How travelers help to protect the Outer Islands of the Seychelles

CNN  — 

There are few places in the world as beautiful, or as vulnerable as the Outer Islands of Seychelles.

While the archipelago in the western Indian Ocean is made up of 115 islands, its 72 Outer Islands are undoubtedly its most remote and preserved locations.

Situated at distances ranging from 60 minutes to two and half hours away from the main island of Mahé, the islands and atolls feature an abundance of marine life, pristine coastline and exotic birdlife.

Among them are UNESCO World Heritage site Aldabra, home to the largest giant tortoise population in the world, Alphonse, the first Seychelles island to become reliant on solar power and the uninhabited Cosmoledo, known for its spectacularly pristine coral reefs.

“The most unique thing about the Outer Islands is they’ve been frozen in time,” environmentalist Keith Rose-Innes tells CNN Travel. “These islands are so inaccessible by humans and so far out that they’ve been left alone.

“The coral’s still intact, because the atolls have very sharp drop offs and the cool water circles around them. So there’s very little coral bleaching.

“The biomass of fish underneath the sea is incredible. At times if you swim 10 meters apart you can’t see each other because there’s so many fish. So it is really an amazing place. There’s been very little human pressure over the years.”

Under threat

Alphonse Atoll is one of the best preserved locations in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles.

But while the Outer Islands have been spared some of the “human pressure” problems faced by destinations such as Thailand, they, along with the rest of the Seychelles, are under threat nonetheless.

At present, the most significant dangers to the islands are plastic pollution, overfishing and climate change.

The latter has led to the world’s first debt-for-conservation deal, which was signed between the government of the Seychelles and The Nature Conservancy in 2016.

This saw US charity Nature Conservancy and a number of investors buy a percentage of the Seychelles’ national debt and put it into the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), which offers low interest rates on repayments.

The money has been channeled into projects aimed at protecting marine life and tackling the impact of climate change and promised to make 30% of its national waters protected areas by the close of 2020.

After spending many years exploring the Outer Islands as a fly-fisherman, Rose-Innes says he’s witnessed the effects first hand.

“Climate change is a big issue,” he says. “I can see it [the difference]. For instance, we get bigger storms. The island of Farquhar experienced the most vicious cyclone ever recorded in the Indian Ocean in 2016.

“And an increase of one degree in sea temperature will mean 80% of our coral will die. Now is the time to protect these places, and use them in the right way so they can stay around for longer.”

Protecting paradise

Alphonse has recorded more than 130 species of bird.

He’s turned his attention to conservation in recent years as a way of “giving back” after becoming concerned about the future of the Outer Islands.

In May 2018, Rose-Innes co-founded Blue Safari, which offers experiential style holidays that allow travelers to both explore the Outer Islands of the Seychelles and help to protect the ecosystems of these diverse islands and atolls.

“I was known as the ‘fly fisherman,’” he says. “That was my passion. But when you’re walking around the islands or sitting in the boat, you’re noticing all of the amazing things these atolls have to offer.

“I thought ‘how do we create enough revenue to protect these places? How do we reduce the amount of fly fishing we do? The only way to do that was through ecotourism.”

Blue Safari offers a number of activities and programs, such snorkeling with a