In Seychelles, nature is prized above mass tourism

  • Friday 17, January 2020 11:10 AM
  • In Seychelles, nature is prized above mass tourism
Sharjah24 – AFP: In a shady patch along a pristine white beach on Mahe Island, a radio spits out reggae and snapper sizzles on the barbecue, as Seychelloise Nareen tops up her rum and coke on time off from her job aboard a luxury yacht.
Her family is spending the weekend at the beach where a couple dipping their feet into the turquoise waters off in the distance are the only foreign tourists in sight.

Nevertheless, like most citizens, she earns her living from tourism, which makes up more than 60 percent of GDP in the Seychelles, the only country in Africa considered "high income" by the World Bank.

The Indian Ocean archipelago, a chain of 115 islands, is a byword for luxury holidays, Instagram-perfect beaches and has gained a reputation as a honeymoon idyll.

But it is confronting a tug-of-war over how to keep the economy growing, while protecting its fragile ecosystem.

- One island, one resort -
High-end tourism, from Europe mainly, helped pull the Seychelles from the brink of financial ruin after the 2008 economic crisis.

Visitor numbers almost doubled in the decade that followed, to around 360,000 in 2018, nearly four times the country's population.

But now the Seychelles is grappling with how many visitors it can realistically accommodate. An official study commissioned into the matter is due to begin soon.

In the meantime, the government placed a moratorium in 2015 on the construction of large resorts on the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.

It wanted both to protect the environment and encourage the growth of smaller, locally-run hotels.

On further-flung islands, the Seychelles practises a "one island, one resort" policy.

The Seychelles has 6,000 hotel rooms, but another 3,000 are in the pipeline, having been approved before the moratorium took effect.

Nearly half of the Seychelles 455 square kilometres (176 square miles) are classed as protected areas.

By later this year, 30 percent of its 1.3 million square km of marine territory will have protected status too, under a special arrangement in which conservation groups agree in return to pay a small portion of Seychelles' national debt.

The country has two UNESCO world heritage sites: the Mai Valley and its indigenous coco de mer palm trees, and the Aldabra Atoll, home to the Seychelles' famed giant tortoises.