The islands of Seychelles, although hard to believe, hold much more than meets the eye, especially at one of the particular islands, home to the native hawksbill turtles who are receiving a helping hand as they make the journey to the sea.
In recent history, the definition of “paradise” seems to have morphed into something superficial – less Robinson Crusoe and more Las Vegas, filled with garish beachside carnivals of cocktails and bombastic attitudes. In other words, completely the opposite of an experience at Desroches Island Resort. Occupying a remote position in Seychelles’ outer islands, Desroches is a destination equal in beauty and substance, where paradise is achieved by leaving guests and their temporary corner of sun and sand more enriched than before.
Originally named Wood Island for the dense forests found by British explorers in 1771, Desroches was renamed after the Chevalier des Roches, then-governor of Mauritius. Used as a source of coconut products, this coralline slice of land in the Indian Ocean was left with a shaky ecosystem, the harvesting having a significant negative impact on the health of the endemic vegetation and birdlife.
With the intervention of the Island Conservation Society of Seychelles (ICS) and its close relationship with Desroches, the island and its denizens are making a comeback.
Green sea and Hawksbill turtles, both endangered marine species, regularly make their nurseries in the shores and secluded overgrown patches of Desroches. Mother turtles will lay up to 200 eggs in sandy clutches before returning to the sea on this annual pilgrimage. Green turtles tend to lay anywhere on the island, most often in the southwestern beaches; Hawksbills, more sensitive to light and sound than their green cousins, prefer to nest on the quieter north-eastern side of the island near the lighthouse.
Guests visiting from October to January have the rare opportunity to witness the young turtles’ emergence and assist the hatchlings on their perilous journey to the sea.
Aldabra giant tortoises, classified as a threatened species, also make their home on picturesque Desroches. Originally hailing from the Aldabra Atoll, these ancient land dwellers live a privileged life in ICS’s tortoise rehabilitation habitat and nursery. Aldabras are defined by their distinct high-domed shell, from a distance resembling petite dirt mounds lumbering along in the brush.
In addition to monitoring the turtle and tortoise populations, the ICS seeks to preserve the integrity of Desroches by eradicating land-dwelling pests and exotic plants that over time have crept onto the tiny island. The ICS plant nursery regularly makes deliveries of Indian almond, Alexandrian laurel, guettarda, fruit bat trees and a variety of other endemic trees to Desroches to be reintroduced into the ecosystem. The increase of tree life, coupled with the decrease in rodents, has seen the native bird numbers begin to rise – an upward trend organizers hope will soon spread to include turtle and tortoise populations.
It’s easy to live vicariously through any number of cable television programs, leaving it up to producers to show us what we should value in search of paradise. Yes, Desroches has the accoutrements of a luxury resort you might see featured on such programs, but what is found here that cannot be put to film is island opulence washed in humility.
Desroches Island Resort is patronized by those who are as quick to dig a spot for a new tree as they are to dig their toes in the sand. And there’s plenty of sand to dig into on Desroches – the island is rimmed with close to nine miles of it, backed by the subtle silhouette of the suites and villas. Open-plan, airy havens with en-suite facilities and luxurious modern conveniences are found in Desroches’ accommodations. Couples and large families alike will find comfort in the variety, ranging from the intimate Beach Suites to the generous four-bedroom Luxury Beach Villas.
The gracious abodes are spread throughout various areas of the two-square-mile island, close to the amenities of the main house and the activities inland, but far enough separated to make guests feel as if they are the only ones who have stumbled upon the paradise.
Development of Desroches Island Resort has been completed – and continues – with the integrity of the island and its delicate ecosystem ever top-of-mind. Lodge structures and furnishings have been built from Casurina trees, a non-indigenous hardwood slated for removal, in a project completed locally by craftsmen on the island. The chef crafts his dishes with fish harvested safely from the sea and produce from the organic garden, nourished by composted material from the resort.
The conservation efforts on Desroches have recently expanded to the island’s existing structures, with plans being drawn for an antique colonial home in the island’s Creole settlement to be restored and converted into a savory traditional restaurant.
Amidst the beauty of the restored island, moments of adventure await. The outer islands of Seychelles are prized for their coral formations and Desroches is no exception. From the resort’s fully-equipped NAUI/PADI dive center, embark on underwater excursions through mazes of caves and hidden columns alive with colorful coral and sea life. Fish from the beach or with guides out at sea where sizeable tuna, marlin, job fish and grouper are among the catches netted then prepared with the help of the chef in the privacy of your villa. A holiday on Desroches is an experience of both recreation and education, especially for children. With childcare services and a wealth of guided excursions tailored to miniature explorers, family adventure is balanced with time for adults to retreat and experience solace in the spa, at the beach or on the breezy patio of their suite. Hiking or biking the island to appreciate the beauty that has resulted from careful conservation is only part of the experience at Desroches. The resort’s Rejuvenation for Conservation project offers ample opportunity for hands-on participation in the rehabilitation of the island. Enterprising guests can accompany the ICS staff to monitor clutches of turtle eggs in remote beach nests and track the movements of both mother and hatchlings during nesting season. Guests may also plant an endemic tree or adopt one of the many baby tortoises living in the ISC nursery – a donation that will remain cherished long after bidding farewell to Desroches’ paradise. These intensely personal acts of conservation produce something of a historical rarity: human visitors leaving a lasting, positive impact on an exotic island.
The Inside Scoop
By Holly Kilpatrick | Experiential Travel Specialist
Let me just start by saying that the Seychelles’ Islands are absolutely beautiful. The smiling faces of the Seychellois make you feel welcome to these culturally diverse islands. It is truly a remarkable feeling to be in this kind of place; open and friendly, warm and inviting.
One thing I’ll never forget during my time in Seychelles was HOW CLOSE I got to be with my natural sourroundings. I was able to go out and discover fresh turtle tracks on the beach and even assist in monitoring native hawksbill nests during a conservation excursion at Desroches Island. It makes a tremendous difference when traveling to have that kind of “hands-on” experience. It really enriches your whole trip.