The Island of Curieuse hosts diverse natural ecosystems from Coco de Mer forests and turtle breeding grounds to Mangrove swamps. We made a day trip from Praslin, landing on the northern shore of Baie Laraie. A short walk (1.7km) takes you through the Mangrove swamps, past the Coco de Mer forest and on to the Doctor’s House at Anse St Jose, which is now a museum.
There is much to see on this stroll:
Curieuse also has quite an interesting history for such a small blip in the ocean. Mind you, at 2.86km2, it still ranks as the fifth largest island of the Seychelles after Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette and La Digue.
1768: The French made the first discovery and took possession of the islands of Curieuse, Praslin and La Digue. They also took possession of a number of Giant Tortoises – 5 of which were presented to Mauritian Authorities (who under French Governance, controlled the Seychelles) and known as the “Marion’s Tortoises” after the mariner Marion Dufresne – whose task it was to collect timber and tortoises from the islands north of Mahé.
They also, somewhat unwittingly, made the discovery of the natural habitat of the Coco de Mer palm, although it was only when they returned with some samples to Mauritius that it was identified for what it is by the one and only: Pierre Poivre (you might know him better for the nursery rhyme/tongue twister which he is believed to have been the subject of: Peter Piper picked a peck of peppers…) I’ll be posting about this “naughty nut” in another post…
Out of interest, but on a completely different topic: Dufresne has also played an interesting role in Scottish history. He was the captain of the frigate Prince de Conty that helped the Jacobite Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart) escape after the failed Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. He (Dufresne) died a somewhat less heroic death in 1772: along with some of his crew members, he was killed and eaten by Maoris at the Bay of Islands – and that was after they developed friendly relations with each other. Delightful.
1810: French surrender Mauritius and the Seychelles to the British. Huzzah! – But not really as natural vegetation was still being chopped down at an alarming rate and they were still eating everything that moved.
1829-1965: Curieuse was established as a Leper Colony (and a bit of a dumping ground for paupers and unwanted African slaves left behind by the trade ships). This was a cunning plan by a British Government Agent, George Harrison (No, not of The Beetles) to ensure the survival of the Coco de Mer, amongst other species – both plant and animal. Nothing quite like using ignorance and folk-lore to breed fear and hatred, but luckily, in this case, some good came of it and the would-be intruders stayed well away. There are now some 10,000 individual Coco de Mer palms happily growing on the island.
1850’s: The Giant Tortoise on most islands of the Seychelles was all but extinct due to being eaten and hunted for their shells by settlers and visiting sailors alike; time for that conservation project to be extended, perhaps??
1873-1875: Dr William MacGregor, son of an Aberdeen-shire farmer, moves from Praslin to Curieuse to become the Leper Colony Doctor and builds himself and his family a house from which to operate (in more ways than one). He was well known for keeping his Scottish heritage alive – by wearing a thick woollen kilt in the scorching heat and high humidity. Good lad.
1874: Charles Darwin suggests to Mauritian Authorities to relocate some of the Aldabra Atoll Giant Tortoises to the granitic islands of Seychelles in order to re-establish numbers. This was obviously after his chat with the Galapagos tortoises (not that any of it has helped poor old Lonesome George), whom he met during The Beagle days (1832-1836). Curieuse became the island of choice.
1910: The Island was leased to private companies who, as well as trying to cultivate vanilla, also constructed a causeway in an attempt to breed the Hawksbill Turtle. Tortoiseshell was all the rage in those Victorian days and this would have been a lucrative trade. However, nature got the better of them and the project failed: turtles don’t do so well cooped up like chickens. All turtles are now fully protected under Seychelles Law.
1918: The last of “Marion’s Tortoises” dies after a fall. That’s 151 years after its relocation. If it was already a “Giant” Giant Tortoise then I wonder how old it truly was.
1967: A great fire wipes out much of the natural vegetation on the island – The Government takes the island back under its control.
1976: The Seychelles gains its independence from the UK.
1978-1982: 300 Aldabra Giant Tortoises were released onto Curieuse by the Aldabra Research Committee and now roam around in a protected sanctuary. The under-5s are looked after in a nursery before being set free to fend for themselves.
1979: Curieuse Marine National Park is officially established.
2004: Causeway is destroyed by the Boxing Day Tsumani
2012: The Unwitting Traveller makes her first appearance on the island, and thought that she would scare off all the tortoises with her sun-smacked pink skin. They only chased her because of her green Kikoi (Kenyan version of a Sarong), which they thought might have been edible. (Ok, it was in Slow-Mo… I didn’t feel threatened, at all – honest…)
22 February, 2012: A week after snorkelling in the shallowest of shallows The Seychelles Government lifts the swimming ban on its beaches – 6 months after the shark attacks. Ban, or no ban – I was in there. In the next post – we’re going under…