Aldabra. The kingdom of giant tortoises.

Island of Aldabra

Island of Aldabra

Aldabra is an amazing example of one of the most pristine natural environments and most fragile ecosystems. The world’s largest coral atoll consists of 13 islands, which make up one-third of the land mass of the Seychelles. The entire Mahe can fit inside the lagoon of Aldabra.

The Aldabra group of islands is located about 360 kilometers north of Madagascar, 1,150 kilometers from Mahe, and belongs to the so-called Outer Seychelles Islands. The eponymous atoll Aldabra is the most famous member of this group, but there are three other islands: Assampshin, Astov and Cosmoledo. The foundation on which the entire group of islands stands is a volcano extending 1 kilometer deep into the ocean, formed millions of years ago after erupting into the sea. The ring, which now consists of different islands, was originally a crater ridge of the volcano, once completely covered by the ocean, which created ideal conditions for coral growth. These days, the atoll is very flat, with its highest point only 8 meters above sea level.

The island is home to 273 species of flowering plants and ferns, 19 of which are endemic. Aldabra giant tortoises belong to one of the oldest groups of animals living today, they have survived unchanged for perhaps 200 million years. On Aldabra, they happily live in numbers of about 150,000. It is the largest turtle colony in the world according to their most recent census. It is also home to the flightless birds white-toothed rails, drongos, foddies, white-eyed bulbuls, goatees, cougars, doves, and turtledoves. Rare birds include the great flamingo and red-footed boobies.

Since 1982, Aldabra Atoll is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Four large islands, Grand Terre, Malabar, Picard and Polymni, and several smaller islands belong to this coral reef atoll, which surrounds a huge lagoon. The lagoon itself is between 34 and 100 kilometers long and about 15 kilometers wide, making it the second largest coral atoll in the world and a unique natural habitat.

Island of Aldabra

Flora and fauna

Because of the sparse vegetation and isolated location, only relatively few people have ever set foot on this piece of land. Nevertheless, concerned scientists and explorers, including Charles Darwin, have gone to great lengths to prevent civilization from developing on Aldabra, allowing the island’s ecological systems to flourish.

It is home to the largest colony of wild giant tortoises in the world, about 150,000 in all, far more than the Galapagos Islands in South America, or any other place in the world where a giant tortoise roams the wild on its own. Hawksbill and green sea turtles, which live in the ocean, come here to the beach to lay their eggs. Here on the beach, too, the turtles are likely to encounter tiny coconut crabs.

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Various bird species are equally abundant on Aldabra, including flamingos, frigatebirds, herons, white-winged aldabra (which cannot fly), tropical red-tailed birds, sunbirds, ibises, sea swallows, Aldabra drongos and many other feathered creatures. Ninety-seven endemic bird species live and nest here. The island is home to 8 different species of mangroves, providing a natural habitat for birds. The flying fox is the only native mammal of the archipelago, while the Aldabra snails, thought to have become extinct back in 1997, were rediscovered in 2014.

In addition to shrubs, most of which are no taller than three to four meters, the island has 200 different flowering plants, 40 of which can only be found here. For a coral atoll, this variety of plants is exceptional. A rare mushroom coral can also be found here. The underwater world of Aldabra is also a unique paradise. Fishing is prohibited here, so many reef fish swim among bass, rays, skates and mackerel. A total of 221 fish species from 38 families have also been recorded on Aldabra. The current species richness in Aldabra indicates that there is a healthy fish population here.

Drift diving through the channels in the atoll’s lagoon is a real treat for diving enthusiasts and allows you to get up close and personal with healer fish, lucians and mantas, as well as blacktip sharks, dolphins and manatees.

Island of Aldabra


The Aldabra Marine Program began researching the atoll in November 1999 to systematically monitor changes in the diverse habitats and reef fish communities around Aldabra. Coral recruitment is also monitored by measuring recruits in repeating 1-square-meter squares.

In 1998, an expedition from Cambridge University surveyed Aldabra and reported that about 40% of all outer reef scleractinia were already bleached or dead. Some of the corals most affected by bleaching were Acropora, Porites, Lobophyllia, Goniastrea, Millepora and Heliopora. Many of the massive colonies affected by bleaching tended to have surviving living polyps in the band around the base.

The percentage of live coral cover in areas around Aldabra now ranges from 3 to 28% in shallow water and 0.2 to 36% in deep water. Coral cover is best at the sheltered northwestern end of the atoll and steadily decreases toward the more exposed southeastern shoreline. Live coral cover in Aldabra tends to grow slowly from year to year, indicating recovery. There are also signs of recovery on other islands.

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Island of Aldabra

Other atoll islands

About 30 kilometers southeast of Aldabra Atoll is an island of about 10 square kilometers, also known as Assumption Island. The main feature of this island is the 20-meter-high sand dunes and limestone boulders. The island got its name from the French captain Nicolas Morphy, who discovered the island on August 14, 1756 and named it after the next day, the Assumption of Mary to Heaven. The island was used primarily for the production of guano and copra, and there are several buildings and an airstrip for small planes.

The island’s once dense vegetation has been destroyed over time by civilization. In 1920, most of the plants and animals on the island became extinct, and even today Assamption is the most devastated island in the Seychelles in terms of environmental impact. Thanks to renovation work, some of the old flora and fauna of the island has been renewed, only a few people live on the island these days. Assamese is often used as a day trip destination for cruises, although there is very little infrastructure on the island. Authorities try to limit the number of trips to the island to protect the environment here. 115 kilometers southeast of Aldabra is Cosmoledo Atoll, an almost circular shape. It is about 14.5 kilometers long and 11.5 kilometers wide, and the entire atoll consists of two islands, Menai and Grand Isle, and a dozen small islands and rocks, with a total area of only 5 square kilometers. The lagoon, on the other hand, has an area of 145 square kilometers. Cosmoledo, like neighboring Astov, is located on a volcanic basement, extending to a depth of 4 kilometers.

Cosmoledo was once home to coconut and agave plantations, but guano production has taken its toll on the island’s nature. Today, hundreds of thousands of different seabirds live on the island, including the largest bird colony in the Seychelles, where 1.1 million pairs of dacey terns nest. Meanwhile, the local colony of red-breasted terns is the largest in the Indian Ocean. The Grand Isle is home to nesting red-tailed tropical birds, a bird that can only be found here and on Aldabra.

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About 35 kilometers from Cosmoledo is 6 square kilometers of Astov Atoll, the southernmost island of the Seychelles. Astov is a so-called “elevated atoll,” a coral reef almost entirely separates the 9.5 square kilometer lagoon from the ocean.

The island is uninhabited these days, despite a small settlement on the west coast built in the 1960s, where up to 40 people once lived off growing vegetables and tobacco. The growth of guano has also damaged the island’s ecology, and few trees grow here these days. However, there are four types of land birds on Astow. In 1911, a pirate treasure chest was found on the island here, with over 100 silver coins, cutlery and more inside. The island is a real jewel of the Seychelles.

Island of Aldabra

How to get to Aldabra Island

Thanks to the relatively short travel time between islands and the regular air and sea transportation network from the main island of Mahé, getting around the Seychelles is fairly hassle-free. But access specifically to Aldabra is difficult. No airstrips, helipads or landing piers are allowed on the atoll. The nearest airfield is on Assumption Island.

Since Aldabra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, access to the atoll is carefully controlled. To ensure the protection of this unique fragile ecosystem, a special permit is required for anyone wishing to visit the island. The island is managed by the Seychelles Foundation and a research station with a science laboratory and living quarters, as the few scientists are the only permanent residents of the atoll. Supply ships departing from Mahe deliver food and other essentials to the scientists and staff of the research station every two months.

Tourist cruises are serviced by several companies, and there are also dive boats that can dock at the atoll during expedition tours. Visits to the island by non-scientists and SIF personnel are strictly controlled, and excursions are only conducted as part of a day cruise with prior permission. The atoll is visited by an average of 900 tourists a year. There are walking paths within the atoll from the village of La Gigi, which leads to a promontory that offers scenic views of the large lagoon at low tide and mangroves.

Also available are JOSE DELPECH Taxi, Henderson Taxi, Seychelles Taxi Touring, Sheldon’s Seychelles Taxi Service, Jude’s Seychelles, Agla Taxi, Mahe Cab, Barry Taxi and others.

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Aldabra Giant Turtle

The Aldabra Giant Turtle (lat. Aldabrachelys gigantea) is a close relative of the Seychelles Giant Turtle. In addition to its ginormous size, it has the ability to run quickly over short distances and stand on its hind legs when it needs to reach a tasty green twig.

Often they crawl on the back of a mate for this purpose, which indicates that they have developed intellectual abilities.

The reptile has no fear of humans, but rather shows an interest in observing the habits of its bipedal brothers in mind.

Many reptiles love to be stroked on the head or scratching the neck in the place where it touches the plastron.


The species is distributed in Aldabra Atoll, the largest atoll in the Indian Ocean belonging to the Republic of Seychelles. Nearly 98% of the entire population lives on Grande Terre, an island of about 11,400 hectares and 106.5 km of shoreline.

It has plenty of grassy pasture for herbivorous reptiles, and the average ambient temperature ranges from 22°C to 31°C depending on the season.

A semi-arid climate prevails here with little precipitation, which is insufficient for the growth of trees, but quite enough for low-growing grasses and shrubs.

The second largest population is in Zanzibar. It formerly existed on the Mascarene Islands, but was destroyed by Arab and Dutch navigators.

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The diet consists of about 21 species of herbaceous plants, among which sedges, plantains and nightshade predominate. Turtles, like elephants, walk the same paths in search of food, trampling paths in the bush.

The menu is varied by the leaves of various shrubs and their woody shoots.

The clever reptile eagerly eats apples, bananas and other fruits from the hands of tourists.

Lack of vitamins and minerals under natural conditions is made up for by eating mammalian feces and carcasses, including the corpses of their congeners. One adult eats approximately 25 kg of food per day.


Aldabra giant tortoises may live a solitary life or gather in herds to graze together in open areas. Activity peaks in the morning hours. On hot afternoons, they hide in self-digged burrows or enjoy lying in cool puddles and mangrove swamps.

They drink water very rarely, obtaining the necessary moisture from the plant food they eat. They swim well, but do not strive for the water element without a special need. They like to climb on their powerful hind legs. Sometimes this leads to an unfortunate fall and roll over on its back.

Often an animal cannot roll over on its own and dies from dehydration under the scorching sun.


Sexual maturity does not occur at a certain age, but when the body length reaches about half of its limit. This usually occurs at 25-30 years of age.

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The mating period coincides with the beginning of the rainy season and takes place in April. The female lays eggs from June to September, when the drought begins. The clutch contains from 9 to 25 eggs.

She sits in a hole dug by her that is up to 40 cm deep. If it is not possible to find soft soil for her, the clutch is simply placed in a rocky crevice.

The laid eggs are white, round, about 5 cm in diameter, with a hard shell. Less than half of them are fertilized.

Incubation duration depends greatly on temperature and air humidity, and may vary from 90 to 245 days. Baby turtles hatch with a body length of 6-7 cm and a weight of 55-78 g, most often between October and December.

Baby turtles spend about a month in the nest, and then during the rainfall they come to the surface and scatter in different directions. In their early years they are easy prey for rats, crabs and feral cats, so they are very agile and skittish.


The average length of the carapace is 122 cm and weighs 250 kg. Females are smaller than males. The neck is long, covered with soft skin, allows one to reach food up to 1 m above the ground. Legs thick and strong, covered with scales.

The dorsal carapace is brown or dark. Its thickness does not exceed 1-1.5 cm. Males have a longer and wider tail. The life expectancy of the Aldabra giant tortoise is more than 100 years.

A male named Advaita, who lived in the Alipur Zoological Garden in Calcutta and passed away in 2006, is believed to have lived 255 years.

The long-lived man died of liver failure. He ate bran, carrots, lettuce, and peas, and was very fond of bread with salt. Officially considered the longest-living creature on our planet.

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