The atoll that time forgot: but now tourists threaten its eco-system.


Artykuł pochodzi z pisma "Guardian"

Campaigners fear for future of giant tortoises and crabs

Rory Carroll, Africa correspondent
Monday April 12, 2004
The Guardian

For millennia the atoll known as Aldabra has bloomed in the absence of man. A speck in the Indian Ocean hundreds of miles from inhabited islands, it spawned tortoises big enough to knock over trees and crabs powerful enough to rip open coconuts.
White-throated rails, the last surviving flightless bird of the Indian Ocean, wandered the scrub, and in the lagoon darted sharks, ray, groupers and other exotic fish. Sailors occasionally landed but did not linger, for want of fresh water and timber.
But in the mid-1960s Britain appeared to deliver the unique ecosystem's death sentence by deciding to site a military base at Aldabra, effectively turning it into a giant aircraft carrier.
Campaigners rolled back that decision in what was feted as a landmark victory for the modern environmental movement, leaving the atoll's four main islands, Grande Terre, Malabar, Polymnie and Picard, largely untouched to this day.
Now that may change because a luxury hotel is being planned for Aldabra. The age of ecotourism has caught up with the land that time forgot. The government of the Seychelles, the archipelago east of Africa which administers the atoll, has tendered for a resort to cater for the super-rich in anticipation of charging each visitor thousands of dollars a day.
The prospect has horrified conservationists. Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP who led opposition to the military base, vowed yesterday to launch a new campaign on behalf of Aldabra, which remains part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. "I am absolutely dismayed," he said. "It would alter the nature of the atoll. The idea was to keep it as pristine as possible."
Mr Dalyell, now the father of the House of Commons, said he would raise the issue in parliament when it resumes after the Easter break and lobby the Foreign Office.
But the South African company which has tendered to build the resort, Wilderness Safaris, said its environmental record was impeccable and it would manage the world heritage site better than scientists who, it said, treated the atoll as a private playground while stationed there for research.
"Why should it be scientists that have exclusive access? They can be the worst when it comes to looking after the environment," said a company director, Russel Friedman.
Aldabra is situated in the extreme south-west of the Seychelles archipelago, 375 miles east of Africa, 250 miles north-west of Madagascar and 685 miles south-west of the main Seychelles population centre, Mahé.
It is the world's largest raised coral atoll; its last submergence was about 125,000 years ago. It hosts endemic insects, plants and mammals, including 152,000 giant tortoises, the world's largest population of this reptile. Believed to live beyond 100 years, the tortoises weigh up to 250kg (39 stones) and are known to push over shrubs and small trees when foraging for food.
Robber crabs measuring up to a metre long - the world's largest terrestrial arthropods - rove the beaches and climb palm trees in search of coconuts, which they open with huge pincers. The world's second largest population of frigate birds use the atoll for their sanctuary.
Described by Sir David Attenborough as "one of the wonders of the world", the atoll was declared a world heritage site by the UN in 1982.
The government of the Seychelles, whose beaches attract celebrities such as the England rugby star Jonny Wilkinson, wants to attract rich tourists and for Aldabra to pay its own way.
"It costs us $500,000 a year to run Aldabra," Lindsey Chong Seng, executive director of the Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF) which manages Aldabra, told Reuters. "In order to maintain the atoll, we have to put Aldabra on a sustainable footing by introducing an upmarket eco-lodge."
He said plans included building six blocks, accommodating a total of 12 people, on the western island of Picard. Visitors will be expected to pay up to $2,000 (£1,090) a night.
Wilderness Safaris is the only company to have tendered, according to Mr Friedman. The Johannesburg-based company runs 48 lodges across southern Africa, many of them in environmentally sensitive areas.
Non-governmental organisations promised funding but it never materialised, Mr Friedman said, prompting the authorities to seek alternative means.
He envisaged a maximum of 20 visitors spending a week at a time on the atoll, adding that it would be better off hosting monitored tourists than PhD students duplicating predecessors' research.
"It's an awesome place, really amazing. If you go there and don't enjoy yourself there must be something wrong with you," Mr Friedman said.
But he said the company had asked the authorities to suspend the tender process for 12 months while the tourism market improved.
A marine researcher who spent several months on the island but declined to be named said a hotel would compound rising sea temperatures and erosion which are already threatening the ecosystem.
Mr Dalyell echoed those concerns, claiming that no matter how well intentioned, a resort would damage the atoll.

aircraft carrier – lotniskowiec
arthropod – stawonóg
anticipation – antycypacja, przewidywanie
To bloom – kwitnąć
to cater for – zaopatrywać
to compound – pogłębiać, zwiększać
dismay – niepokój
eco-lodge – ekologiczny pobyt/zakwaterowanie
envisage – przewidywać
to fete – fetować, świętować
flightless bird – ptak nielot
to forage – szukać pożywienia
impeccable – nienaganny
Inhabited – zamieszkany
to linger – siedzieć długo, zasiedzieć się, zwlekać
pincers – szczypce
prospect – perspektywa
reptile – gad
to roll back – obniżyć koszty
to rove – wędrować
sanctuary – rezerwat
scrub – obszar porośnięty karłowatą roslinnością
shrub – krzew, krzak
To spawn – składać (jaja)
speck - drobinka
to tender – zgłaszać chęć wykonania czegoś, składać ofertę
terrestrial - lądowy
tortoise – żółw
upmarket – z wysokiej półki, coś luksusowego
to vow – przyrzekać, obiecywać
to wander – przemierzać, przechadzać się


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