Vallee de Mai Seychelles
Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve is a nature park and UNESCO World Heritage Site (inscribed in 1983) located on the island of Praslin, Seychelles. It was officially declared a nature reserve on 18 April 1966. It consists of a well-preserved palm forest made up of the endemic Coco de Mer, as well as five other endemic palms. The Coco de Mer has the largest seeds of any plant in the world; the leaves growing up to 6 m wide and 14 m long. Also unique to the park is its wildlife, including birds such as the rare Seychelles Black Parrot, mammals, crustaceans, snails, and reptiles.
Located on the granitic island of Praslin, the Vallée de Mai is a 19.5 ha area of palm forest which remains largely unchanged since prehistoric times. Dominating the landscape is the world's largest population of endemic coco-de-mer, a flagship species of global significance as the bearer of the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The forest is also home to five other endemic palms and many endemic fauna species. The property is a scenically attractive area with a distinctive natural beauty.
The property contains a scenic mature palm forest. The natural formations of the palm forests are of aesthetic appeal with dappled sunlight and a spectrum of green, red and brown palm fronds. The natural beauty and near-natural state of the Vallée de Mai are of great interest, even to those visitors who are not fully aware of the ecological significance of the forest.
Shaped by geological and biological processes that took place millions of years ago, the property is an outstanding example of an earlier and major stage in the evolutionary history of the world's flora. Its ecology is dominated by endemic palms, and especially by the coco-de-mer, famous for its distinctively large double nut containing the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The Vallée de Mai constitutes a living laboratory, illustrating of what other tropical areas would have been before the advent of more advanced plant families.
The property represents an outstanding example of biological evolution dominated by endemic palms. The property's low and intermediate-altitude palm forest is characteristic of the Seychelles and is preserved as something resembling its primeval state. The forest is dominated by the coco-de-mer Lodoicea maldivica but there are also five other endemic species of palms. Located in the granitic island of Praslin, the Vallée de Mai is the only area in the Seychelles where all six species occur together and no other island in the Indian Ocean possesses the combination of features displayed in the property. The ancient palms form a dense forest, along with Pandanus screw palms and broadleaf trees, which together constitute an ecosystem where unique ecological processes and interactions of nutrient cycling, seed dispersal, and pollination occur.
The Vallée de Mai is the world's stronghold for the endemic coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica )and the endemic palm species millionaire's salad (Deckenia nobilis ), thief palm (Phoenicophorium borsigianum ), Seychelles stilt palm (Verschaffeltia splendida) latanier millepattes (Nephrosperma vanhoutteanum) and latanier palm (Roscheria melanochaetes), are also found within the property. The palm forest is relatively pristine and it provides a refuge for viable populations of many endemic species, including the black parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi), restricted to Praslin Island and totally dependent on the Vallée de Mai and surrounding palm forest. Other species supported by the palm habitat include three endemic species of bronze gecko, endemic blue pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds, swiftlets, Seychelles skinks, burrowing skinks, tiger chameleons, day geckos, caecilians, tree frogs, freshwater fish and many invertebrates.
The ecological integrity of the Vallée de Mai is high, but the 19.5 ha that constitutes the property's size is relatively small and its present status is due to some replanting of coco-de-mer undertaken in the past. The property is embedded within the Praslin National Park (300 ha) which provides a sufficiently large area to ensure the natural functioning of the forest ecosystem. To enhance the property's integrity, the World Heritage Committee has recommended extending the property to include the rest of the Praslin National Park, thus providing an appropriate buffer zone.
Protection and management requirements
The property is legally protected under national legislation and is managed by a public trust, the Seychelles Islands Foundation. The management of the property has been enhanced with the adoption of a management plan in 2002. Fire is considered the most significant threat to the property, and fire response and contingency plans are essential. Tourism, as managed by the public trust, makes a significant financial contribution to the protection and management of the property. The overexploitation of coco-de-mer can exhaust natural recruitment, and illegal removal of the seeds is a serious problem that affects future regeneration; thus, a key management priority is to maintain the palm forest by direct human manipulation with the collection and planting of the seeds before they are stolen and sold. Effective measures to mitigate threats to endemic fauna and flora from invasive species, pests and diseases are also essential.
By Alban henderyckx
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