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Vallée de Mai - environment

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Vallée de Mai was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983 as an outstanding example of low and intermediate altitude palm forest characteristic of the Seychelles.

The site is classed under category IV (Habitat/Management Area) of the IUCN Management Category and designated as a Natural World Heritage Site for fulfilling the criteria i, ii, iii and iv.

These criteria are as followed:

Criterion I: The property is an outstanding example of a major stage in the evolutionary history of Earth in that its ecology is dominated by endemic palms. It is a palm forest preserved in something like its primeval state, dominated by the famous and unique Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica). The population is substantial and with continued protection, is self-sustaining.

Criterion II: The habitats provide a refuge that harbours viable populations of endemic species of flora and fauna, providing outstanding examples of significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and communities. An example is the unique association between endemic geckos and the male inflorescences of the Coco de Mer.

Criterion III: An area of exceptional natural beauty where a concentration of diverse and unique plant and animal species thrive. The lush vegetation that largely features the Coco de Mer palm produces the largest seeds of the plant kingdom. The juvenile leaves of the Coco de Mer are also strikingly beautiful and amongst the largest leaves of any living plant.

Criterion IV: The area is rich in biodiversity and the habitat of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna. The region is the type locality and world’s stronghold for the Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica), Seychelles Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi) and the endemic freshwater fish (Pachypanchax playfairi) in particular. With many other endemic plant and animal species, the area represents a remarkable concentration of outstanding natural wealth of the highest importance to science and conservation.

Vallée de Mai - environment - Key Species

The Vallée De Mai palm forest is a remarkable remnant of the prehistoric forests which existed when the Seychelles islands were still part of Gondwanaland, the huge land mass which included what is now Africa, Madagascar and India. Millions of years of isolation enabled a unique community of plants and animals to develop in the Vallée De Mai and some species are found nowhere else.

Coco de Mer
The Coco de Mer palm is surrounded by myth and legends. This is partly because the strange bi-lobed nuts were discovered long before the palm itself and partly because of the suggestive shapes of both male and female structures which occur on separate Coco de Mer palms. As the most renowned and flagship species for Vallée de Mai, and as the subject of conservation revenue through nut harvesting and sale, this palm merits special consideration. Seychelles Islands Foundation, with responsibility for Vallée de Mai, is entrusted with 25% of the total world population of Coco de Mer palms.

The canopy within Vallée de Mai reaches up to 30m, although the majority of trees are still juvenile. The tree grows best in the deeper, richer soils of the lower slopes, but also extends to the high ridges at a lower density. In Vallée de Mai, leaves of young Coco de Mer palms can reach a length of 14m or more. There are male and female Coco de Mer palms. Male palms grow to about 30m high, female palms to about 24m high.

The tree is renowned for its unusual biology, including the production of the largest seed which is thought to weigh as much as 20kg. The first leaf appears about one year after germination. Existing data suggests that a trunk first appears after about 15 years, and the tree reaches maturity after 20-40 years, although such figures are doubtless a generalisation and trees on higher, drier slopes will be slower growing. Female trees may carry very heavy loads of nuts. Coco de Mer palms probably live for between 200 and 400 years.

The flowers attract insects, geckos and slugs but there is no firm evidence about whether the flowers are animal or wind pollinated. Generally 3-5 fruits develop on each inflorescence, although a tree may bear over 25 fruits at a time.

Time to maturation of the nut is 6-7 years, although the nut reaches full size after only 9 months. When immature, the fruit contains a translucent jelly that was previously used for making desserts. On maturation the fruit falls to the ground where, if not collected, it will germinate within 3-6 months.

Seychelles Black Parrot
The Seychelles Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi) is the national bird of Seychelles. It is an endemic species or subspecies and merits special consideration.

Coracopsis is a well-defined genus endemic to western Indian Ocean. There is some uncertainty as to the precise taxonomy of the group. Birds of Seychelles and Comoros (race sibilans) are very similar in size and plumage and differ substantially from the nominate race. Seychelles Black Parrot shows grey in the outer webs of primaries (unlike sibilans) and undertail-coverts are sometimes paler than the rest of the body (sibilans is always concolorous). Both Seychelles and Comoros birds have been generally regarded as subspecies of the Lesser Vasa Parrot C. nigra of Madagascar. However, the latter averages 35cm, (about 17% bigger) and Seychelles/Comoros birds are grey-brown whereas birds of Madagascar are dark brown, lacking any grey tones. It has sometimes been claimed it was introduced to Seychelles from Comoros but this is probably incorrect. "Coffee-coloured parrots," evidently this species, were recorded by the Marion Dufresne expedition of 1768, two years prior to any human settlement.

The Seychelles Black Parrot has only been recorded as breeding from Praslin, though possibly it once occurred throughout the Praslin group. In 1976, 65% of birds counted were in the Vallée de Mai region, but since then there has been a spread into lowland areas, at least for feeding. Since 1988 it has been regularly seen feeding on Curieuse, but there is no evidence of breeding.

There are specimens in Paris from Marianne (collected 1875 by de l'Isle) and at the American Museum of Natural History from Aride (collected 1907). The first estimate in 1964-65 suggested a population of 30-50 birds. Annual surveys by V. Laboudallon from 1982, suggest an increase in population of c. 40% between 1985 and 1996, and by 2001 the population probably numbered 200-400 birds.

Possibly the greatest threat is introduced rats, common on Praslin. Nest boxes protected by rat guards have been erected in Vallée de Mai, but in other natural sites most nests are predated when chicks begin to call at three days old. In one study, 72 rats were trapped in the vicinity of a single nest box during the period when chicks were vulnerable (V. Laboudallon pers. comm.). Habitat destruction outside Vallée de Mai and a growing human population on Praslin may also put pressure on the species. Bush fires are frequently recorded on Praslin and have sometimes destroyed both breeding sites and food plants.

Annual population surveys have been carried out since 1982, building on work carried out by Evans (1979). Enough is known about the ecology and current status to be confident that Vallée de Mai provides critical breeding sites. More research is probably not a priority. Numbers may ultimately be limited by a shortage of nest sites, dead trees often being cleared away, and only in Praslin National Park are these generally left to provide nest sites.

The bird is particularly fond of fruits of the endemic palm Latannyen Lat and the introduced Bilenbi. Diet also includes fruits, buds and flowers of introduced plants such as Guava and Pawpaw and endemic plants such as Bwa Rouz, Bwa Dou, Bwa Kalou, Palmis and Coco de Mer (flowers).

Other key species
There are a number of significant animal species associated with Coco de Mer forest, in particular, the molluscs Vaginula, Stylodonta, Pachnodus, as well as invertebrates associated with palm and Pandanus leaf bases. Other insects and also green geckos of the genus Phelsuma may have a significant role in pollination of Coco de Mer. There are also three species of the genus Aeluronyx present in Vallée de Mai. Freshwater organisms are well represented. Among plants, Vallée de Mai may represent a significant refuge for populations of several endangered and vulnerable species of flowering plants, and also of ferns and epiphytes, which have been less well studied.

Vallée de Mai - environment - Location

Vallée de Mai is government land and falls within the Praslin National Park, with associated protected area status. The Vallée has an area of 19.5ha. It extends from 150m to 310m altitude, and as is typical for the Seychelles contains slopes of 30%. It is bounded on one side by the main road used for crossing the island of Praslin, with a great deal of associated traffic.

The high canopy sometimes reaches 30-40m tall. The Vallée de Mai palm forest is dominated by the endemic Coco de Mer (Koko-d-Mer Lodoicea maldivica). The valley itself contains all of the 6 palm species endemic to the Seychelles, all belonging to monospecific genera: Lodoicea maldivica, Deckenia nobilis, Nephrosperma vanhoutteana, Phoenicophorium borsigianum, Verschaffeltia splendida, Roscheria melanochaetes. The palms grow intermixed with Pandanus hornei and broadleaf endemics dominated by Northea hornei and Dillenia ferruginea.

The forests of the Vallée de Mai area remained relatively untouched until the 1930s and still retain some patches in a near natural state. Since then some deforestation and planting of alien exotics such as fruit trees has affected the vegetation, but attempts are currently being made to remove alien species for the conservation of endemics. A few of the least invasive are currently allowed to remain, to provide interest for tour





Vallée de Mai - environment - Overview

Vallée De Mai is one of the world’s smallest natural World Heritage sites. Remnant of the ancient palm forests on Praslin, the Vallée de Mai contains the largest intact forest of the endemic Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica) in Seychelles.

For more than a hundred years requests were made to the authorities in Seychelles to take action to preserve the area that became known as Vallée de Mai. At times misguided but good intentions to "brighten up" the valley with alien plants posed serious threats to the ecosystem. At other times fires were started in adjacent forest areas in an attempt to destroy the palms to ensure a permanent high value of the Coco de Mer nuts.

In 1948 the Vallée de Mai was acquired by the government in order to protect the water catchments area for the island. Eighteen years later the Vallée de Mai was declared a nature reserve and in 1983 became a World Heritage Site. Management of this important reserve passed to the Seychelles Islands Foundation in 1989.

Protection and management of the Vallée de Mai is of vital importance to SIF not only to fulfill its world heritage obligations but also because the income raised from entrance fees is essential for the day to day running of Aldabra. Research into the structure and biology of the Vallée de Mai and its unique palm forests is a priority for SIF.

Vallée de Mai - environment - Visiting the Vallée de Mai

Vallée de Mai and its associated Coco de Mer palms are a fundamental asset for tourism, and it is already well publicised in guidebooks and brochures, and through the Seychelles Tourism Board and tour operators. The granitic islands, and the ancient forests they support, are one of the primary factors that distinguish Seychelles from other island destinations such as Barbados or Bermuda. The Vallée de Mai is a very important marketing tool for Seychelles as it is often described as the Garden of Eden for its secluded location and somewhat mystical ambience.  It lies in the heart of Praslin and is home to the famous Coco de Mer and black parrot.

Moreover, the trend in tourism policy is towards ecotourism, which requires well conserved and well managed landscapes and sites. The Vallée de Mai is potentially one of the leading case studies of ecotourism in Seychelles as it receives some 40% of tourists visiting the country annually.

Comments in the visitor book at Vallée de Mai are generally positive, and reflect the outstanding quality of the site. 

Opening Hours 
The site is open to visitors from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM everyday.

Entrance fees
All non-seychellois visitors are required to pay an entrance fee of 20 Euros.

Other charges

For professional photographers and journalists a photographic/filming fee will be applied for still photography and cine/video photography. Please ensure you contact SIF before your visit to discuss the terms of agreement.

Onsite facilities
The site’s facilities include a parking area, cafe, souvenir shop, education and information centre and toilets. There is also disabled access in the visitors centre and part of the forest.

Each visitor gets a free leaflet that provides all the required information on the site. Finding your way around the Vallée de Mai is made easier by the map included in your leaflet.