Aldabra Atoll

(Year of inscription 1982; Area 35,000 ha; Site 185)

atol (303K) turtl (178K) bird (399K)

Benefits from WH designation:

  • Conservation of biodiversity

    - it is essential to plan conservation at the appropriate scale for system integrity, given which, successes in maintaining species and ecosystems (intentional and fortuitous) are possible.
  • Education and awareness

    - a World Heritage site can inspire and motivate the younger generations, as well as adults and visiting tourists, to appreciate nature and what it provides to human society.
  • Energy innovation and cost-saving

    - the challenges of remoteness and cost, and a focused management team, enable leadership in technology and infrastructure that could be applied by others within the country and beyond, providing benefits beyond the original scope of the site inscription.


Aldabra Atoll is a raised coral reef enclosing a shallow lagoon, one of the largest in the Indian Ocean. It is the western-most island of the Seychelles, the closest landmasses are the Tanzania coast, the northern tip of Madagascar and the Comoros. Due to difficulties of access and the atoll's isolation, it has remained largely untouched by humans for the majority of its existence, thus retains many species and ecosystems in a near-pristine state, including the world's largest population of giant tortoises (about 100,000).

Criteria of inscription:

  • vii-superlative features

    - a superlative spectacle of natural phenomena, mixing geological, island and biological features.
  • ix-biological processes

    - an outstanding example of an oceanic island ecosystem in which evolutionary processes are active within a rich biota; the evolution of endemic flora and fauna can be clearly observed in their full complexity.
  • x-species & conservation

    - an outstanding natural laboratory for scientific research and discovery. There are also globally important breeding populations of endangered green and hawksbill turtles, significant natural habitat for birds, and a fringing reef system and coral habitat in excellent health.
  • Integrity

    - includes all the islands and shallow marine habitats, and is sufficiently large to support all ongoing biological and ecological processes. Its remoteness and inaccessibility limit human interference resulting in an almost intact ecosystem, sustaining naturally viable populations of all key species.
  • Protection

    - is legally protected under national legislation (Special Reserve status), managed by a public trust (Seychelles Islands Foundation, SIF), and has an operational management plan with focus on key threats (tourism, invasive alien species, climate change and oil spills).

Some key successes:

  • Flagship species

    , the Aldabra Giant Tortoise maintained and stable; the Aldabra flightless rail successfully reintroduced to one island and flourishing; green turtle population increased by a factor of 5-8 since protection; frigatebird population increasing.
  • Rich biological diversity

    and relatively high proportion of endemic taxa maintained.
  • Important feeding and breeding area

    for marine turtles/seabirds and shorebirds protected.
  • Diversity of marine habitats

    within the large lagoon and around the atoll rim.
  • Research showing

    previously unknown importance

    of the atoll and surrounding sea as a corridor for marine megafauna such as large sharks, turtles, whales.
  • Education and nature-conservation tourism

    on Aldabra has contributed on national and global scales.

Some major challenges:

  • Climate change:

    sea level rise poses a significant threat to the low-lying atoll, and acidification to the corals and limestone rock.
  • Invasive species:

    Human activity on the island in the past has introduced invasive species, such as goats, rats and cats, threatening the endemic flora and fauna. Eradication is challenging and costly, with some successes, but remains a major threat.
  • Human disturbance:

    though human settlement has been low and for about 100 years, previous exploitation of wildlife and small scale development has impacted the endemic flora and fauna, and migrant breeding species.
  • High operational costs

    to maintain conversation and protection; the mode chosen was a research station and costs are supported through Seychelles second World Heritage site, the Vallée de Mai.
  • Recruitment of staff

    at all levels is challenging, due to the remoteness of the site.

Case study lessons - expected and unexpected contributions of a World Heritage Site

Conservation of biodiversity

  • At inception, a marine buffer zone of 1 km was protected around the shoreline. However, with increasing knowledge about the marine biodiversity and habitats of Aldabra, and use of its inshore waters by migrating species such as tuna, sharks and marine mammals, the first extension to the boundaries of the World Heritage Site is under consideration, to encompass sensitive habitat types not currently protected and off shore biological hotspots.
  • Dugong were sighted only occasionally in the first years of Aldabra's protection, then none for several years, suggesting they may have become locally extinct. However, since 2001 there have been regular sightings, and in early 2013, the first aerial surveys counted 14 individuals in the lagoon, giving a population estimate of at least 25 animals, including breeding females and young.
  • These examples illustrate two clear benefits of effective management at the right scale: a) that conditions can improve through management, resulting in the recovery of valuable species and habitats, even for those not initially the focus of management; and b) the area can form the basis for improved zoning and design of the protection system to cover more attributes and valuable features not considered in the initial design.

Education and awareness

- A World Heritage Site offers the citizens of a country an insight into a special place - sometimes that they already value, sometimes in ways they have never imagined before. Since 2000 SIF sponsored the star prize of a trip to Aldabra in the eco-school competition run by the Ministry of Education. Some 120 children have had this opportunity, with an impact at multiple levels: the broader student-body during the competition phase, while the children are at Aldabra, on their return to school when they share their experiences with the other students, and often in later life. One of the first students to benefit from this, Richard Felix, said of his experience "Before you visit Aldabra you could never imagine a place like that exists. It's so out of the ordinary". The many consequences of this include fostering and encouraging support for, and instilling great national pride in Aldabra via a sense of shared ownership, even in the many people who do not have the opportunity to visit. Though the trips had to be stopped in 2010 due to insecurity from piracy, the SIF Board is exploring ways to restart the initiative.

Energy innovation and cost-saving

- Aldabra's remote location has meant that providing energy for the station has been a major logistical challenge and expense, relying on fuel for boat transport and a diesel generator for powering the station, and resulting in heavy work transporting 200 liter drums, pollution from burning and CO2 emissions, and noise at the station. In 2008 SIF decided to implement goals of sustainability, fuel efficiency and reducing emissions, and to gain cost savings on energy use. Following 4 years of research and planning, a 25 kWp hybrid photovoltaic-diesel energy system was installed in April 2012, with the following implications on-site:
  • Improvements in energy efficiency reduced electricity demand by 57 % (valuable in itself, but also a pre-requisite for the photovoltaic system). Equivalent to a reduction of 57,500 kg of CO2 emissions per year.
  • In its first year, the PV system produced 38,200 kWh electricity, avoiding some 40,000 kg of CO2 emissions.
  • Diesel used has decreased by 97%.
  • Operational cost savings were made of about $ 88,000 per year.
  • Elimination of generator noise, affecting workers at the station, and the immediate environment.
SIF estimates that at current levels, the investment cost of the photovoltaic system alone will be recouped in 3 years, demonstrating a viable investment for any operation of a similar scale dependent on long distance transport of fuel. The investment in both energy efficient measures and renewable energies are important for environmental and financial sustainability.
Discland team

Prepared by: David Obura, Rowana Walton, Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, Nancy Bunbury; Photos: Michael Sur, Richard Baxter, David Obura.