National parks under threat from vandalism |31 March 2021
Brazen acts of vandalism in five different sites across the Morne Seychellois National Park since the start of this year have sparked outrage and disgust.
Mare Aux Cochons, Salazie trail, Mission Lodge, Trois Frères and the Copolia trail have all been targeted, with the damage ranging from ceremonial cult-like graffiti and defacing of certain areas, to the senseless destruction of infrastructure.
The largest proportion of protected areas in Seychelles, amounting to 6,000 hectares of both marine and terrestrial estates, is managed and guarded by the Seychelles National Parks Authority (SNPA).
National parks are protected areas which are set aside to be managed in such a way which allows for a wide range of activities ranging from conservation to education and economic contribution.
2021 will mark the final year in the five-year Protected Area Finance project which has been providing the SNPA with technical support to strengthen its management capabilities, planning, development of new financing options and communication.
The project, which is a collaboration between the government of Seychelles, the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Development Programme, has invested over USD2.7 million in plans, strategies and infrastructure development to ensure that protected areas in Seychelles become financially sustainable.
Signage boards, kiosks, benches and other facilities which have been updated or set up in the past five years have been financed under this project, to improve the visitor experience to the parks.
The reported acts of vandalism have occurred within the Morne Seychellois National Park, where nine popular nature trails are located.
The consequences of such acts of vandalism go beyond the disturbing images seen on social media, and they are especially significant in the midst of a pandemic. With the lack of tourists over the past 12 months, visitor revenue from the parks has been a fraction of what SNPA had projected since it became a financially autonomous entity in 2019. With revenues slashed, SNPA would have already been in an extremely difficult position in order to manage the parks, and acts of vandalism severely worsen the situation, with both financial and human resources spread thin.
Restoring a defaced site back to its former state is also not always possible, regardless of how much spending can be allocated to it. Nature does not grow back, or repair itself in the same exact way as it was before. Nature also repairs itself on its own timeline; it does not take into account that Seychelles is reopening its borders and that visitors have their expectations on what they want to see.
Defaced national parks degrade the experience of other visitors, both local and the foreigners who have started arriving in the country after Seychelles re-opened its borders. With social media allowing images to be shared across the world to millions in a matter of minutes, the wrong photo can have a lasting and damaging effect on Seychelles’ overall tourism product, as well as sullying the name of Seychelles and its people.
National parks are home to a wide range of biodiversity and wildlife. The parks are guided by management plans and are maintained by trained professionals who are well-versed in protecting species in the parks. Any form of disturbance to a park’s natural environment could put habitats at risk, and in turn lead to changes in behaviour, or worse, jeopardise entire populations.
Vandalism aside, the SNPA also constantly battles other acts of carelessness, especially with regard to the disposal of trash. Littering remains a disturbing issue on all three main islands in Seychelles and national parks have not been spared of this callous behaviour. Littering also affects a visitor’s experience along a hiking trail, increases the attraction of mosquitos to certain sites and comes at a cost to manpower and other resources.
In light of these recent events, the SNPA is once again calling on all Seychellois to take ownership of national parks. They are places which allow the public to experience nature safely, securely and freely. To date, all Seychellois can access the parks at no cost – a natural inheritance which the SNPA ultimately maintains for the public to use. However, the manner in which they are used will dictate what kind of experience others have and also impacts their ability to generate income from visitors.
All vandalism cases have been reported to the police and are under investigation. While the SNPA is not able to discuss details of these, it would like to remind the public of its mission statement: “To effectively protect and manage designated marine and terrestrial protected areas including forested areas for future generations with the intention to use them for conservation, recreation, research and educational purposes.”
The accompanying photos show some acts of vandalism committed.
Press release from the SNPA