters degree thesis. The children of the Seychelles are fortunate to have wildlife clubs offering exciting and inspiring activities associated with each primary and secondary school. These clubs are co-ordinated by the local NGO Wildlife Club Seychelles who are committed to providing the islands youth with opportunities to learn about the fragile ecosystems in which they live and play. You can read my research paper on the effect this education has on both children and their parents here. All of the images on this page can be purchased as prints 10% of the cost of a print from the Seychelles page will be donated to Wildlife Club Seychelles.
It is safe to say that I was not the typical visitor to the Seychelles. The 5 star resorts, white sand and turquoise water are a magnet for honeymoon couples and the well-to-do. Fitting neither of these descriptions I was singled out for special attention at the immigration desk and my dishevelled appearance prompted questions about whether I had sufficient funds for my trip. A non-existent credit card calmed my inquisitors and with 350 pounds in my pocket I set out to survive for 2 months on what most visitors would be spending per night.
All the blues
The Island of Mahé is home to about 90% of the Seychelles population one of whom, a gardener named Yvon, would become my host for a few weeks. The warmth and kindness with which Yvon welcomed me was touching as were his offers to cook for me most evenings. As neither Yvon nor I were well off we would always be looking for the cheapest ingredients and were fortunate that his garden could provide us with a great many vegetables and fruits including green papaws which, with considerable pride, Yvon would transform into a beautiful chutney. Most nights we would have a coconut fish curry to go with our harvest. Fish, as you might expect is a staple on the Seychelles and the Seychellois take a delight in eating it. Yvon would proudly announce most evenings that we would be dining on curry made from "the face of the parrot fish". Fish head curry might not sound that appetising but fish face curry had a ring to it that took me several days to get used to. You wont be surprised to know that the face of a fish famous for biting into coral reefs with its strong bony mouth is not the meatiest of morsels. Despite the reduced protein intake and overdoses of heavily sweetened lemon grass tea I was able to finalise my study, meet those with the authority to grant me the permissions I needed and take up an office in the ministry for education.
Life after leaving Yvon became a lot harder. I took to sleeping rough on an isolated beach on the west coast of the island. Whilst sleeping on a deserted coral sand beach in the Indian ocean may sound idyllic I often found the daily routine it necessitated tedious, lonely and boring. Every day I would wake at sunrise and quickly dismantle my hammock so as not to be seen. It was a three kilometre walk along the beach to a bus that then took an hour to cross the islands. Once in Victoria I would pick up three banana sweet-balls (a palm full of food) for breakfast and lunch on my way to the office. At the ministry I would quickly change into a shirt and smart trousers and begin my working day. In the afternoon the process would be reversed. As I sat being destroyed by sandflies on the beach whilst I waited for it to become dark enough to sling my hammock I would fish for my supper but rarely catch anything and resort to dahl cooked over and open fire. One time during a national holiday when the buses didn't run I ate one bread roll over the course of three days. My isolation and hunger growing I got a good insight into how hard it is to put environmental concerns first when your hunger fills you entire future and I began to unashamedly fish in an area that I knew was a marine reserve. It did not improve my catch rate. Whilst the days were hard my beach was beautiful and its sunrises and sunsets were food for my camera.
I spent around a month on the beach. It was an emotional roller-coaster and one I would on the balance of things not like to repeat. There were moments of blissful serenity and moments where I revelled in the freedom I had. I would wash every day in a brackish lagoon behind the beach and the moments of peace this simple activity gave me from the incessant sandflies would raise my spirits. Playing in the water, collecting cowrie shells and befriending an exhausted sanderling on migration would all fill my heart with joy before an unsuccessful fishing session, an infected sandfly bite or just the constant loneliness of my situation would bring me crashing back down again. I became almost paranoid that my illegal sleeping out would be discovered and that I would be kicked off the islands before my data was collected and though I craved company withdrew more and more away from people when I wasn't at work. I was finally able to leave the beach after three long weeks and able to visit La Digue, Praslin and Cousin Islands. As I left I counted the sand fly bites that I could see in the mirror. There were over 300 on my back and arms alone.
Anse Source D'argent
The serenity and comfort of La Digue was a soothing balm indeed. This beautiful little island where bicycles rather than cars are the main form of transportation was my home for two days. Walking around the island and spotting the rare La Digue paradise fly catcher was a real treat, as was sleeping in a bed for the first time in what felt like a life time. As I walked back from the famous Anse Source D'argent beach (which I'd accessed by climbing down the edge of a helicopter landing pad rather than pay the 10 Euro entry) I met a local who kindly offered me a bed in his house for a night or two. As we reached his house I told him how much I was looking forward to staying in a home for the night, he agreed and told me he had just got out of prison. There's no manual that teaches you how to react to that sort of news but casual inquiries over a cup of tea revealed his incarceration was as a result of failure to pay child support rather than any of the more gristly options my mind had been exploring.
La Digue sunrise
Cousin Island is a very special place indeed. Managed by Nature Seyhelles the island is a rodent free bird reserve harbouring some of the words most endangered species and some 100 year old giant tortoises to. For me though the most amazing part of the island was the lack of fear the birds that live and breed here exhibit. Having never been hunted by humans the birds hear treat us just like any other large, non threatening mammal and allow you to get close enough to touch them as they go about their natural behaviour. Tourists visit once a day on a pre-arranged tour and get to see some of the islands highlights. Those scientists lucky enough to spend time researching the islands rare and endlessly approachable bird life get to stay on the island and enjoy its simple pleasures 24 hours a day. I was able to use my connections to stay here or 4 glorious days in which time I swam with turtles, took thousands of photographs and re-integrated myself into society with the help of the young scientists doing their MSc research in this very special place.
I returned to Mahe in order to finalise the collection of my data and spent a few last joyful days with Yvon, watched glorious sunsets and drank very sweet tea. My final night sleeping in the office and then walking the 8km to the airport summed up my time on these beautiful islands. It was hard work roughing it in paradise but my time with Yvon and on la Digue and Cousin island had made up for the nights of discomfort.