Saving Turtles in Seychelles

Wandering along the paths of the wetlands at Banyan Tree Seychelles one can only wonder at the insight and commitment it takes for a five star resort of this calibre to focus as much attention on conserving its natural environment as it does on delivering superb luxury hospitality.

It is this commitment to sustainability that has enabled Banyan Tree Seychelles on Mahe to receive the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Label (SSTL) that, thanks to a mutual recognition agreement with Fair Trade Tourism, can now be marketed under the Fair Trade Holiday brand.

A moorhen scratches through the undergrowth and a grey heron eyes me out from its lofty perch in a Takamaka tree, and what looks like a small stick protruding from the murky waters suddenly disappears… Could it have been the critically endangered Seychelles black mud turtle, or perhaps a yellow-bellied mud turtle?

In all likelihood, yes, thanks to the efforts of the team at the resort’s Wildlife Conservation and Rehabilitation Centre. Marine ecologist and conservation officer Jonatan Fredricson Marquez is one of the team that watches out for the welfare of the turtles that inhabit Banyan Tree’s 7ha wetland. In addition to caring for, monitoring and then releasing, where possible, these turtles; the work at the centre has become an educational highlight for numerous school groups, which bodes well for the survival of the species in unprotected wetlands elsewhere on the island.

Walking along the sandy shores of Anse Intendance, one might be blissfully unaware that this 900m stretch of beach is a breeding site for the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, where up to 50 nests per breeding season have been counted. What makes this beach extra special is that it is the only beach on Mahe to be free of poaching, due in part to it difficult access and its regular beach monitoring.

Located alongside the conservation and rehab centre, is the organic garden. A garden with a sustainable soul and aesthetic appeal – the concrete pavers are embossed with palm leaves, herbs line the steps leading to a higher terrace where sweet corn ripens in the tropical sun and a pagoda is surrounded by the likes of Italian oregano, multicoloured peppers and holy basil. Seedlings grown from seed are nurtured and fed with “home-grown” compost and rain water.

The gardens supply a large percentage of Banyan Tree’s restaurants with their fresh ingredients. We dined at Chez Lamar, savouring the authentic Creole cuisine from a veranda table overlooking the wetlands. As with all the buildings, the unmistakable style of a Seychellois abode prevails, and should you venture upstairs to the Chez Lamar Gallery, you’ll get a taste of Creole art – and once a week have the opportunity to enjoy live music and cocktails and meet the artists themselves. This “gift of art” is one way in which Banyan Tree supports its local community.

Although one of the oldest resorts on the island (established in 2002), Banyan Tree Seychelles has set a precedent for responsible tourism in the way it comfortably and sustainably shares its beach with turtles, conserves its wetland and has managed to integrate itself into nature in an unobtrusive way, echoing Jonatan’s words of “I deeply care about the environment, especially marine environments. I am determined to work my hardest to reach better conservation and management strategies that improve the status of our oceans, and of the organisms that live within them.”

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