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Seychelles (i/seɪˈʃɛlz/ say-SHELZ; French: [sɛʃɛl]), officially the Republic of Seychelles (French: République des Seychelles; Creole: Repiblik Sesel), is a 115-island country spanning an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, some 1,500 kilometres (932 mi) east of mainland Africa, northeast of the island of Madagascar.
Other nearby island countries and territories include Zanzibar to the west, Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agaléga and Réunion to the south, and Comoros and Mayotte to the southwest. Seychelles, with an estimated population of 86,525, has the smallest population of any African state. It has the highest Human Development Index in Africa and the highest income inequality in the world, as measured by the Gini index. Seychelles is a member of the African Union
Main article: History of Seychelles
Scholars assume that Austronesian seafarers and later Maldivian and Arab traders were the first to visit the uninhabited Seychelles. Remains of Maldivian mariner presence from the 12th century were found in Silhouette Island. The earliest recorded sighting by Europeans took place in 1502 by the Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral).
A transit point for trade between Africa and Asia, the islands were occasionally used by pirates until the French began to take control starting in 1756 when a Stone of Possession was laid by Captain Nicholas Morphey. The islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV‘s Minister of Finance.
The British contested control over the islands between 1794 and 1810. Jean Baptiste Quéau de Quincy, French administrator of Seychelles during the years of war with the United Kingdom, declined to resist when armed enemy warships arrived. Instead, he successfully negotiated the status of capitulation to Britain which gave the settlers a privileged position of neutrality.
Britain eventually assumed full control upon the surrender of Mauritius in 1810, formalised in 1814 at the Treaty of Paris. Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903. Elections were held in 1966 and 1970. Independence was granted in 1976 as a republic within the Commonwealth. In 1977, a coup d’état ousted the first president of the republic, James Mancham, who was replaced by France Albert René. The 1979 constitution declared a socialist one-party state, which lasted until 1991. The first draft of a new constitution failed to receive the requisite 60% of voters in 1992, but an amended version was approved in 1993.
In January 2013, the country declared a state of emergency; the tropical cyclone Felleng caused torrential rain, and flooding and landslides destroyed hundreds of houses.
An island nation, Seychelles is located to the northeast of Madagascar and about 1,600 km (994 mi) east of Kenya. The number of islands in the archipelago is often given as 115 but the Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles lists 155. The islands as per the Constitution are divided into groups as follows.
There are 42 granitic islands, in descending order of size: Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette Island, La Digue, Curieuse, Felicite, Frégate, Ste-Anne, North, Cerf, Marianne, Grand Sœur, Thérèse, Aride, Conception, Petite Sœur, Cousin, Cousine, Long, Récif, Round (Praslin), Anonyme, Mamelles, Moyenne, Île aux Vaches Marines, L’Islette, Beacon (Île Sèche), Cachée, Cocos, Round (Mahé), L’Ilot Frégate, Booby, Chauve Souris (Mahé), Chauve Souris (Praslin), Île La Fouche, Hodoul, L’Ilot, Rat, Souris, St. Pierre (Praslin), Zavé, Harrison Rocks (Grand Rocher).
There are two coral sand cays north of the granitics: Denis and Bird.
There are two coral islands south of the granitics: Coëtivy and Platte.
There are 29 coral islands in the Amirantes group, west of the granitics: Desroches, Poivre Atoll (comprising three islands—Poivre, Florentin and South Island), Alphonse, D’Arros, St. Joseph Atoll (comprising 14 islands—St. Joseph Île aux Fouquets, Resource, Petit Carcassaye, Grand Carcassaye, Benjamin, Bancs Ferrari, Chiens, Pélicans, Vars, Île Paul, Banc de Sable, Banc aux Cocos and Île aux Poules), Marie Louise, Desnoeufs, African Banks (comprising two islands—African Banks and South Island), Rémire, St. François, Boudeuse, Etoile, Bijoutier.
There are 13 coral islands in the Farquhar Group, south-southwest of the Amirantes: Farquhar Atoll (comprising 10 islands—Bancs de Sable Déposés Île aux Goëlettes Lapins Île du Milieu North Manaha South Manaha Middle Manaha North Island and South Island), Providence Atoll (comprising two islands—Providence and Bancs Providence) and St Pierre.
There are 67 raised coral islands in the Aldabra Group, west of the Farquhar Group: Aldabra Atoll (comprising 46 islands—Grande Terre, Picard, Polymnie, Malabar, Île Michel, Île Esprit, Île aux Moustiques, Ilot Parc, Ilot Emile, Ilot Yangue, Ilot Magnan, Île Lanier, Champignon des Os, Euphrate, Grand Mentor, Grand Ilot, Gros Ilot Gionnet, Gros Ilot Sésame, Heron Rock, Hide Island, Île aux Aigrettes, Île aux Cèdres, Îles Chalands, Île Fangame, Île Héron, Île Michel, Île Squacco, Île Sylvestre, Île Verte, Ilot Déder, Ilot du Sud, Ilot du Milieu, Ilot du Nord, Ilot Dubois, Ilot Macoa, Ilot Marquoix, Ilots Niçois, Ilot Salade, Middle Row Island, Noddy Rock, North Row Island, Petit Mentor, Petit Mentor Endans, Petits Ilots, Pink Rock and Table Ronde), Assumption Island, Astove and Cosmoledo Atoll (comprising 19 islands—Menai, Île du Nord (West North), Île Nord-Est (East North), Île du Trou, Goëlettes, Grand Polyte, Petit Polyte, Grand Île (Wizard), Pagode, Île du Sud-Ouest (South), Île aux Moustiques, Île Baleine, Île aux Chauve-Souris, Île aux Macaques, Île aux Rats, Île du Nord-Ouest, Île Observation, Île Sud-Est and Ilot la Croix).
According to the president of Nauru, the Seychelles has been ranked the ninth most endangered nation due to flooding from climate change.
The climate is equable although quite humid, as the islands are small. The temperature varies little throughout the year. Temperatures on Mahé vary from 24 to 30 °C (75 to 86 °F), and rainfall ranges from 2,900 mm (114 in) annually at Victoria to 3,600 mm (142 in) on the mountain slopes. Precipitation is somewhat less on the other islands. During the coolest months, July and August, the average low is about 24 °C (75 °F). The southeast trade winds blow regularly from May to November, and this is the most pleasant time of the year. The hot months are from December to April, with higher humidity (80%). March and April are the hottest months, but the temperature seldom exceeds 31 °C (88 °F). Most of the islands lie outside the cyclone belt, so high winds are rare.
When the British gained control of the islands during the Napoleonic Wars, they allowed the French upper class to retain their land. Both the French and British settlers used enslaved Africans and although the British prohibited slavery in 1835, African workers continued to come. Thus the Gran’bla (“big whites”) of French origin dominated economic and political life. The British administration employed Indians on indentured servitude to the same degree as in Mauritius resulting in a small Indian population. The Indians, like a similar minority of Chinese, were confined to a merchant class. Today the descendents of the Indian, Chinese, and Gran’bla form distinct ethnic communities, although most people are of ‘black’ African origin, often mixed with ‘white’ European or Asian heritage.
As the islands of Seychelles had no indigenous population, the current Seychellois are composed of people who have immigrated. The largest ethnic groups are those of African, French, Indian, and Chinese descent. French and English are official languages along with Seychellois Creole, which is primarily based upon French.
According to the 2002 census, most Seychellois are Christians: 82.3% are Roman Catholic, 6.4% are Anglican and 4.5% are of other Christian denominations. There are small minorities who practice Hinduism (2.1%) and Islam (1.1%). Other non-Christian faiths account for 1.5% of the population while a further 2.1% were non-religious or did not specify a religion. The median age of Seychellois is 32 years.
Flora and fauna
Environmental legislation is very strict, and every tourism project must undergo an environmental review and a lengthy process of consultations with the public and conservationists. The Seychelles is a world leader in sustainable tourism. The end result of this sustainable development is an intact and stable natural environment, which attracts financially strong visitors (150,000 in 2007) rather than short-term mass tourism. Since 1993 a law guarantees the citizens the right to a clean environment and at the same time obliges them to protect this environment. The country holds a record for the highest percentage of land under natural conservation—nearly 50% of the total land area.
Like many fragile island ecosystems, the Seychelles saw the loss of biodiversity during early human history, including the disappearance of most of the giant tortoises from the granitic islands, the felling of coastal and mid-level forests, and the extinction of species such as the chestnut flanked white eye, the Seychelles Parakeet, the Seychelles Black Terrapin and the saltwater crocodile. However, extinctions were far fewer than on islands such as Mauritius or Hawaii, partly due to a shorter period of human occupation (since 1770). The Seychelles today is known for success stories in protecting its flora and fauna. The rare Seychelles Black Parrot, the national bird of the country, is now protected.
The granitic islands of Seychelles are home to about 75 endemic plant species, with a further 25 or so species in the Aldabra group. Particularly well-known is the Coco de Mer, a species of palm that grows only on the islands of Praslin and neighbouring Curieuse. Sometimes nicknamed the “love nut” because of the shape of its fruit which, with the husk removed, presents a “double” coconut resembling buttocks, the coco-de-mer produces the world’s heaviest seed pods. The jellyfish tree is to be found in only a few locations on Mahe. This strange and ancient plant in a genus of its own (Medusagynaceae) has resisted all efforts to propagate it. Other unique plant species include the Wright’s Gardenia Rothmannia annae found only on Aride Island Special Reserve.
The freshwater crab genus Seychellum is endemic to the granitic Seychelles, and a further 26 species of crabs and 5 species of hermit crabs live on the islands.
The Aldabra Giant Tortoise now populates many of the islands of the Seychelles. The Aldabra population is the largest in the world. These unique reptiles can be found even in captive herds. It has been reported that the granitic islands of Seychelles supported distinct species of Seychelles giant tortoises; the status of the different populations is currently unclear.
There are several unique varieties of orchids on the islands.
Seychelles hosts some of the largest seabird colonies in the world. In the outer islands Aldabra and Cosmoledo are home to the largest numbers. In granitic Seychelles the largest numbers are on Aride Island including the world’s largest numbers of two species.
The marine life around the islands, especially the more remote coral islands, can be spectacular. More than 1,000 species of fish have been recorded. Since the use of spearguns and dynamite for fishing was banned through efforts of local conservationists in the 1960s, the wildlife is unafraid of snorkelers and divers. Coral bleaching in 1998 has unfortunately damaged most reefs, but some reefs show healthy recovery (e.g., Silhouette Island).
Although multinational oil companies have explored the waters around the islands, no oil or gas has been found. In 2005, a deal was signed with US firm Petroquest, giving it exploration rights to about 30,000 km2 around Constant, Topaz, Farquhar and Coëtivy islands until 2014. Seychelles imports oil from the Gulf in the form of refined petroleum derivatives at the rate of about 5,700 barrels per day (910 m3/d). In recent years oil has been imported from Kuwait and also from Bahrain. Seychelles imports three times more oil than is needed for internal uses because it re-exports the surplus oil in the form of bunker for ships and aircraft calling at Mahé. There are no refining capacities on the islands. Oil and gas imports, distribution and re-export are the responsibility of Seychelles Petroleum (Sepec), while oil exploration is the responsibility of the Seychelles National Oil Company (SNOC).
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