In the heart of the small island of Praslin, the reserve has the vestiges of a natural palm forest preserved in almost its original state. The famous coco de mer , from a palm-tree once believed to grow in the depths of the sea, is the largest seed in the plant kingdom.
Outstanding Universal Value
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 Lodoicea maldivica but 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 Pandanus 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 (Lodoicea maldivica )and the endemic palm species millionaire's salad (Deckenia nobilis ), thief palm (Phoenicophorium borsigianum ), Seychelles stilt palm (Verschaffeltia splendida) latanier millepattes (Nephrosperma vanhoutteanum) and latanier palm (Roscheria melanochaetes), 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 19.5 ha 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 (300 ha) 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 buffer zone.
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.
Vallée de Mai is a valley in the heart of Praslin National Park, an area which was untouched until the 1930s and still retains primeval palm forest in a near-natural state. This palm forest includes the endemic species coca de mer, of outstanding universal value as the bearer of the largest nut in the world. There has also been a rich body of legend which has developed around the species; the nut has religious significance. in the 19th century the British General Gordon produced detailed 'proof' that the Vallée de Mai was the Garden of Eden and that coca de mer was the tree of knowledge. In addition, the other five species of endemic palm are also found in the Vallée de Mai, the only place in the Seychelles where they are all found together. In addition there is the endemic black parrot, which is totally dependent on the existence of the Vallée de Mai and the surrounding palm forest.
There are four main vegetation types on the island of Praslin, three occurring in the Vallée de Mai area: lowland forest, dominated by large timber trees once covered large areas of the island but, following human settlement, this has been replaced with well developed secondary forest with the endemic palm, cinnamon, Dodonaea viscosa , mango, Sideroxylon ferrugineum and Randia lancifolia . Intermediate palm forest, unique to the Vallée de Mai, with the endemic palms, coco de mer; eroded land, following burning as well as soil erosion, previously of intermediate and lowland forest, has been recolonized by, or planted with Randia lancifolia , Chrysobalanus icaco , borsigiana , Dodonaea sp. and Dillenia ferruginea . This is the only area in the Seychelles where all six endemic palm species occur together. A further 28 endemic species of plant have been recorded, including the vine, once thought extinct and then believed to exist only on Curieuse Island. Tatamaka and Calice du Pape have been planted.
The most noteworthy species is the endemic black parrot, restricted to Praslin Island and dependent on the Vallée de Mai and surrounding palm forest. Other birds include Seychelles kestril, the bulbul, blue pigeon, sunbird and cave-nesting swiftlet. Reptiles include the endemic chameleon, Seychelles house snake, green and bronze geckos, skinks, Seychelles wolf snake and blind snake. Six species of caecilian (related to frogs but looking more like large worms) occur in the deep beds of moist humus, but these are rarely found even by scientists. The stream contains freshwater crab, the big freshwater prawn, shrimp and the only endemic species of freshwater fish, the gourgeon. Two endemic snails occur: the brown and the blackfish snail.
In a densely populated island, the survival of the Vallée de Mai in itself is a remarkable achievement; of course, it is far too small to survive on its own in any natural way, and its present status is due to some replanting of coca de mer. While the site is therefore not self-sustaining, it is still the only place which contains the ecosystem components required for the continuity of the species being conserved. The Vallée de Mai occupies the lower parts of a valley towards the head of a stream, but does not include the whole water catchments (although this lies within the Praslin National Park); this does not affect the visual impact of the site, but activities on the slopes above the valley could adversely affect the site itself.
As a granitic island, the Seychelles is a 'microcontinent' that has had quite a different history from the other volcanic or coralline islands in the Indian Ocean; therefore, it has a large number of endemics and no comparison can be made with other islands in the Indian Ocean. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
18 April 1966 as a Nature Reserve under the Wild Birds Protection (Nature Reserves) Regulation S. I. 27/1696. Further protection under the National Parks and Nature Conservancy Act (Cap. 159) S.I. No. 57 of 1979, Praslin National Park (Designation) Order of 1979, and the Cocooode-mer Management Decree 1978. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation