Seychelles

Official name: Republic of Seychelles

Area: 455 square kilometers (176 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Seychelles (Morne Seychellois) (912 meters/2,992 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 4 P.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 27 kilometers (17 miles) from north to south; 11 kilometers (7 miles) from east to west; stretching 1,200 kilometers (100 miles) from northeast to southwest

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 491 kilometers (305 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, off the eastern coast of Africa and northeast of Madagascar. With an area of about 455 square kilometers (176 square miles), the country is about two-and-one-half times the size of Washington, D.C. Seychelles is divided into twenty-three districts.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Seychelles has no outside territories or dependencies.

3 CLIMATE

Despite lying close to the equator, trade winds keep the country's climate temperate. Coastal temperatures remain fairly constant at 27°C (81°F) throughout the year. Temperatures are generally lower at the higher altitudes, especially at night. Humidity tends to be high, particularly in the coastal regions.

Average annual rainfall varies markedly across the islands of the Seychelles. The coastal regions on Mahé experience an annual rainfall of 236 centimeters (93 inches), while the areas at higher elevations receive about 356 centimeters (140 inches). The coral islands of the southwest, such as Aldabra and Assumption, experience much less rainfall, averaging about 50 centimeters (20 inches) annually.

Generally, the period from May through October is slightly drier, although southeast-erly winds bring brief rains every two to three days even during these months of the year. The northeasterly winds prevail from December through March, bringing heavier and more frequent rains.

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

There are more than one hundred islands that make up the country of Seychelles. Generally they fall into two categories: the core group of high-rising granite islands, and a group of low coralline atolls in the southwest part of the country. Seychelles is located on the African Tectonic Plate.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Seychelles archipelago is spread over approximately 388,498 square kilometers (150,000 square miles) of the Indian Ocean east of Africa. Surrounding the islands are coral reefs.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Baie Ternay and Port Launay, both on Mahé Island, are adjacent marine parks edged in stunning coral reefs.

Islands and Archipelagos

The total number of islands varies depending upon what is considered an island. Some are merely sand cays and shoals barely above the high tide mark. There are thirty-two granitic Seychelles islands; the remaining seventy to ninety islands are coralline. The total land area of the granitic group is about 259 square kilometers (100 square miles).

The largest granitic island is Mahé (144 square kilometers/56 square miles). It is surrounded by coral reefs and ringed by beaches featuring fine white sand. Praslin, the second-largest island, is located northeast of Mahé. The United Nations' Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Vallée de Mai near the center of the island as a World Heritage Site. It is the only place in the world where the coco-de-mer palm tree is found. It is also home to three of the world's rarest birds: the Seychelles bulbul, the fruit pigeon, and the black parrot.

Other inhabited (or tourist destination) islands include La Digue (east of Praslin); Frigate (directly east of Mahé and south of La Digue); and Silhouette (northwest of Mahé). The most northerly of the granitic islands is Aride, home to a bird sanctuary.

The Cosmoledo Group makes up the most southwesterly of the Seychelles. The coralline Aldabra, part of the Aldabra Group (Groupe d'Aldabra), is the world's largest atoll. The group includes a ring of four islands with a central lagoon that fills and empties twice each day through four channels. The diversity of wildlife, including giant tortoises and the Aldabran Rail (a species of flightless bird), have also earned the island a designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Coastal Features

White, sandy beaches surround the granitic islands with flats of corals and shells behind them. Tar balls have washed up on the beaches for decades, indicating the possibility of undersea oil reserves.

6 INLAND LAKES

There are no major lakes in Seychelles, but there are small ponds and marshes on some of the islands.

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

There are no major rivers in Seychelles. There are, however, many small streams that drain the mountain slopes.

8 DESERTS

There are no desert regions in Seychelles.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

Seychelles has no permanent pastures and only 13 percent of its land is used for crops. Only 11 percent of Seychelles is considered forest land. Primary forests exist only on Praslin and Curieuse Islands, both of which lie north of Mahé. These native forests of the coco-de-mer palm tree are now protected in small reserves. Coconut plantations have virtually replaced all broadleaf evergreen rain forests. Other native tree species on Seychelles have adapted to the local conditions. Many forests are planted with fruit and spice plants, making good use of scarce land resources.

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

The Mascarene Ridge, a granite ridge that runs from north to south mostly underwater in the Indian Ocean, formed most of the islands of the Seychelles. On Mahé, Mount Seychelles (Morne Seychellois) reaches the highest point in the nation at 912 meters (2,992 feet). The mountainous characteristics of the granitic islands are among the notable characteristics that appeal to tourists.

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

There are no major land caves in Seychelles. Several underwater caves surround the coastlines of the islands, however; these provide homes to a variety of marine life.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

There are no major plateau regions in Seychelles.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

There are no major man-made structures affecting the geography of Seychelles.

14 FURTHER READING

Books

Carpin, Sarah. Seychelles . Chicago: Passport Books, 1997.

Journey through Seychelles . Edison, NJ: Hunter Publishing Co, 1994.

Ozanne, J.A.F. Coconuts and Créoles . London: P. Allan & Co., 1936.

Travis, William. Beyond the Reefs . New York: Dutton, 1959.

Vine, Peter. Seychelles . London: Immel Publishing, 1992.

Web Sites

Seychelles: Islands and Parks. http://www.sey.net/isl_mahe (accessed April 15, 2003).

Seychelles Nation. http://www.seychelles-online.com.sc/geography.html (accessed April 15, 2003).

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