The Aldabra wildlife experience

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Seychelles Founding President James R.

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Seychelles Founding President James R. Mancham, who returned to Mahe on July 12, announced this morning that he had decided to create and promote an “Aldabra Centre” in Mahe to provide visitors to Seychelles and the people of Seychelles with what he described as “The Aldabra Experience.” The atoll of Aldabra is a unique wildlife region which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

Mr. Mancham said that the idea came to mind when he spoke recently to the Councilors of the World Future Council in Bonn, Germany, about the collision course concerning conservation and economic development. At that meeting, he had stressed that while it was not difficult to discern Aldabra as a “World Heritage Site,” in order to keep it as a natural living laboratory for posterity, the 120,000 tortoises living there had no votes and are not affected by the human trend of “rising expectations.”

The situation, according to him, was entirely different when it came to development on other islands of the Seychelles archipelago where people were not satisfied to remain “museum pieces” in their own land and had, therefore, become very much influenced by the rising expectations factor. “Since men with all his imagination could not replace the harmonious beauty of nature, the Seychelles government has to ensure that it pursues a balanced policy between conservation and development, taking into account both the interest of today’s population and that of posterity to come,” he stated.

Speaking today more specifically about the Aldabra Centre he wishes to create in Mahe, Mr. Mancham said that as Seychellois and other visitors were not going to be encouraged to go to Aldabra, they must, therefore, bring Aldabra to them especially as he foresees that the interest and curiosity about Aldabra will very much be enhanced by the international release of the 3D film which is expected to come out in October, a trailer of which was specially screened for him during his recent visit to Prague.

This film will show that Aldabra’s extinct volcanic crater has been transformed into a breathtakingly beautiful lagoon surrounded by 155 sq. km. of lime stone landscape. When the tide is in, the lagoon and mangroves add another 224 sq. km. of marine wonders. It is against this pristine backdrop that audiences will witness dramatic fights for survival among the citizens of Aldabra: on land and on the beach, 200-kg male giant tortoises fight for supremacy, ghost crabs ambush and decapitate turtle hatchlings, and Aldabra rails (the last flightless bird in the Indian Ocean) surgically dismember ghost crabs. In the sea, moray eels do battle with octopus, while occasionally the giant tortoises are caught napping by the tide and are sucked out in the open ocean. Predatory fish and the shark mafia gather twice a day on the reef perimeter to devour all those who have visited the lagoon and are now returning to the open sea.

These dramatic episodes have been repeating themselves day in and day out for 1,000 years, but for the first time, 3D will transport a world audience to this magical wonderland.

On his recent visit to Prague, Sir James was not only hosted by the producer of the film, Mr. Petr Keller, but also befriended two key people responsible for the excellent production of this great documentary – Director Steve Lichtag, who was born in Czechoslovakia, a graduate in literary dramatic art from the State Conservatory who has personally won more than 60 international awards in connection with documentary films he has produced and directed focused on the underwater world which have been broadcast on TV networks globally. In addition he created a film about the great white sharks which was mostly filmed in the South African waters, and won him further international acclaim. Sr. James also met Michael Havas, the renowned screenwriter who was born in Prague but grew up mostly in New Zealand. Today Havas has written, directed, and produced over 50 films, many of which have received international awards. He is on the board of Czech Republic’s only marine festival, Water-Sea-Ocean, held in the historic town of Hluboka, South Bohemia. He was recently invited by double award-winning David Hannan of Brisbane, Australia, to co-write on Hannan’s next film, The Cauldron of Life, which will feature the coral triangle between Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea.

The former President said that while his concept of a center is still evolving, he could see one where there will not only be a room for the tortoises, but also an aquarium for the sharks and fishes which inhabit the Aldabra lagoon, as well as other chambers – for example, one dedicated to the fight which got the British and Americans to abandon their idea of turning Aldabra into a strategic military complex – a fight in which he was personally involved alongside such brave heroes like the late Tony Beamish who authored the book, “Aldabra Alone,” and Lars Erik Lindblad who is regarded today as the father of international eco-tourism and who brought his cruise ship, Lindblad Explorer, to Seychelles’ waters long before the opening of the Seychelles International Airport.

There could also be a chamber dedicated to the memory of Jacques Yves Cousteau, the man who pioneered the aquarium and who filmed “The Silent World” mostly in Seychelles waters. In addition, he would consider a special library dedicated to islands and the ecological issues concerning coastal and maritime problems around the world where people would be welcomed to do research in search of solutions and minimizing the disturbance of natural laws. He said the chambers could be animated with soft music, having a maritime theme like “La Mer” of Jacques Trenet, “My Bonny Lies over the Ocean,” which is of UK and international renown and the islands’ own “Going Back to the Seychelles.”

He said that he was eager to discuss his spearheading of this project with President Michel as this certainly falls within President Michel’s philosophy of creating and leaving behind a greater Seychelles. He wanted to see the Aldabra Centre become as important to Seychelles tourism as the Monte Carlo Aquarium is to Monaco.

Finally, the Centre will be a symbol of appreciation for his policy of peace and reconciliation – peace and reconciliation within nations, between nations, and between men and nature.

He would, of course, welcome the support and tangible encouragement not only from government but all those interested to support what he described as this challenging, stimulating, and historic development.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.