By Jheri St. James
the very dawn of time, when the shape of the planet earth
was evolving, the crumbling fragments of the giant super
continent of Gonwanaland came to rest in what was to become
known as the Indian Ocean, between Africa and Madagascar.
Today they are known as the granitic islands of Seychelles,
the only mid-oceanic granite islands.
Republic of Seychelles (pronounced “say shells”)
is an archipelago nation of 155 islands and islets in
the Indian Ocean, about 600 miles from the east coast
of Africa. Other nearby island countries and territories
include Zanzibar west, Mauritius and Reunion south, Comoros
and Mayotte southwest, and the Suvadives of the Maldives
northeast. Seychelles has the smallest population of any
sovereign state of Africa.
are many reasons why charter yacht enthusiasts and other tourists
are drawn here year round: idyllic white sandy beaches, sparkling
lagoons and brilliant coral reefs; Seychelles is
one of the rare spots on earth protected from pollution.
Man first landed on the Seychelles islands only 250 years
ago and any damages to Mother Nature have been stopped, thanks
to the Seychelles Government policy regarding environment.
In common with many fragile island ecosysytems, the early
human history of Seychelles saw some loss of biodiversity,
including the disappearance of most of the giant tortoises
from the granitic islands, felling of coastal and mid-level
forests and extinction of species such as the chestnut flanked
white eye, the Seychelles parakeet and the saltwater crocodile.
However, extinctions were far fewer than on other islands
such as Mauritius or Hawaii, partly due to a shorter period
of human occupation (since 1770). The Seychelles today is
known for success stories in protecting its flora and fauna.
Seychelles is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites run
by the Seychelles Islands Foundation. They are the atoll of
Aldabra, which is the world's largest raised coral atoll,
and also the Vallée de Mai on Praslin island, billed
as the original site of the Garden of Eden. The Cousin Island
Special Reserve, purchased by the Royal Society of Nature
Conservation in 1968 and managed by Nature Seychelles, is
an internationally-known bird and marine sanctuary which has
won several awards for conservation and ecotourism. Seychelles
has six national marine parks including the St. Anne National
Marine Park located adjacent to the capital, Port Victoria,
which are managed by the government’s Marine Parks Authority.
Much of the land territory (about 40%) and a substantial part
of the coastal sea around Seychelles are protected as national
parks, marine parks, and reserves.
de mer and a bronze-eyed gecko.
surrounding the Indian Ocean are often littered with empty
shells of the erotically shaped coco de mer (sea coconut).
These mysterious husks were thought to come from the sea until
they were found growing in the Seychelles--sea shells.
islands of the Seychelles had no indigenous population, the
current Seychellois are composed of people who have immigrated
to the island. The largest ethnic groups are those of French,
African, Indian, and Chinese descent. French and English are
official languages along with Seychellois Creole, which is
primarily based upon French. Most Seychellois are Christians;
the Roman Catholic Church is predominant.
collectors are immigrants to the Seychelles. Isuru and Charani
Walpola are two Sri Lankan children. Isu was 15 in March and
Cha 12-1/2. They came to the Seychelles when their mother
got a teaching contract there. They study at Anse Boileau
Secondary school where she teaches math, site of the soil
collection for Common Ground 191.
(2/24/07): “We like interesting projects. We too are
good in art and really love art projects. . . . Seychelles
doesn’t have a very long history but there are places
which have interesting background stories. Like where pirates
have hidden treasures. Pirates’ graves. This is a very
famous tourist destination. It has very beautiful beach. Even
we live by the beach and the view from our verandah is breath
taking. We got to know about the project from our aunt who
is in Sri Lanka. She is the Media officer for the US embassy
in Colombo. It is the embassy who will send the soil sample
from Sri Lanka. Since we are foreigners in this country, we
have to get permission from the ministry of environment if
we take a soil sample to send abroad. Our mom called the ministry
of environment and the officer responsible wanted more details.
What ever we have, we’ll send him. Mr. Joubert thinks
we have to send a very clean sample. By the way we received
the collection package on Friday. So, the moment we get permission
from the Ministry, we will hand over the package to DHL. Isu
12th, the message read: “Dear Gary, We still didn’t
get red light from The Ministry. The moment we see green light,
we will hand over the soil to DHL….”
13th, they wrote: “Dear Mr. Joubert, Hope you received
our earlier mail. But we sent you the address of the website.
We have a little description of the project. If you need one
of us can come there to show you them and the collection package.
Please give us a date and a time to bring them if necessary.
It would be very much appreciated if you could guide us how
to obtain written permission from your ministry as soon as
possible. Thank you for your cooperation. Best regards, Isuru
and Charani Walpola, Anse Boileau Secondary School.”
replied: “I have already sent your email to the persons
concerned at agriculture. I am following up with them and
will let you know. Flavien Joubert.”
Mom gets involved: “Dear Mr. Joubert, Mr. Kevin Arnephy
from soil section called me today and said he will meet the
Director General and let me know when I will get the written
permission. He also suggested contacting The Director of National
Archives regarding the site. Thank you very much for your
corporation. Devi Walpola.”
on March 20: “Dear Mr. Joubert, I got the feed back
from Mr. Kevin Arnephy who conveyed the message from the Director
General that we can go ahead with the sending of the soil
sample. I thank you very much on behalf of my kids and Mr.
Gary Simpson for the sincere support extended to us in this.
We plan to take the soil sample this Saturday after getting
a clue of a good place so that the journal will carry a nice
description of Seychelles. Best regards. Devi Walpola.”
March 25th, Gary wrote requesting the waybill number off the
DHL mailing label and an update on the return package. This
was the reply:
Gary. Hope you will understand our situation. Isu and Cha
have been busy submitting their work for several competitions,
getting ready for quizzes, etc. Both are good in art, poetry
and story writing. Then attending prize givings. Though I
got the permission from the environment ministry last Wednesday,
this is why we couldn’t go and collect soil. Actually
I have to think of a good place as you need a description
of it. Seychelles doesn’t have much of a long history.
There have been pirates who have hidden their treasures in
several places and there are pirate graves. Also there are
stories of the slaves being brought here. You must have heard
that Seychelles is a very beautiful country. One of the best
in the world. Being foreigners living in Seychelles I think
I have a duty to give a good picture to the world in the description.
I think it is good to tell the world about the scenic beauty
of Seychelles. The other thing Gary we don’t have a
digital camera. Only kids’ dad has one and he comes
once a year! So I have to get a good friend who has a digital
camera and who can take nice pictures to go with us. Anyway,
since you need it soon this week I will try my best to get
it and send . . . Regards, Devi.”
22: “We handed over the soil sample on Wednesday the
18th. Will send photos tonight. We were too busy with school
exams. That’s why we couldn’t mail you. Sorry
for inconvenience. Regards, Devi, Isu and Cha.” Success
at last! Collected at Anse Boileau Secondary School, Mahe,
The first step of many . . .
* * *
The pirate stories are real. The Seychelles
would have provided the ideal hideout. A number of merchant
ships crossing the Indian Ocean with precious cargoes fell
target to piracy. Among the famous pirates known to have operated
in Seychelles was Olivier le Vasseur, nicknamed La Buse and
his most important loot was the priceless Cross of Goa, which
is still being sought today.
Archipelago derives its name from the French Minister of finance,
Vicomte Moreau des Sechelles. Some historians believe that
the Phoenicians and the Greeks visited the Seychelles in ancient
times, however the first navigators known to have recorded
Seychelles were the Arabs. The old Arabian manuscripts of
the 9th and 10th centuries mention the name Al Khadra (the
green), or Al Dabaran (the five stars in Taurus) linked to
Aldabra. This is the largest atoll in the Seychelles group,
donated to the world by the people of Seychelles as an UNESCO
World Heritage site. A lengthy struggle between France and
Great Britain for the islands ended in 1814, when they were
ceded to the latter. Independence came in 1976. Socialist
rule was brought to a close with a new constitution and free
elections in l993. President James Michel took over the presidency
and in July 2006 was elected to a new five-year term.
View of Victoria, capital city
Seychelles (pronounced “say shells”) sounded like
the old tongue-twister: “She sells sea shells by the
sea shore” – say it fast 10 times. That led to
wondering about the life of seashells in Seyshelles, which
led to Frenchman David Touitou.
Touitou and Roger Rault
Seychelles shell collector at work.
name is David Touitou. I was born in 1975 in the city of Toulon
(South of France). I studied for 7 years in Marseille City
(South of France) at the Medical University and became a Pharmacy
Doctor in 2000. Since my childhood, I always collected stuff
(stamps, coins, shells, rocks...). I had the chance to go
often with my parents to one of the last preserved paradise
on earth : The Seychelles Islands. There I always searched
along the granite rocks in shallow water in order to find
freshly dead shells. The only shells I found that way were
the very common snake-head cowries (Cypraea caputserpentis)
and sometimes a common histrio (Cypraea histrio). In 1997,
I found while snorkeling in 3 meters of water, a GEM freshly
dead amazing cowrie... It was green colored and had many very
nice light spots. I was really astonished by the beauty of
that shell. Only to find out it was just my first eroded cowrie
(Cypraea erosa). This find launched me in the shell collecting
exciting hobby!! We can now say that I really started shell
collecting in 1997, because after I came back to France, I
tried to meet other collectors and I met Mr Roger Rault with
whom we launched this website (http://www.live-seashells.com/html/galleries.htm)
in late 1998.”
* * *
from Seychelles probably did not really require sterilization
by the USDA. One suspects it was already pretty clean. The
government of the Seychelles seems to be making sure its 155
islands remain what they are—pristine. The writer of
this journal entry has requested the collectors to write a
poem for us about their heavenly home. Maybe they will call
it “Say Shells”. We thank all the people involved
in the success of this soil collection for Common Ground 191,
especially Isuru and Charani Walpola. The word for peace in
Seychelles is La Paix”.
gallery picture of some of the shells collected in the Seychelles
by David Touitou--Mother Nature’s Art
Seychelles- Paradise on Earth
Under a sky of curious blends of blue
Between Africa and Asia
Lies a necklace of islands
Full of nature's pure beauty
From there comes this handful of earth
It speaks of steamy, vitalizing mountain forests
And of cool salt spray on white shores,
Of squawking black parrots, huge lumbering tortoises
And two-lobed "coco-de-mers" borne forth
Each grain brags, each grain is proud
For, after all, consider where its fromů