Aldabra Atoll

Aldabra, the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean", was the focus of our second visit to the Seychelles. The atoll lies 622 miles southwest of Mahe, 400 miles east of Africa, and 260 miles northwest of Madagascar. Aldabra is the most remote and least touched of the islands of the Seychelles. Arab traders discovered the atoll in the 9th or 10th century. The name Aldabra is probably a corruption of the Arabic "Al Khadra" ("The Green"). It first appeared on a Portuguese map in 1509 as "Al Hadara".

Charlotte on Aldabra

Aldabra is a raised limestone coral atoll. There are two distinct terraces at 13 feet and 27 feet above current sea level marking ancient sea levels. The total land area is 59 square miles. There are four main islands: Picard (West Island, home to a dozen or so research scientists), Polymnie, Malabar, and Grande Terre (South Island). The huge lagoon empties almost completely at low tide and fills to a depth of about three meters through four channels. The resulting currents are fierce; Jacques Cousteau's famous "Calypso" was nearly wrecked here. The island is rough, sharp uplifted limestone rock. The undercut islets in the lagoon are mushroom-shaped. The marine life is very rich.

lagoon islets lagoon lagoon islet ironshore terrain

Aldabra is home to about 180,000 Aldabra giant tortoises, Aldabracholys gigantea, the only remaining place these animals are still found outside of the Galapagos Islands. The reptiles average about 110 pounds and live 65 to 90 years or longer. It is also a major green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, nesting site. Coconut, or robber, crabs, Birgus latro, are common. The mangrove areas in the lagoon house huge frigate bird colonies. Aldabra is also home to the last remaining flightless bird of the Indian Ocean, the white-throated rail, Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus.

tortoises Paul with tortoises tortoise mating tortoises coconut crab fiddler crab crabs nesting green sea turtle green sea turtle returning to the sea red-footed booby frigatebird white-throated rail

A joint British and American plan to build a military base and broadcasting station for the British Indian Ocean Territories (Aldabra, Desroches, Farquhar, and Diego Garcia) on Aldabra was finally thwarted in 1967, partially due to the influence of Jacques Cousteau (the base was built on Diego Garcia instead), and Aldabra was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. It was opened to tourism in December, 1991.

Bluefin trevally, Caranx melampygus

yellowspotted trevally

Black-backed butterflyfish, Chaetodon melannotus

black-backed butterflyfish over reef

Sweetlips, Plectorhinchus cf playfairi

yellowmouth sweetlips

Brown-marbled grouper, Epinephelus fuscoguttatus

Malabar grouper

Marbled grouper, Epinephelus polyphekadion

Malabar grouper Malabar grouper

Malabar grouper, Epinephelus malabarius, with common cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus

four-saddle grouper at cleaning station

Surgeonfish, Acanthurus sp.

epaulette tang

Indian doublebar goatfish, Parupeneus trifasciatus

doublebar goatfsih

One-spot snapper, Lutjanus monostigma

onespot snappers

Jewel fairy basslet, Pseudanthias squamipinnis

jewel fairy basslet

Marcia's fairy basslet, Pseudanthias marcia

threadfin fairy basslets

Flathead scorpionfish, Scorpaenopsis oxycephalus

bearded scorpionfish

Blacktip grouper, Epinephelus fasciatus

blacktip grouper

Forster's hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri

freckled hawkfish

Blotched hawkfish, Cirrhitichthys aprinus

pixy hawffish on coral head

juvenile wrasse

Common cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, on giant moray, Gymnothorax javanicus

giant moray eel at cleaning station

neon fusilier


Cardinalfish, Apogon sp.

goldbelly cardinalfish


blackbar damselfish

Puffer, Arothron sp.

blackspotted puffer

Scythe triggerfish, Sufflamen cf bursa

scythe triggerfish

Yellow sweepers, Parapriacanthus ransonneti


Elegant phyllidia, Phyllidia elegans


Pyjama slug, Chromodoris quadricolor


Varicose wart slug, Phyllidia varicosa


Meyer's butterflyfish, Chaetodon meyersi

Meyer's butterflyfish

Phantom bannerfish, Heniochus pleuritaenia

masked bannerfish

Moorish idol, Zanclus comutus

moorish idol


juvenile three-spotted dascyllus in anemone

Northern Indian anemonefish, Amphiprion sebae

Mauritian anemonefish

Skunk anemonefish, Amphiprion akallopsis

two skunk clownfish

Cleaner shrimp

cleaning shrimp

Painted spiny lobster, Panulirus versicolor


Cone shell

cone shell

Comoros spider conch, Lambis lambis

spider conch

Giant clam, Tridacna gigas

tridacna clam

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Last modified 5 November 2019