On a recent trip to the Seychelles, I was overwhelmed with the breathtaking beauty of the 115 islands that dot the Indian Ocean. Each one has its own distinctivepersonality and claim to fame.
As the name suggests, Bird Island is known worldwide as a sanctuary for wildlife, most especially rare and endangered birds. Curious about learning more, I decided to chat with Melanie Felix, The Marketing Representative for Bird Island, Seychelles.
Biography of Melanie Felix, Marketing Representative for Bird Island, Seychelles: Melanie has been the Marketing Representative for Bird Island, Seychelles since September 2015. Her background is in the tourism industry. She graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce, Majoring in Tourism Management from Curtin University, Western Australia in 2010. Since then she has also worked for another ‘island-hotel’ in the Seychelles.
OB: Can you tell me a little more about the history of Bird Island? Why is it so special to the Seychelles?
MF: Bird Island is the pioneer of eco-tourism in the Seychelles. The island was bought by Mr. Guy Savy in the late 1960s when he decided to focus on developing tourism in The Seychelles. He was ahead of his time as he wanted to maintain the natural beauty-flora and fauna of the island for visitors to enjoy so in 1973 he opened the first eco-lodge of the Seychelles.
Bird Island is also renowned for being one of the most accessible bird sanctuaries in the Seychelles. There are vast numbers of seabirds present, and calling continuously throughout the year. However, it the Sooty Tern Colony that the island is mostly known for.
The island is a vital nesting site for Sooty Terns. When it was bought by Mr Savy, he cleared the land of overgrown coconut palms, from the islands former years as a coconut plantation, enabling the 15,000 pairs of Sooty Terns that had been nesting on the island to grow to 700,000 pairs. Today, 1.5 million Sooty Terns are said to arrive to the island to nest.
OB: How do you believe Bird Island has benefitted the country's tourism?
MF: It is a spectacular sight witnessing the Sooty Tern Colony. During their breeding season which is from May to September, you’ll find thousands of these birds nesting or soaring in the skies above the colony. This spectacular phenomenon has benefited the tourism industry as a natural attraction, pulling visitors to the island yearly.
Due to its location, Bird Island is also the first landfall for many migratory birds and vagrants, some of which have been recorded nowhere else in the Seychelles, and making it a very attractive site for ornithologists.
OB: So this is a magical place. What, specifically, are your favorite things about the island and the birds?
MF: I have lots of favorite parts of Bird Island, and they include:
- The variety of birds you can find, making it great if you’re a bird watching enthusiast.
- The fact that you can get quite close to certain birds like the Fairy Tern or the White-Tailed tropic bird, without frightening them. And you can take great photos!
- The sheer beauty of this tropical island, the greenery and its long white sandy beaches.
- The fact that you can swim just a few metres from the shore and get to swim with up to three or four sea turtles all at once!
- The intriguing Giant Land Tortoises that roam the grounds.
- The laid back and authentic feel of the island.
- That to this day the island is still being run by a Seychellois family. And you can find them on the island still very much involved.
OB: What is being done to protect the birds on the island, especially the endangered ones?
MF: Since buying the island, Mr. Savy has put in place environmental programmes for the protection of the birds on the island. A Conservation Officer is employed to manage these conservation projects, and it is not only limited to the birds but also extends to the protection of the Green Turtles and Hawksbill Turtles that come to nest on the island. Bird Island is also a peak breeding site for these sea turtles.
OB: What else should an American audience understand about Bird Island?
MF: There’s not much to understand other than that we want to preserve our beautiful island; for visitors to experience something that they might not otherwise experience in their own country, and also for the future generation.
OB: I have a different sort of question now. What is your favorite island in the Seychelles and why?
MF: It will seem that I am being biased of course, when I say that it is Bird Island.
Of the Seychelles islands that I have visited, Bird Island is definitely my favourite. I have fond memories of many of the others but I feel that some are becoming a bit more developed, and I don’t want this for small islands. I don’t want to see too many cars on the roads or too many people on the beaches. For those that are not like this I am grateful, but there, you’ll find a large chain hotel or resort lacking the charm and warmth of a smaller independent ‘home-grown’ hotel.
This is why I love Bird Island and its lodge. Since being bought by Mr Savy, the island hasn’t lost its authenticity, its charm. It is truly the place to go to and not have to worry or think about anything. It has such a laid back atmosphere and this is enhanced by the beauty of the island and its amazing beaches. And we can’t forget the spectacular Sooty Tern Colony! This is a sight that leaves me in awe each time I see it and make me realise how incredible nature is.
OB: Why do you think the Seychelles is a destination worth visiting for, let's say, Americans and Canadians halfway across the world?
MF: I feel that for Americans and Canadians, the Seychelles is a new destination to be discovered. Traveling to new destinations such as the Seychelles with something different to offer will be sought for rather than the traditional trips to places such as North America itself and Europe. The Seychelles offers a very different and diverse culture. We are a melting pot, bringing people different flavours through our cuisine, in our music and our way of life in general.
To add to this, the location of our islands allows us to have great weather year round. It is a fantastic tropical island getaway, perfect for divers, fishing enthusiasts, nature lovers, travellers in pursuit of authentic cultures and it is also great for those who just want to sunbathe all day on the best white sandy beaches in the Indian Ocean.
Biography of Mr. Guy Savy: Mr Savy’s custodianship of Bird Island, Seychelles’ most northerly outpost, began in 1967 upon his return to Seychelles from New Zealand where he spent several years studying accountancy. He acquired Bird at a time when the island was much the worse for wear from years of human disturbance of the island’s famous colony of sooty terns whose population during the 1950s plummeted from somewhere near a million birds to scarcely 65,000. And so began the long process of clawing back the island from the brink of ecological disaster through sensitive conservation and eco-friendly tourism.
Mr Savy handed over management of the island to his sons, Nick and Alex in January 2016. (Excerpt from INSIDE Seychelles. 2015. by Glynn Burridge)