The Indian Ocean, you’ve heard of. The Seychelles Islands, probably. But Aldabra Atoll? Aldabra is many things: It’s the second largest atoll in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to many endemic plants and animals including more than 100,000 giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea).
Human presence is limited here — around 15 people live her year-round, maybe twice that in the busy season. A pair of biologists have written about their experiences there for Africa Geographic. It’s a wonderful portrait of one of the most remote places on Earth. Aldabra is a discontiguous ring. The atoll is broken into four main segments named Grande Terre, Malabar, Picard, and Polymnie, surrounding a lagoon large enough to fit the island of Manhattan.
The authors write:
“The shallow waters and fringing mangrove forests are a haven for wildlife. Hawksbill and green turtles cruise here in their hundreds threatened only by tiger sharks up to five metres in length; seabirds and waders abound. Aldabra is also home to globally significant populations of crab plovers, red-footed boobies, and possibly the world’s largest frigatebird population; it is one of only two oceanic breeding areas for flamingos, and the blue-eyed Aldabra sacred ibis … is found only here.”
Aldabra has faced many depredations and threats by man, including massive tortoise and sea turtle overharvesting, the arrival of invasive species, and plans for a military base. The authors tell us that it has survived all this to become… or is still becoming… Eden restored. Yet threats remain: rising oceans, and ocean-borne plastics.
Aldabra is a singular place with an endemic species of tortoise. Its full story hasn’t been told. First-hand reporting from the front lines of tortoise conservation is an essential component of The Tortoise Project. I hope to bring to life the once and future world of these incredibly wonderful creatures.
Read: Aldabra Atoll: the Untouchable Island on Africa Geographic Stories.