VALLEE DE MAI NATURE RESERVE
The scenically superlative palm forest of the Vallée de Mai is a living museum of a flora that developed
before the evolution of more advanced plant families. It also supports one of the three main areas of
coco-de-mer forest still remaining, a tree which has the largest of all plant seeds. The valley is also the
only place where all six palm species endemic to the Seychelles are found together. The valley’s flora
and fauna is rich with many endemic and several threatened species.
Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve
NATURAL WORLD HERITAGE SITE
1983: Inscribed on the World Heritage List under Natural Criteria vii
, viii, ix and x.
STATEMENT OF OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee issued the following Statement of Outstanding Universal
Value at the time of inscription
Located on the granitic island of Praslin, the Vallée de Mai is a 19.5 ha area of palm forest which remains largely
unchanged since prehistoric times. Dominating the landscape is the world's largest population of endemic coco-de-
mer, a flagship species of global significance as the bearer of the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The forest is
also home to five other endemic palms and many endemic fauna species. The property is a scenically attractive
area with a distinctive natural beauty.
Criterion (vii): The property contains a scenic mature palm forest. The natural formations of the palm forests are of
aesthetic appeal with dappled sunlight and a spectrum of green, red and brown palm fronds. The natural beauty
and near-natural state of the Vallée de Mai are of great interest, even to those visitors who are not fully aware of
the ecological significance of the forest.
Criterion (viii): Shaped by geological and biological processes that took place millions of years ago, the property is
an outstanding example of an earlier and major stage in the evolutionary history of the world's flora. Its ecology is
dominated by endemic palms, and especially by the coco-de-mer, famous for its distinctively large double nut
containing the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The Vallée de Mai constitutes a living laboratory, illustrating of
what other tropical areas would have been before the advent of more advanced plant families.
Criterion (ix): The property represents an outstanding example of biological evolution dominated by endemic
palms. The property's low and intermediate-altitude palm forest is characteristic of the Seychelles and is preserved
as something resembling its primeval state. The forest is dominated by the coco-de-mer
there are also five other endemic species of palms. Located in the granitic island of Praslin, the Vallée de Mai is the
only area in the Seychelles where all six species occur together and no other island in the Indian Ocean possesses
the combination of features displayed in the property. The ancient palms form a dense forest, along with
screw palms and broadleaf trees, which together constitute an ecosystem where unique ecological processes and
interactions of nutrient cycling
, seed dispersal, and pollination occur.
Criterion (x): The Vallée de Mai is the world's stronghold for the endemic coco-de-mer
endemic palm species millionaire's salad
, thief palm
Phoenicophorium borsigianum ,
, latanier millepattes
and latanier palm
, are also found within the property. The palm forest is relatively pristine and it provides a refuge for
viable populations of many endemic species, including the black parrot
Coracopsis nigra barklyi
, restricted to
Praslin Island and totally dependent on the Vallée de Mai and surrounding palm forest. Other species supported by
the palm habitat include three endemic species of bronze gecko, endemic blue pigeons, bulbuls, sunbirds,
swiftlets, Seychelles skinks, burrowing skinks, tiger chameleons, day geckos, caecilians, tree frogs, freshwater fish
and many invertebrates.
The ecological integrity of the Vallée de Mai is high, but the 19.5ha that constitutes the property's size is relatively
small and its present status is due to some replanting of coco-de-mer undertaken in the past. The property is
embedded within the Praslin National Park (300ha) which provides a sufficiently large area to ensure the natural
functioning of the forest ecosystem. To enhance the property's integrity, the World Heritage Committee has
recommended extending the property to include the rest of the Praslin National Park, thus providing an appropriate
Protection and Management Requirements
The property is legally protected under national legislation and is managed by a public trust, the Seychelles Islands
Foundation. The management of the property has been enhanced with the adoption of a management plan in
2002. Fire is considered the most significant threat to the property, and fire response and contingency plans are
essential. Tourism, as managed by the public trust, makes a significant financial contribution to the protection and
management of the property. The overexploitation of coco-de-mer can exhaust natural recruitment, and illegal
removal of the seeds is a serious problem that affects future regeneration; thus, a key management priority is to
maintain the palm forest by direct human manipulation with the collection and planting of the seeds before they are
stolen and sold. Effective measures to mitigate threats to endemic fauna and flora from invasive species, pests and
diseases are also essential.
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
IV Habitat/Species Management Area
Seychelles & Amirantes Islands (4.16.13)
The valley is in the centre of Praslin National Park on Praslin Island, 50km north-east of Mahé in the
Seychelles Islands of the western Indian Ocean at 4°19'S, 55°44'E.
DATES AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT
I948: The valley was acquired by the government as a part of the catchment area of Praslin Island
1966: Declared a Nature Reserve under the Wild Birds Protection (Nature Reserves) Regulation
1978: The Coco-de-mer Management Decree passed;
1979: Praslin National Park designated under the National Parks and Nature Conservancy Act
Government. Managed by the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF).
19.5ha, within Praslin National Park (342ha).
Between ~110m and ~210m.
The Seychelles is a widely spaced archipelago in the western Indian ocean. The north-easternmost
group consists of 41 islands of rugged preCambrian granite. Praslin Island, in the north of this group, is
the second largest island, 3,756ha in area. The Vallée is in the central hills in the northeast of Praslin
National Park. It is in the lower part of a valley from which two streams flow, the Nouvelle De-Couverte
and Fond B'Offay rivers, flowing west and east respectively, though it does not include all of their
headwater catchments. The site was untouched palm forest until the 1930s when development of a
plantation of exotic trees and the exploitation of coco-de-mer palm seeds began. Drier hills on the edge
of the valley have suffered soil erosion as a result of forest fires and deforestation, so that the soil is
degraded and the forest is secondary growth. However, most of the valley is still in a near natural
The climate is humid tropical with annual temperatures varying between 24° and 32°C. Annual rainfall
on Praslin is about 2200mm. There is a drier season during the south-east monsoon from April to
September and a wetter slightly warmer season during the northwest monsoon between October and
March. The island lies north of the cyclone belt and has been relatively free from strong winds (Walsh,
1984) SIF, pers.comm., 1995) though the incidence of major storms is increasing (Lundin & Linden,
1995). For instance a mini-cyclone affected Praslin and nearby islands in September 2002, causing
significant damage (UNEP, 2003).
The rainforest of the Vallée de Mai is an outstanding example of a stage in the development of the
world's flora before the evolution of more advanced plant families (IUCN, 1983). Three main vegetation
types occur in the site: valley palm forest, intermediate palm forest and secondary forest on eroded
land. The site is too small to be self-sustaining, and several endemic species are maintained only
through human agency. But it does contain all the ecological components needed for the continued
existence of the extremely rich endemic flora: 28 endemic plants, including four screwpines and 14
The palm forest is characterised by the endemic coco-de-mer palm
which has the
largest seed in the plant kingdom, weighing up to 18kg, and has been much sought after for that
reason. Its canopy reaches 30m high. All six palm species endemic to the Seychelles occur in the
valley, all belonging to monospecific genera. As well as coco-de-mer there are millionaire’s salad
(VU), thief palm
, Seychelles stilt palm
, latanier palm
and latanier millepattes
The intermediate palm forest is intermixed with endemic broadleaved trees such as
(VU) and with endemic screwpines such as
(VU). The endemic sedge
grows in more open and rocky places,
and a dense growth of the sedge
occurs on open, marshy patches on the forest
floor. Areas on the edge of the valley where the soil has been degraded by burning have been
recolonised by endemics such as
or by planted indigenous species such as
(VU), and exotic species such as
, red sandalwood
(SIF, pers. comm., 2006).
The site is a BirdLife International designated Important Bird Area. Its most notable bird is an endemic
subspecies of black parrot
Coracopsis nigra barklyi
, restricted to Praslin Island and dependent on the
Vallée de Mai and the surrounding palm forest.
The population in 2001 was 200-400
birds. Other notable birds include the endemic Seychelles bulbul
, the re-introduced Seychelles
and the endemic cave-nesting Seychelles swiftlet
Exotic birds include Indian mynah
and barn owl
Tyto alba affinis
. The only two
indigenous mammal species are the endemic Seychelles flying fox
roosts in the Reserve, and Seychelles sheathtailed bat
(CR). Also occurring is
the introduced tenrec
Reptiles include the endemic tiger chameleon
(EN), Seychelles house snake
(EN), Seychelles wolf snake
introduced blind snake
, endemic Seychelles giant and small day geckos
, Seychelles bronze-eyed gecko and skinks
. One endemic the Seychelles tree-frog
and the introduced Mascarene grass frog
are known from the area. Six
species of endemic worm-like caecilians are known to occur in the deep beds of moist humus, but are
rarely seen. The stream contains the endemic freshwater crab
, giant crayfish
spp. (Bosc, 2004). Two endemic snails which occur are brown
(EN) and blackfish snail
There is also a range of
orthopterid insects (SIF, pers. comm., 2006) and a recently discovered fruit fly
associated with coco de mer fruits that have been dehusked (SIF, pers. comm., 2006)
The scenically superlative forest palm forest of the Vallée de Mai is a living museum of a stage in the
evolution of the world's flora before the development of more advanced plant families. It is also the site
of one of the three main populations of coco-de-mer remaining in Seychelles. The coco de mer palm is
notable for its seeds, the largest of all plants’, and for the very large leaves of the juvenile palms. Vallée
de Mai is the only place where all six palm species endemic to the Seychelles are found together. The
valley’s flora and fauna is rich with many endemic and several threatened species. The Park lies within
a Conservation International-designated Conservation Hotspot, a WWF Global 200 Eco-region, a
WWF/IUCN Centre of Plant Diversity and is one of the world’s Important Bird Areas.
The first record of the islands was on a 9
century Arab chart. The first recorded landfall was in 1609,
after which the islands became a popular port of call for pirate ships. The French claimed the islands in
1754, when bringing slaves from Africa, and named them after their finance minister, and Praslin Island
after the minister for the navy. The British succeeded them in 1815 and many freed slaves were settled
in the country but the culture remained largely French-influenced (Creole). Immigrants from Asian
countries also arrived, many intermarrying with local people and the population reflects this very mixed
background. Much use was made of the coco de mer palm between the 18
and early 20
with trunk and leaves being utilised in house building, young nuts used as food and mature nuts
fashioned into containers and household implements.
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION
There are no inhabitants in Vallée de Mai, although there is a forestry settlement in the National Park
where forest and park rangers live, but the surrounding population of Praslin Island is increasing.
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES
The Park is popular and well visited. 41 to 48% of all visitors to the country visit Vallée de Mai. Visitors
to Seychelles in 2005 numbered 129,333, with 82% being from Europe (SIF, pers. comm., 2006).
Access is from the main road. There is an information centre and a small shop by the entrance. Access
within the Reserve is restricted to a carefully designed system of marked paths, and guided tours are
available (SIF, pers. comm., 1995).
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES
The palm forests are of great botanical interest. Some work has been done by individual researchers on
the black parrots and on palm geckos. Savage & Ashton studied in 1976 the population structure of all
palm species and calculated a growth rate for
. An age table related to the height of
the trees was generated. In 1985 the Expedition from Oxford University established six permanent
sample plots and again analysed the population structure of
but also looked at the forest
composition. In 1998 the Geobotanical Institute Zürich resurveyed the permanent sample plots and
found that the palm forest was well managed and that invasion by alien species is moderate. Research
in the population structure has continued and it was found that the human impact on the Vallée de Mai
population was underestimated (Fleischer-Dogley & Kendle, 2002). A U.K.University Expedition in 1976
studied forest regeneration, the Seychelles fruit bat, tenrecs and black parrot (Ascroft
&1977). Savage & Ashton have studied the population structure of the coco-de-mer palm (1983) and
the impact of tourism (1991). A Science Workshop was held in 2006 to prioritise research needs and
efforts will be made to encourage further research in Vallée de Mai. There are currently no research
facilities on site.
Since January 1989 the management of Vallée de Mai has been entrusted to the Seychelles Islands
Foundation (SIF): this NGO also manages Seychelles’ other World Heritage Site, Aldabra Atoll.
Management policies were originally set by the Seychelles National Environment Commission. A
management plan for Vallée de Mai was prepared in 2002, to serve until 2008. The firebreak around
the Reserve is regularly maintained and alien species are controlled. The Reserve itself is a strictly
protected zone within the surrounding Praslin National Park. The trade in coco-de-mer nuts is
controlled by law. A registration system for selling the nuts seems to facilitate control, together with
enforcement of the Coco de Mer Management Decree of 1994. At present the palm forest must be
maintained by collecting and planting the seeds before they are stolen for sale.
Before 1930 a private owner logged the timber in the valley and introduced many exotics such as
spp. which the present management for many years has
been replacing with native palms. Expansion of the World Heritage site across the road from the Vallée,
to include an area of high quality forest which has a large population of coco-de-mer, was
recommended by the original IUCN evaluators who also recommended extending World Heritage
status over the whole of the National Park, as a buffer to ensure the continuing integrity of the forest
and to encourage the implementation of the existing management plan (IUCN, 1983). In 2006 the
Seychelles Government approved an extension of the area under SIF management (known as Fond
Peper), although the area still has to be officially surveyed and the lease finalised. SIF is to sign a
Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Environment to formalise the management of
this extended area.
There are difficulties in effectively patrolling the area, and poaching of coco-de-mer nuts is a serious
problem that affects future regeneration. There is considerable risk of fire, although all smoking or use
of fire is prohibited in the Reserve. As the island is small but increasingly dependent on the growth of
tourism, constant monitoring will continue to be necessary to prevent abuse. Another potential problem
is that the site does not include the whole water catchment area of its streams and the island’s
population and water needs are growing rapidly. Activities of any type on the slopes above the valley
within the National Park could adversely affect the site itself. Threats to endemic birds from rats and
feral cats are being met by specially prepared rat-proof nesting boxes for the black parrots (SIF, pers.
comm., 1995). Well trained and motivated staff are sometimes difficult to retain.
A warden, assistant warden, 3-4 rangers and maintenance staff are employed by the Seychelles
The admission charges pay for its upkeep (and for Aldabra Atoll) but are not used for the National Park.
Chairman, Seychelles Islands Foundation, PO Box 853, Victoria, Seychelles
The principal source for the above information was the original nomination for World Heritage status.
Aberdeen University Expedition to Praslin Island, Seychelles, Summer 1976
World Heritage Nomination. The Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve
. Technical Review.
Bailey, O. (1971).
List of the Flowering Plants and Ferns of Seychelles with their Vernacular Names
Beaver, K. (2006)
Proceedings of the Vallée de Mai Science Workshop
, Seychelles Island Foundation,
Beaver, K. & Chong Seng, L. (1992)
Vallée de Mai.
Bosc, P., Keith, P., Valade, P. & Grondin, H. (2004)
Inventaire des espèces de poissons et de
macrocrustacés d’eau douce des principales rivières pérennes des îles de Mahé et de Praslin,
République des Seychelles,
Centre des Eaux Douces
ARDA, La Réunion.
Carlström, A. (1996)
Endemic and Threatened Plant Species on the Granitic Seychelles.
Edwards, P., Kollmann, J. & Fleischmann, K. (2003). Life history evolution in
Nordic Journal of Botany
Evans, P. & Evans,J.(1980) The ecology of lizards on Praslin Island, Seychelles.
J. Zool. London
Fleischer-Dogley, F. & Kendle.T. (2002). The conservation status of the coco de mer
(Gmelin Persoon): a flagship species. pp 369-382. In
Maunder, M., Clubbe, C., Hankamer, C.
& Groves, M. (eds).
Plant Conservation in the Tropics. Perspectives and Practice
. R.B.G., Kew, UK.
Fleischmann, K. (1998)
Vallée de Mai,
Geobotanical Institute at the Federal Institute of Technology,
Fleischmann, K.,Edwards, P. Héritier, P. Meuwly, C. & Kueffer, C. (2003). Virtual gallery of the
vegetation and flora of the Seychelles.
Bull. Geobotanical Institute
Friedmann, F. (1986)
Fleurs et Arbres des Seychelles.
ORSTOM + Min. of Finance, Seychelles
Flore des Seychelles – Dicotylédones.
Gadow, H. & Gardiner, S. Aves with some notes on the distribution of the land birds of the Seychelles.
Trans. Linn. Soc. Land. Zool.
Gardner, A. (1986). The biogeography of the lizards of the Seychelles Islands.
. 13: 237-253.
Héritier, P. (2002).
Ecological Value of the Fond Ferdinand, Praslin, Seychelles and Possible
Connection Between Fond Ferdinand and Vallée de Mai.
Diploma thesis. Geobotanical Institute, ETH
Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
High, J. (n.d.).
The Natural History of the Seychelles
. Seychelles Nature Handbook.
Hilton-Taylor, C. (complier)(2004).
IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species.
IUCN, Gland/Cambridge, U.K.
Vallée de Mai Management Plan 2002-2008.
Seychelles Islands Foundation.
Lundin, C. & Linden, O. (eds) (1995).
Integrated Coastal Zone Management in the Seychelles.
of Foreign Affairs, Planning & Environment, Mahé/SIDA/ World Bank.
Meuwly, C. (2002)
Fire and Vegetation on Praslin and in the Fond Ferdinand,
ETH Zurich, Switzerland.
National Statistics Bureau (2005)
Statistical Abstract 2004,
Nussbaum, R. (1984). Amphibians of the Seychelles. In Stoddart, D. (ed.) (1984).
Ecology of the Seychelles
. Junk, The Hague, Netherlands.
Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Seychelles (1985),
Archives F/4 474: 24-43, Seychelles
Reinhardt, A. & Voellmy, M. (2000)
Zonation of the vegetation of Praslin National Park,
Institute at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, Switzerland
Savage, A. & Ashton, P. (1983). The population structure of the double coconut and some other
Savage, A. & Ashton, P. (1991). Tourism is affecting the stand structure of the coco-de-mer.
Silvertown, J. (1987)
Possible sexual dimorphism in the double coconut – reinterpretation of the data of
Savage and Ashton
, Biotropica 19: 282-283
Stoddart, D. (ed.) (1984).
Biogeography and Ecology of the Seychelles
. Junk, The Hague, Netherlands.
Uhl, N. & Dransfield J. (1987)
Genera Palmarum – A Classification of Palms Based on the Work of
Harold E. Moore, Jr,
Lawrence, Kansas, USA
Vesey-Fitzgerald, D. (1940). On the vegetation of the Seychelles.
. 28: 465-483.
Walsh, R.. (1984) Climate of the Seychelles. In Stoddart, D.R.(ed.)
Biogeography and Ecology of the
: Junk, The Hague, Netherlands. p. 39-62
Willis, D. (1984). The wild sanctuaries of the Seychelles.
Wilson, R. (1980).
The Praslin National Park
, A Draft Management Plan
June 1983. Updated 5-1990, 1-1992, 1-2005, 11-2006, May 2011.