Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles

Seen from orbiting spaceships as little more than specks of rock and coral in a remote part of the Indian Ocean, the 115 islands of the Seychelles are in many ways an unknown or forgotten corner of the planet. That’s probably why they have survived as one of the world’s least touched ocean habitats and a sanctuary for marine animals.

Clicking on the photos will enlarge them.

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Photo caption: The cover of a new book by photographer/author/marine biologist Thomas P. Peschak: Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles. “My wish is that our children’s children will inherit, many years from now, the same stunning marine realm depicted in this book,” writes President of the Seychelles James Alix Michel in the forward to the 176-page volume.

Photo of Aldabra’s bohar snappers by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

Sea Monsters and Treacherous Currents

“For centuries the Seychelles lay hidden in a corner of the ocean that Arabian seafarers called Bahr el Zanji, a place renowned for sea monsters and treacherous currents,” writes Thomas P. Peschak, photographer and author of the new book about the islands, produced by the Save Our Seas Foundation.

Although the islands appeared in Arab navigation documents as early as AD 815, Peschak writes, they were “officially” discovered only in 1501, by the Portuguese explorer Joao de Nova. They were settled permanently in 1770, declared a British colony in 1814, and became an independent nation in 1976.

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Photo caption: “Dark-morph dimorphic egrets and black-tip reef sharks share the same hunting grounds but are not on each other’s menus. As they comb the reef flats for small fish, both species nonetheless investigate each other’s activities with great curiosity.” (Excerpted from Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles.) 

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

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Photo caption: “At birth, silver-tip sharks measure just half a meter [20 inches] in length and tend to frequent the coastal shallows, but adult sharks have been tracked to depths of 800 meters [2,600 feet]. At Aldabra, small groups of juvenile sharks approximately one meter in length are often encountered patrolling the coral reef drop-off at dusk. Silver-tip sharks feed on a wide variety of prey from parrotfish and eagle rays to tuna.” (Excerpted from Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles.) 

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

Anyone who has had the enormous privilege of visiting the Seychelles can testify that it is indeed a place remarkable for its pristine tropical island beauty, wildlife, people–and remoteness from anywhere else.

But Tom Peschak, a National Geographic photographer and chief photographer for Save Our Seas Foundation, knows this unique place in a way that perhaps no more than handful of people who have ever been to the Seychelles know it–at least the submarine part of it.

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Photo caption: Some 100,000 giant Aldabra tortoises roam the Aldabra atoll. “They normally inhabit a unique ecosystem called tortoise turf, which is closely cropped grassland among rock and scrub that has been fertilized for centuries by tortoise droppings,” Peschak writes.

Much of the book focuses on Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll at 21 miles (34 kilometers) long and 9 miles (14 kilometers) wide. “It is one of the the most remote island environments in the world, and even the spider web of shipping lanes that envelops most of the globe is distant in every direction,” Peschak writes. 

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

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Photo caption: “This potato grouper is checking out its reflection in the glass dome port of my underwater housing,” Peschak writes in the photographer’s notes for this image. “He obviously liked the look of himself; if he hadn’t, he probably would have started a territorial fight with the camera, not to mention the photographer attached to it.” (Nikon D3, 14MM lens, f18, 1/125s, IS0 200, Subal U/W housing, 2x Inon strobes.)

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

Images That Make a Difference

Since he first visited the islands with his parents as a 14-year-old, Peschak has been in love with the Seychelles. He came to learn much about them over the ensuing couple of decades, especially during multiple visits over three years when “I let my camera bear witness, freezling slices of time of the Seychelles’ unique seascape.”

Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles is his tribute to the archipelago and, he says, his way to give its sharks, groupers, turtles and many other marine animals that live there a voice.

“Through these images I hope to educate, inspire, mesmerize and create appreciation for the Seychelles’ fragile ocean world and, in a small way, contribute to safeguarding the archipelago’s marine heritage for future generations,” Peschak writes. “My mission is to create images that make a difference: images that make people change behavior that is damaging to our environment, and images that inspire people to utliize their skills, enthusiasm and financial resources to aid marine conservation.”

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Photo caption: Aldabra harbors one of the most important green turtle populations in the Indian Ocean “and every high tide the seagrass beds in the atoll’s lagoon are thick with grazing turtles,” Peschak writes.

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

If Peschak’s mission is to inspire appreciation through his photography, he has succeeded. Few people who page through this book will be unmoved by his images of the magnificent beauty of the Seychelles and its ocean animals.

Aspiring and even professional photographers will be inspired also by the artistry and technical proficiency of the images, made by a photographer whose work has been published by respected media and honored with numerous prizes, including category wins at the BBC Photographer of the Year and Fujufilm Photographic Awards.

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Photo caption: “Aldabra’s green-backed herons are wading birds partial to fish and crabs, and they also occasionally hunt dragonflies, acrobatically, on the beach crest,” Peschak writes.

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

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Photo caption: About 90 percent of Aldabra’s 30-kilometer-long [19 miles] is fringed by a magrove forest that comprises up to 8 species of trees,” Peschak says.

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

A marine biologist and an associate fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers, Peschak shares insights into the natural history and geography of the Seychelles, and there are ancedotes and photos of some of his behind-the-scenes encounters with the ocean animals.

Peschak also shares his expertise as a photographer, discussing what it is like to photograph sharks and providing notes with each photo about the circumstances of the shot and the equipment he used.

There is a comprehensive list of further reading, including field and natural history guides and scientific papers.

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Photo caption: “The atoll’s delicate terrestrial balance requires that most food waste is disposed of into the sea, and reef sharks have learned that people walking toward the water’s edge usually means leftovers,” Peschak writes in the photographer’s notes for this image. Many years of ‘training’ by various research station cooks has resulted in these sharks being anything but photo-shy, so all I had to do was wait for a rainstorm to linger on the horizon to give me the dramatic backdrop the photograph cried out for.” (Nikon D2X, 12-14mm lens, f8, 1/60s, ISO 200, grad filters.) 

Photo by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation.

Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles “is a visual journey into the aquatic world of this remote island archipelago. It is a celebration of unique marine life, the most important underwater habitats and the most spectacular ocean events that occur in this forgotten and overlooked corner of the world,” Peschak writes.

“Yet a book such as this can make no claim to be exhaustive: to photograph and write about the whole spectrum of the Seychelles’ varied marine fauna and flora would take multiple lifetimes. Instead it endeavors to show the islands’ best and most exciting natural history treasures and, in doing so, to ensure that this ‘lost world’ is finally discovered by an audience all around the globe.”

  • Book profile compiled by David Braun. A copy of Lost World: The Marine Realm of Aldabra & the Seychelles and permission for the use of these photos with a review were provided by Thomas P. Peschak/Save our Seas Foundation. More information can be found on the websites of Thomas P. Peschak and Save Our Seas Foundation

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Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn