Arriving in a boat, you can’t see Aldabra until you’re quite close. It’s very low-lying – just a mass of dead coral raised a few meters above sea-level – but you can see that the sky above has a greenish colour and this is supposed to have given the island it’s name: Al Khadra means ‘the green’ in Arabic. Stepping on to Aldabra feels like stepping back in time, to an earlier Earth where humans are just a small and unimportant part. It’s not the diversity that arrests you, but the abundance. Life shouts at you from every corner and burgeons up out of the sea – just paddling through the lagoon at low tide takes hours as you can’t tear your eyes away from the endless parade of fascinating creatures.
Conservation success story
At the AGM we have to ban the word ‘amazing’. The mood is optimistic, buoyant, as we realise that Aldabra is that rare thing: a great conservation success story. It’s true that Aldabra does not face some of the problems encountered elsewhere – it’s remoteness certainly helps – but nevertheless there have been real achievements that would have not have occurred without the dedication of the staff.
We celebrate the fact that Aldabra is now entirely goat-free: something that board member Steve Blackmore particularly appreciates, as he remembers them well from the 1970s when eradication was a distant dream. We also hear that the green turtles are continuing to increase; again Steve remembers that they rarely nested on the settlement beach in the 1970s but now they count multiple tracks every day. When we take a trip through the lagoon, we see turtles constantly, both green and hawksbills, shooting away from the noise of the boat. Finally, there is confirmation that eleven dugongs have been spotted in the lagoon: a huge increase on the previous maximum of four.
Janske van de Crommenacker provides an enthusiastic overview of the monitoring that currently takes place. It’s an impressive list: they’ve recently re-surveyed the frigate birds, and carry out regular counts of landbirds, wading birds, tortoises and coconut crabs. These crabs are rather intimidating animals that emerge at night and will happily potter around your accommodation to see whether you have anything of interest. As well as the coconut crabs, there are also incredible numbers of regular hermit crabs, which disperse tortoise dung, rather like dung beetles, which are absent from the island.
Trouble in paradise?
Unfortunately, not even Aldabra is truly pristine. SIF are also carrying out preliminary surveys of rats to find out whether they too could be eradicated. Such an eradication would be hugely ambitious, but also undoubtedly a vital step towards the goal of fully restoring this atoll so that it can truly represent a model for the rest of the Indian Ocean to aspire to. Preliminary work suggests that rat densities are higher than we feared – making this work more important than ever.
Janske’s paper on the frigate birds has just been published and can be viewed here