The Vallee de Mai nature reserve, one of the Seychelles’ UNESCO World Heritage sites, has seen a 97 percent drop in visitors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, amounting to a $2 million loss in direct revenue, said an official of the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF).
Emeline Lafortune, a project officer at SIF, which manages the site, told SNA that before COVID-19, Vallee de Mai was averaging nearly 115,000 visitors a year.
The Vallee de Mai, located on the second-most populated island of Praslin, is home to the world’s largest nut — the unique coco de mer — and the endemic black parrot. It is the most-visited natural site in Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean.
Lafortune said the foundation does not receive a budget from the government. Its operations which include surveillance, research and projects, depend entirely on tourism revenue generated at the two World Heritage sites — Vallee de Mai on Praslin and the remote atoll of Aldabra.
The coco de mer whcih is the world’s largest nut is endemic to Seychelles. Gerard Larose, Seychelles Tourism Board) Photo License: CC-BY
Currently, activities at both sites have been severely impacted and scaled down.
In October, Vallee de Mai received financial assistance of $30,400 to help overcome the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on management and conservation. The site was among 22 chosen among 72 applications for funding by the #SOSAfricanHeritage Fund with the assistance of the German Commission for UNESCO.
“Although these grants play a huge role in the resilience of World Heritage sites, the funds are usually assigned to relieve or assist specific projects or activities. Therefore, more than just one grant will be needed to allow the Vallee de Mai to overcome the obstacles it now faces as a whole,” said Lafortune.
A representative of the German Commission for UNESCO, Anna Steinkamp, said that in times of a global crisis “which we are currently facing due to COVID-19, the commission for UNESCO joins international solidarity efforts to relieve the impact on designated UNESCO sites, such as the Vallee de Mai.”
She added that “many UNESCO designated sites in African countries suffer from severe impairments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous sites had to close for visitors and in turn, are facing major losses of income.”
Lafortune said that “given the implications of COVID-19 on the highly unique and sensitive ecosystem of the Vallee de Mai and the restricted income due to the lack of tourism, the monitoring, research and recreational activities that bring value to this nature reserve has been compromised immensely.”
With less monitoring, the site is experiencing a surge in poaching incidents of its most valuable natural resource, the seeds of the coco de mer palm.