Aldabra, largest coral atoll in the world and among the most ancient, is a 125,000-year-old crownshaped group of 13 islands and islets around a huge 60-square-mile (155-km2) tidal lagoon, dominated by more than 150,000 giant tortoises lumbering about almost everywhere. There are, as well, 14 notable land bird species, including flightless white-throated rails along with endemic Aldabra drongos and prolific seabirds. Some 7,000 pairs of frigate or man-of-war birds nest, along with red-footed and masked boobies, red-tailed and white-tailed tropic birds, rare Aldabra sacred ibises, terns, herons, and flamingos.
Hundreds of hawksbill and green sea turtles haul out to lay eggs on beaches.
Giant orange-and-rust-colored coconut crabs skitter about, climbing palms, picking fruits and nuts which they open with one clip of pliers-like claws.
Flowering plants and ferns of some 275 species include at least 40 endemics, among them beautiful Aldabra lilies.
In crystalline turquoise waters is a brilliant, almost untouched marine ecosystem of astonishing diversity—a recent study identified 185 fish species in just over one square mile (3 km2) of reef (including sea goldies that change sexes as appropriate for their situation).
Aldabra sees few visitors apart from occasional charter boats from Mahé. A small resident population consists of Seychelles Island Foundation (S.I.F.) employees and a maximum of 15 visiting scientists. When their quarters are not filled, others can use them with permission from the Foundation. Wet season is November–April, drier May–November.
Threats include poaching and introduction of goats, cats, rats, and mealy bugs, which have damaged native vegetation. Patrols and eradication programs have not yet brought these under control, and financial support for these is dependent on grants from the Seychelles government and from voluntary donations to the S.I.F.
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