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Aldabra Atoll

Aldabra Atoll
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Aldabra Atoll is an oceanic island ecosystem inhabited by giant tortoises and 400 other endemic species and subspecies. Aldabra lies in the Indian Ocean, and belongs to the Seychelles. The atoll consists of a group of four larger islands: an oval ring of land crossected by channels.

The name "Aldabra" was given by early Arabian visitors. Nowadays there's no permanent settlement.

Most spectacular natural phenomena on Aldabra are the huge tortoises. There are around 100.000 of them left on these secluded islands. They weigh about 250 kg., and can become over 100 years old.

Year Decision Comments
1982 Inscribed Reasons for inscription
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Reviews

Vernon Yarker (United Kingdom):
Yes I was the radio operator seconded from the RAF to the BBC for their Expedition Turtle to Aldabra Atoll c. 1966. The purpose of the BBC Expedition was to assess the possibility for siting radio radio rebroadcast facilities. It was very much dependent upon continued military interest, since that would entailed an airfield being built. There was some MoD input into the Expedition mainly in the form of surveyors. More interesting was that there were also two USAF colonels. At that time America was heavily into Vietnam and they wanted an Eastabout route as well as their existing Westabout one. In particular they wanted transit facilities for the F111, which needed to island hop to get to Vietnam. A deal would be made for landing rights in exchange for development dollars ! The BBC had hired the MV Southern Skies, out of Mombassa, for the Expedition. It was really a 600 ton coastal waters , general purpose vessel . The expedition was to have lasted 6 weeks, but towards the end tropical depression 'Angela' started to head our way . A 600 ton vessel is not the best of craft to ride out a hurricane, so the Expedition was curtailed and we hightailed it for Mombassa
Date posted: May 2013
Wolfgang Grulke (United Kingdom):
I first visited the atoll in 1993 and this resulted in me doing the marine biology chapter of the book 'Aldabra: World Heritage Site' published in 1995. We visited again for a few weeks in 1997 aboard Fantasea II. I'm just putting together an 'Aldabra Diary' on both these trips (this is turning into a 280-page book!). If anyone wants to share this I can send you the link to it - available on-line to other Aldabra addicts with my compliments i.e. for free! Email me at Wolfgang@FutureWorld.org.
Date posted: February 2011
John Apps (UK):
I was Expedition Leader on the MS Caledonian Star in the mid 90's and visited the atoll on no fwere than 17 occasions. Having travelled all over the world, Aldabra is right at the top of my list for its awesome remoteness and fantastic wildlife experiences.
I now run a company that organises itineraries for the worlds largest privately owned yachts and we are trying to get them to visit Aldabra to see if we can get them to take up the finacing of this fairytale place.
Date posted: October 2009
Wayne Page (Dubai, United Arab Emirates):
A truly amazing place for a naturalist.
I was fortunate to work there for several months on the botany of the atoll and assist in tagging turtles, tortoises and the like.
amazing marine life and great for diving...masses of sharks!!
Would like to return one day to see how things have evolved!
Date posted: December 2008
Paul Tanner (UK):
Aldabra is perhaps THE “iconic” coral atoll - even though many who “know” of it couldn’t begin to place it on a map. Its overall fragility and the vulnerability of its unique flora and fauna have been made famous by the numerous and ongoing fights to prevent it from development and worse – including plans for a large military base (ultimately developed not that far away at Diego Garcia). Despite having had 7 reviews already on this site (mainly by people working/studying there), it is rather difficult to reach. Read on to decide if it is worth the cost and effort!

We were told (Feb 2008) that it receives around 1000+ visitors pa and that the majority arrive (as did we) on Indian Ocean “Cruise Ships” for but a brief stay (It appears that Aldabra’s inadequate income is largely derived from the entrance fees of the far greater number of tourists who visit Vallée de Mai which cross-subsidises it, as both are run by the Seychelles Islands Foundation - SIF). Private yachts can also make the visit but otherwise you would need to make the 2.5 hour 1150km flight in a chartered small plane from Mahé to the nearest airstrip on nearby Assumption Island. Its landscape has been devastated by guano mining and it is currently uninhabited – a graphic illustration of what could have happened to Aldabra if persons as august as Charles Darwin himself (though he never actually visited the atoll) hadn’t made efforts to preserve it from exploitation as early as 1874! From there you need to take a small boat sent out from the Aldabra Research Station for an open sea crossing of c35 kms (though “it is not SIF policy to be involved in the establishment of a boat connection between Aldabra and Assumption”). Anyone arriving by sea from outside the Seychelles should be aware that you MUST carry out immigration formalities at Assumption before visiting Aldabra – even though this means arranging, and paying for, the immigration officials to fly out to uninhabited Assumption! There is some simple accommodation at the Research Station for “land based educational and scientific visits”. However, when we were there, the Station had just smashed its catamaran transport on the reef and our ship had to “rescue” some visitors who were already present and needed to get to an airstrip on a boat they trusted on the open seas!

Aldabra is the world’s second largest atoll but I was surprised to discover that it has only existed in its current manifestation for c125000 years - a mere nothing in geological timescales (Source – “Aldabra – World Heritage Site”. ISBN 1 874041 58 X - a fine book published by the SIF). During the previous 5 million years it had “risen” and disappeared on several occasions. Its coral “cap” sits on a volcanic seamount and its height in relation to the sea has depended on the complex interaction between great variations in mean sea level during glacial and inter-glacial periods, the contraction of the underlying volcanic layer, surface weathering and the conditions for coral formation. It appears currently to be naturally disappearing beneath the sea since this trend predates (though may be exacerbated by) any possible man made “global warming” effects. Indeed one of its most famous features, its enormous central lagoon, has probably only been present c5000 years since the sea broke through as a result of its rise during the current inter-glacial period. At one time the cliffs might have been 300 metres above sea level – now they are just a few metres and in places the accumulated sand is disappearing year by year.

Giant Tortoises are its other famous feature. Their forebears must have floated from Madagascar some 400kms away within the last 125000 years – they are buoyant and can swim. Currently there are c150000 on the atoll, more than 10 times as many as those who live, more famously, on the Galapagos Islands (a different and slightly larger species). Breeding colonies have been set up on other Seychellois islands but only here do they survive in an unbroken line and unassisted by man (though there are some arguments about whether any examples of 2 other “extinct tortoise species” have survived in captivity on the granitic northern islands).

And what do you see if you DO get there on a brief cruise visit? Well – beware, the seas may be too rough for you to see anything other than the low dunes and the surf!! The tide and wind will determine what you can do and when. 2 couples on our ship had failed respectively even to see the island and or to make a landing on previous trips. On our arrival afternoon conditions allowed us a 90 minute zodiac ride into the lagoon following a drift snorkel at its entrance. In its shallow waters you can see turtles, rays and other fish whilst the mangrove forest on its banks and islands contains a myriad of sea birds (Though unfortunately we didn’t see the endemic Rail). You will also see the typical “champignon” (mushroom) rock formations caused by weathered coral (photo – top). It is a fine trip, but doesn’t provide a full sight of the variety of land scenery/fauna.

The next morning brought disappointment. Winds and swell made our planned landing and walk from the Research Centre impossible and we just had to “up anchor”. This left me with a distinct moral dilemma – had I actually “visited” Aldabra! Luckily our “rescue” mission for the stranded visitors enabled us to obtain permission to make a short sea shore landing on the “closed” southern island of Grande Terre at Dune Jean-Louis where the seas were better. As we reached the beach we were met by a shoreline littered with rubbish - certainly not from visitors. Some may have been flotsam and jetsam from ships, but it appears that the majority floats up on the currents from Madagascar - a graphic image of the pollution which is occurring in our seas. How many creatures would be injured/killed by the glass, plastic, netting etc? We did our best to clear some of it but it was clearly a losing battle. The rubbish also provided a clear indication of how “articles” could float to Aldabra from Madagascar and supported the thesis that a few tortoises must have made a similar journey all those years ago - estimates are that, in the right conditions, it takes only 3-7 days.

As we climbed the dunes we were met by the remarkable site of a “Tortoise lawn” – an area of close-cropped vegetation (its plants “evolved” in response to Tortoise grazing habits!) fertilised over the centuries to be “better than the average” soil among the coral rocks, where giant tortoises meet to eat and socialise! A wonderful primeval vision (photo – bottom)! All too soon we had to leave. As we did we wished the tortoises we had seen “good luck” in their next 100 or so years of life (assuming the atoll survives!). Those exact creatures should still be munching on their lawn when we are “pushing up daisies” several continents away. A sobering thought to conclude a short but memorable visit!
 
alissa ():
wow, awesome and an amazing experience
very beautiful and wonderful
Date posted: July 2006
Derek Johnston (Scotland):
I was station engineer on Aldabra 1973-1976. I was also on the construction team in the late sixties when the station was first built. Aldabra was, (and I'm sure still is) a fascinating place. We used to take great care during the turtle breeding season to keep lighting on the station to a minimum so as not to confuse the hatchlings when they left the nest. They had enough predators to contend with without us adding to their problems. Crows, crabs, rails, all knew when the nests were ready to erupt; all this before they even reached the sea.
I am very pleased to see that the station is now a World Heritage Site
 
Mark Hannaford (UK):
I was fortunate enough to visit Aldabra on numerous occasions over a period of year whilst working as a naturalist and boat driver on the MS Caledonian Star, now the Endeavour, and I even got engaged to my wife, Karen, on the beach.

What a fantastical place and one which we plan to revisit with our children one day
 
Myles Carey (USA):
I visted Aldabra in 1997 onboard the Fantasea II a live aboard dive vessel. We flew from Mahe to Assumption on light aircraft. It was more like an expedition than a vacation. As we flew over the main channel leading into the lagoon I was immediatley under the spell of Aldabra. Spell being the write word as the main channel branches out like two arms and then like a hand with long witch like fingers. After our pass over Aldabra we made are approach to the runway on Assumption a short distance by plane. Assumption was sureal as all the vegatation has been long since stripped away when mindless greed sought the fertile droppings of centuries of sea bird habitation.
I was one of only 36 people that year to have the grand pleasure of diving and walking on these timeless treasures of Aldabra, Assumption, Astove and Cosmaldo. I've dove in some world class locations in the world but nothing can compare to the adventure that is felt in such a remote and untouched place as is offered by these islands. Every kind of dive experience can be had at Aldabra. Drift dives at break neck speed through the channel to wall dives and cave exploration. Fish of gigantic porpotions, manta rays, dolphins, sharks , and more turtles than I have ever seen in one place. The lagoon is like swimming in an aquirium and the channels are like riding a roller coaster on the currents. All the time turtles and the occasional shark pass by like fighter planes at super sonic speed.Aldabra lagoon at low tide is like being on another planet.At high tide the islands in the the lagoon look just like that small island but at low tide the whole lagoon is transformed by these mushroom islands. In geologic time the ebb and flow of the tides has left the islands attached by a stem. One night we anchored the zodiac in the main channel and sank down with the tide.It was like we were in a lock and damm. It was awsome to see because the lagoon was cascading down the sides of the channel like one long waterfall running down the sides of a canyon.
This is truely a magical place and I hope to return back one day and find it as I remember it. I just hope the warming tempatures in the Indian Ocean will cease and the damage that I fear has already happened will reverse itself
in time.
 
boaz (israel):
hello my name is boaz and i have worked on board the indian ocean explorer, the only liveaboard diving boat that goes to aldabra as a divemaster for two seasons in 2001 and again in 2003 .there's one experience i would like to share and that's diving with the current into the lagoon of aldabra with the ingoing high-tide .the aldabra atol is made by 4 islands that circles the biggest lagoon in the world .it's 35km from side to side .the water comes in and out of the lagoon 4 times a day with the different tides through 4 different channels, the biggest one called the main channel .our boat was running a drift dive through this main channel on the biggest difference of tides that happens normally on a new moon or a full moon, and get reach a difference of 3 or 4 meters .that fenomenal makes aldabra seems to me like a living creature .one has to see it to believe but all the life in the water around this island depends on this changes of the tides .we would drop down at the entrance of the lagoon at would drift into the lagoon in speed of more than 6 knots!!! one time we past 12km in only 28 minutes all the way underwater!!!on the way we have seen hammerhead sharks huge stingrays ,loads of turtles ,huge school of fishes trying to get through all of the predatores and many more .the scenery under the water in unnormal as well ,the channel is made of lime stone that was shaped again and again by the ripping current and created canyons and caves and arches...
defenitely the best dive of my life .
if you ever vist aldabra make sure you try to dive or even snorkel into the lagoon through one of the channels .
thanks a lot - boaz .
 
John Collie (Scotland):
Worked on Aldabra as Warden for a total of over two years in 1983-84 and again in 1987. Spent considerable time travelling over the atoll carrying out ongoing monitoring especially hawksbill and green turtles.

The Research Station has now been completely revamped and is once again providing excellent accomodation.

There are plans to develop limited tourism with up to 10 bungalows being tendered out.

A magical place and a magical experience.
 
JOHN( JONTY ) GRINTER (Australia):
I WAS ON ALDABRA ATOLL IN EARLY 1969 FOR FOUR AND A HALF MONTHS AS PART OF PHASE VII OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY'S FLAURA AND FAUNA EXPEDITION. I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN CONTACTING ANYONE WHO WAS THERE WITH ME. I was 19 yrs old at the time and was actually paid Five pounds a month to run the synoptic weather station, run the stores and tend to the pastoral needs of the workers and their families. Needless to say it was a life changing experience. Never been back but would love to go again. Jonty Grinter
 


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