The Real Tropical Island Experience on Aride

Aride Island is the wildlife highlight of a visit to the Inner Granitics of the Seychelles, with more bird species than any other island. Ten species of seabird are found on this tiny 68 hectare island. Aride Island’s isolation has contributed to its protection – it is the furthest north granitic island in the Seychelles. The surging waves make landing a challenge, and the solution to this is simply to hold on tight and drive the boat ashore as fast as possible.

Clifftop seabirding over the sparkling seas around Aride Island, Seychelles (Photo by James Russell)

With no anchorage or landing only mice have ever made it ashore here. Cats were removed in the early 20th century before their damage could be done. In 1973 the island was purchased by Christopher Cadbury and has since been managed as a Nature Reserve by the Island Conservation Society.

An invasive mouse
An invasive mouse explores Aride Island, Seychelles (Photo by James Russell)

Today the island literally reeks of seabirds, and teems of the wildlife of an almost wholly intact seabird island ecosystem. Tens of thousands of lesser noddies (Anous tenuirostris) nest through the native forest canopy, their discards feeding thousands of plump Wright’s skinks (Trachylepis wrightii). Ranger Juan walks us along the island pointing out each seabird species we come across; white terns, white-tailed tropicbirds, bridled terns, sooty terns, frigatebirds – they are all here.

A lesser noddy
A common noddy contemplates life on the beach of Aride Island (Photo by James Russell)

The original lodge built of local timber still stands on the island, barely changed over a century. Nearby we walk past a tropicbird nestled in the base of a tree trying to catch up on some sleep with its new baby. Juan also tells us about the reintroductions of two of the most endangered Seychelles landbirds; magpie-robins (Copsychus sechellarum) and warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis) previously restricted to only one island each, as each of them casually fly past us.

A white-tailed tropicbird
A white-tailed tropicbird guards its young chick on Aride Island (Photo by James Russell)

Precisely at sunset the cacophony of noddies and terns changes abruptly to that of returning shearwaters as thousands of them return to their burrows. Conservation officer Milly takes us on a tour of the main colony area just after dusk, as the birds sit outside their burrows calling to loved ones returning from sea. Wright’s skinks have been replaced by giant millipedes across the forest floor, and we have to be careful where we step so as not to crush any burrows.

Tropical shearwaters
Tropical shearwaters reacquaint in their burrow on Aride Island after time at sea (Photo by James Russell)

It’s hard not to want to spend every waking minute exploring another part of this natural island, as the birds go on about their business oblivious to your presence. However, eventually we must brave a surf-crashing departure so I can reach the World Seabird Conference in Cape Town next week to share the fantastic news of island conservation from this part of the world. Bedraggled, I am dropped off on the beach at Praslin and wander in to the airport and buy a ticket on the next plane to Mahé.

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Meet the Author
Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.