Seychelles & Mascarenes Moist Forests - A Global Ecoregion

Hawksbill turtle (<i>Eretmochelys imbricata</i>) laying eggs on a beach above high ... rel=
Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) laying eggs on a beach above high water mark, Seychelles.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY

About the Area

The Seychelles and Mascarene Islands are made up of these terrestrial ecoregions: Granitic Seychelles forests; Mascarene forests; Aldabra Island xeric scrub.

The Seychelles Islands were formed millions of years ago from bits of Gondwanaland that were cast adrift when the Indian continent drifted north toward Asia. The Seychelles are made up of 115 islands that can be divided into 2 types: the 42 granitic islands that make up this ecoregion, and low limestone islands.

The Seychelles Islands are justly famous for their coral reefs and the remote Aldabra Atoll - the largest raised atoll in the world. It supports a huge coral diversity and rare land species like the giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys elephantina), vast seabird colonies and important sea turtle breeding beaches. In recognition of its status it is listed as a natural World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The Mascarene forests include the Réunion Islands, Rodrigues Island and Mauritius that were once home to the now extinct Dodo. The Aldabra Islands are also called the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean with most of its surface being the remains of an ancient coral reef.

All the islands experience a humid tropical climate with monsoon rains from November to April.
Size:
5,400 sq. km (2,000 sq. miles) 

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Geographic Location:
Islands to the north and east of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species

In Seychelles, species include legless caecilians (a wormlike amphibian), Seychelles paradise flycatchers, Seychelles magpie-robins (Copsychus sechellarum), Seychelles sheath-tailed bat (Coleura seychellensis), Seychelles kestrel (Falco araea), Seychelles swiflet (Collocalia elaphra), Seychelles wild vanilla orchid, stilt palm, Seychelles pitcher plant, and one of the rarest plants in the world, the jellyfish tree - with a total population of less than 30, it was thought to be extinct until rediscovered in 1970. The forests of the Seychelles are also home to the extraordinary Coco de Mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica), with the world's largest nut - coco-de-mer, or sea coconut that weighs in at about 22.5 kilograms!

On Réunion, species include Réunion cuckoo-shrike (Coracina newtoni), Réunion stone chat (Saxicola tectes), and Olivaceous bulbul (Hypsipetes borbonicus). On Mauritius the Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctatus) has been successfully bred in captivity for reintroduction, and the pink pigeon (Columba mayeri) is also found there. Unique reptiles and amphibians include the endemic frog family, Sooglossidae.

With about 152,000 individuals, Aldabra has the largest population of these giant tortoises (Dipsochelus gigantea) in the world. This ecoregion is also home to the very last known population of flightless birds in the western Indian Ocean, and it provides valuable breeding areas for both marine turtles and seabirds. Also found here are the plump Aldabra white-throated rails, the last living representative of several species of Indian Ocean flightless birds.
Flightless Birds. / ©: WWF
Flightless Birds.
© WWF

Featured Species

Aldabra giant tortoise (<i>Geochelone gigantea</i>) walking on the beach, Cousine ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
Aldabra giant tortoise (Geochelone gigantea) walking on the beach, Cousine Island, Seychelles. Vulnerable, it is endemic to the islands of Aldabra and the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean, populations have also been introduced to Mauritius and Reunion.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY
The Aldabra Giant Tortoise (Geochelone gigantea), from the islands of the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, is one of the largest tortoises in the world. The shell is a dark gray or black color with a high domed shape. It has stocky, heavily scaled legs to support its heavy body.

Primarily herbivores, Aldabra Tortoises will eat grasses, leaves, and woody plant stems. They occasionally indulge in small invertebrates and carrion, even eating the bodies of other dead tortoises. They are also excellent swimmers, being neutrally buoyant. These Large tortoises are among the longest-lived animals on the planet. Some individual Aldabra Giant Tortoises are thought to be over 100 years of age, but this is difficult to verify because they tend to outlive their human observers.

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Threats

In addition to extensive clearing of native forests for agriculture and development, particularly in the lowlands, the natural communities of the islands are seriously threatened by introduced animals such as goats, pigs, and cattle. Introduced cats, dogs, and mongoose prey on native species, particularly seabirds, lizards, caecilians, and invertebrates. Cyclones also hammer the degraded landscape, causing landslides and giving alien plants a foothold from which to further invade native habitats.

The Seychelles suffered a severe coral bleaching event in the late 1990s and a recent assessment by the Seychelles Foundation judged climate change to be the most significant threat facing the Aldabra atoll.

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 / ©: WWF-Canon / Cat HOLLOWAY
Corals become "bleached" when water temperatures rise too high and are sustained for too long.
© WWF-Canon / Cat HOLLOWAY

WWF’s work

WWF is active in Madagascar, Mascarenes, and Seychelles through its West Indian Ocean marine program. WWF's approach involves collaborations with a number of other partners involved in marine conservation work. These include important partnerships with the UNEP Regional Seas Programme, the Indian Ocean Commission and WIOMSA, as well as relevant national government departments and other concerned organizations.

The focus of these programs is the creation and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), including the establishment of new areas and managing those that currently exist. WWF is also developing a detailed conservation plan, promoting sustainable fisheries, and influencing marine policy to reduce the damaging effects of trade in marine species with countries in the Far East.

WWF is working to develop and test conservation strategies to better protect coral reefs from bleaching while also working to stop global warming, the root cause of the almost epidemic coral bleaching currently underway.

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