Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Seychelles Islands (Travel)

The Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean . The Seychelles are definitely one of the world's most beautiful tropical island destinations. The islands archipelago consists of 115 islands with a total land area of 442 sq. km, spread over 1.2 million square kilometers of the western Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar. About half of the islands are granitic in origin, with narrow coastal strips and central ranges of hills rising to 900 m.

This isolated island paradise offers fine beaches, turquoise seas and warm weather. As a result of their extraordinary, isolated history, the Seychelles are also rich in rare plants which flourish nowhere else on the planet. No less than 81 species are unique survivors from the luxuriant tropical forests that covered the islands until humanity's belated arrival two centuries ago. Outstanding amongst these is the coco-de-mer (sea coconut), native to Praslin, which grows in the Vallée de Mai. Its seed is the largest in nature, and gave rise to many legends when it was washed ashore on the coasts of Africa, India and Indonesia. Since the islands were unknown, the nuts were thought to have grown under the sea - hence the name.

The Seychelles are also a major attraction for birdwatchers. Millions of terns nest on the islands - among them that most beautiful of seabirds, the fairy tern. Up to two million sooty terns nest on Bird Island, and on Aride can be found the world's largest colonies of lesser noddies, roseate terns and other tropical birds. It was only some 30 years ago that active conservation of endangered species began in the Seychelles. Since then, with the establishment of island sanctuaries and nature reserves, much has been done to make the Seychelles a paradise for birds - and for those who love to watch them.

The first recorded sighting of the Seychelles was by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama at the beginning of the 16th century. In 1756, French planters claimed Mahé and seven other islands for France. The islands, until then known as the Amirantes (Admiral da Gama had named them after himself), were re-named in honour of the French king’s accountant, Vicomte Moreau de Séchelles. The Seychelles, annexed by Britain in 1794, were placed under the administration of Mauritius. Over the course of the 19th century, administration was handled by ‘old India hands’ – men and women with some experience of the tropics.

For the next 150 years, isolated from the rest of the world and all but ignored by the major European powers, the Seychelles developed their own traditions, language and culture. The islands became a Crown Colony in 1903. Internal self-government was granted in 1975 and independence a year later. Despite several coup attempts, multi-party democracy was restored in the Seychelles in 1991 under pressure from the country's main aid donors, particularly France and Britain.