Geography

Seychelles

Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

Victoria, capital of the Seychelles. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The African nation of Seychelles is an archipelago nation of ninety thousand people on over a hundred islands in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar,

The exact number of islands is uncertain. The couintries constitution states 155, while other sources count 115 or 116.  About 42 are "granitic islands", that is composed of granite, and about 75 coralline islands.

The most important Granitic Seychelles are Mahé (the largest Seychelles island and location of the capitol Victoria), Praslin, Silhouette, and La Digue. There are also and about 75 small "coralline islands", that is an an island composed in part of coral sand and detritus

Seychelles is the smallest African nation by both area (455 km2) and population (82,247). About 75% of the Seychellois live on Mahe Island. Most others live on Praslin and La Digue, with the remaining smaller islands either sparsely populated or uninhabited.

Seychelles lies outside the cyclone belt, so severe storms are rare; short droughts are possible.

The Seychelles' major environmental issues include its water supply which depends on catchments to collect rainwater.

A lengthy struggle between France and Great Britain for the islands ended in 1814, when they were ceded to the latter. Independence came in 1976.

Socialist rule was brought to a close with a new constitution and free elections in 1993.

President France-Albert Rene, who had served since 1977, was re-elected in 2001, but stepped down in 2004. Vice President James Michel took over the presidency and in July 2006 was elected to a new five-year term; he was reelected in May 2011.

Geography

Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of Kenya. The nation is an archipelago of 115 tropical islands with two distinct collections of islands, some comprised of granite and others of coral. The Mahe Group consists of 42 granitic islands, all within a 56-kilometer (35-mi.) radius of the main island of Mahe. These islands are rocky, and most have a narrow coastal strip and a central range of hills rising as high as 914 meters (3,000 ft.). Mahe is the largest island and is the site of Victoria, the capital. The coralline islands are flat with elevated coral reefs at different stages of formation. They have no fresh water; human life can be sustained on them only with difficulty.

The climate is equable and comfortable, although quite humid, as the islands are small and subject to marine influences. The temperature varies little throughout the year. Temperatures on Mahe usually vary from 750F to 850F, and rainfall ranges from 288 centimeters (90 in.) annually at Victoria to 355 centimeters (140 in.) on the mountain slopes. Precipitation is somewhat less on the other islands. During the coolest months, July and August, the temperature drops to as low as 700F. The southeast trade winds blow regularly from May to November, the most pleasant time of the year. The hot months are from December to April, with higher humidity. March and April are the hottest months, but the temperature seldom exceeds 880F. Most of the islands lie outside the cyclone belt, so high winds are rare.

Location: archipelago in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar

Geographic Coordinates: 4 35 S, 55 40 E

Area: 455 km2 (455 km2 land and 0 km2 water)

Land Boundaries: 0 km

Coastline: 491 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin

Natural Hazards: lies outside the cyclone belt, so severe storms are rare; short droughts possible

Terrain: Mahe Group is granitic, narrow coastal strip, rocky, hilly; others are coral, flat, elevated reefs. Its lowest point is the Indian Ocean (0 metres) and its highest point is Morne Seychellois (905 metres)

Climate: Tropical marine; humid; cooler season during southeast monsoon (late May to September); warmer season during northwest monsoon (March to May)

Ecology and Biodiversity

The Seycelles isalnds are included within the Granitic Seychelles forests ecorgion.

The Seychelles Islands are the only mid-oceanic granitic islands in the world. The islands are scraps of Gondwanaland that were cast adrift millions of years ago when India drifted north toward Asia. Isolated for 75 million years, the Seychelles now hosts a unique assemblage of flora and fauna, many of them extremely primitive. Such ancient species include endemic palm trees such as the coco-de-mer and seven species of caecilians. However, 200 years of human settlement has exerted a serious influence on the native biota of these islands. Habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as invasive species, have caused several extinctions and reduced populations of many species to extremely perilous levels. Human use continues and poses a serious threat to the Seychelles’ native flora and fauna.

The 115 islands in the group can be divided into two types: granitic islands and low limestone islands. The 42 granitic islands are peaks on a largely submarine plateau, situated in the northeastern part of the archipelago. Mahé, the largest and tallest island in the Seychelles (145 square kilometers (km2); 905 meters (m)), is typical of the granitic islands. A mountain ridge runs the length of the island. The lower regions have been developed for residential and agricultural use, and the upper regions are still largely forested. The granitic islands have steep sides and impressive peaks, shaped by weathering and erosion. The erosion of the steepest inclines has produced large rocky outcrops, or "glacis." The islands experience a humid tropical climate with little seasonal variation in temperature. They receive heavy monsoon rains from November to February, and in the cooler months the trade winds blow steadily from the southeast. Mean annual rainfall varies with elevation, and on the granitic islands rainfall ranges from 2,300 to 5,000 millimeters (mm). The abundant rainfall and warm temperatures, along with soil enriched by guano, allowed lush palm forests to develop on the islands, most of which have now been cleared.

At elevations below 610 m, palms, pandans and hardwoods characterize the natural forests of the granitic islands. Above this elevation, there is cloud forest, rich with tree-ferns and mosses. Forest composition varies somewhat from island to island within the Seychelles, but common tree species include: Phoenicophorium borsigianum, Albizzia falcata, Pterocarpus indicus, Adenanthera pavonina, Morinda citrifolia, Phyllanthus casticum, Pisonia grandis, and introduced coconut palms. Tree-ferns, palms, orchids, and an endemic species of pitcher plant (Lalyann potao) are all also relatively common. Although the Seychelles flora boasts many interesting species, the most famous of these is the coco-de-mer palm (Lodoicea maldavica) that is found only in the Vallée De Mai on Praslin Island. This palm grows up to 30 m tall, with leaves up to 6 m long by 4 m wide. Even more striking are the nuts: the coco-de-mer produces the largest nuts in the world, with some specimens weighing more than 22 kilograms (kg).

Most of the lowland forests of the Seychelles granitic islands have been disturbed or destroyed. Coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon plantations occupy most of the coastal plateaus. The mountain forests are certainly not pristine, however, there is still some native forest in the higher reaches of the granitic islands. The Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island provides the best example of intact native forest and has been declared a World Heritage Site. The Morne Seychellois N.P. (35 km2) contains important mountain mist forest. Other important reserves are Aride Special Reserve (0.7 km2), Cousin Special Reserve (0.3 km2), La Digue Veuve Special Reserve (0.1 km2), and Curieuse National Park (15 km2). Although extremely small the reserves do a good job of protecting critically endangered species as well as the habitats they rely upon. For example, an intensive recovery program has helped increase the total population of the Seychelles warbler from 30 to 500 individuals. Intense management efforts have helped build up the populations of the Seychelles magpie robin on Frégate Island, and to translocate it to other islands.

See also:

People and Society

Population: 90,024 (July 2012 est.)

About 75% of the Seychellois live on Mahe Island. Most others live on Praslin and La Digue, with the remaining smaller islands either sparsely populated or uninhabited.

Most Seychellois are descendants of early French settlers and the African slaves brought to the Seychelles in the 19th century by the British, who freed them from slave ships on the East African coast. Indians and Chinese (1.1% of the population) account for the other permanent inhabitants. In 2010, about 7800 expatriates lived and worked in Seychelles; of those, approximately 75 are U.S. citizens.

Seychelles' culture is a mixture of French and African (Creole) influences. Creole is the native language of 94% of the people; however, English and French are commonly used. English remains the language of government and commerce.

About 92% of the population over age 15 is literate, and the literacy rate of school-aged children has risen to well over 98%. Increases are expected, as nearly all children of primary school age attend school, and the government encourages adult education.

Ethnic groups: mixed French, African, Indian, Chinese, and Arab

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 21.9% (male 9,987/female 9,501)
15-64 years: 71% (male 33,044/female 30,277)
65 years and over: 7.2% (male 2,399/female 3,980) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.922% (2012 est.)

Birth Rate: 15.1 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 6.9 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 1.02 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth:  73.77 years 

male: 69.14 years
female: 78.54 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.9 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Creole 91.8%, English 4.9% (official), other 3.1%, unspecified 0.2% (2002 census)

Literacy (2002 census):  91.8% (male: 91.4% - female: 92.3%)

Urbanization: 55% of total population (2010) growing at a 1.3% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

History

The Seychelles islands remained uninhabited for more than 150 years after they became known to Western explorers. The islands appeared on Portuguese charts as early as 1505, although Arabs may have visited them much earlier. In 1742, the French Governor of Mauritius, Mahe de Labourdonais, sent an expedition to the islands. A second expedition in 1756 reasserted formal possession by France and gave the islands their present name in honor of the French finance minister under King Louis XV. The new French colony barely survived its first decade and did not begin to flourish until 1794, when Quéau de Quinssy became commandant.

The Seychelles islands were captured and freed several times during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, then passed officially to the British under the 1814 Treaty of Paris.

From the date of its founding by the French until 1903, the Seychelles colony was regarded as a dependency of Mauritius, which also passed officially from the French to British rule in 1814. In 1888, a separate administrator and executive and administrative councils were established for the Seychelles archipelago. Nine years later, the administrator acquired full powers of a British colonial governor, and on August 31, 1903, Seychelles became a separate British Crown Colony.

By 1963, political parties had developed in the Seychelles colony. Elections in 1963 were contested for the first time on party lines. In 1964 two new parties, the Seychelles Democratic Party (SDP) led by James Mancham, and the Seychelles People's Unity Party (SPUP) led by France-Albert René, replaced existing parties.

In March 1970, colonial and political representatives of Seychelles met in London for a constitutional convention. Elections in November 1970 brought the resulting constitution into effect. In the November 1970 elections, the SDP won 10 seats, and the SPUP won 5 in the Legislative Assembly. Under the new constitution, Mancham became the Chief Minister of the colony. Further elections were held in April 1974, in which both major political parties campaigned for independence. During the April 1974 elections, the SDP increased its majority in the Legislative Assembly by 3 seats, gaining all but 2 of the 15 seats. Demarcation of constituencies was such that the SDP achieved this majority by winning only 52% of the popular vote.

Following the 1974 election, negotiations with the British resulted in an agreement by which Seychelles became a sovereign republic on June 29, 1976. The SDP and SPUP formed a coalition government in June 1975 to lead Seychelles to independence. The British Government was asked to appoint an electoral review commission so that divergent views on the electoral system and composition of the legislature could be reconciled.

As a result, 10 seats were added to the Legislative Assembly, 5 to be nominated by each party. A cabinet of ministers also was formed consisting of 8 members of the SDP and 4 of the SPUP, with Chief Minister Mancham becoming Prime Minister. With independence on June 29, 1976, Mancham assumed the office of President and René became Prime Minister.

The negotiations following the 1974 elections also restored the islands of Aldabra, Farquhar, and Des Roches to Seychelles upon independence; those islands had been transferred in November 1965 from Seychelles to form part of the new British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Although the SDP/SPUP coalition appeared to operate smoothly, political divisions between the two parties continued. On June 5, 1977, during Mancham's absence at the London Commonwealth Conference, supporters of Prime Minister René overthrew Mancham and installed René as President. President René suspended the constitution and dismissed the parliament. The country was ruled by decree until June 1979, when a new constitution was adopted.

In November 1981, a group of mercenaries attempted to overthrow the René government but failed when they were detected at the airport and repelled. The government was threatened again by an army mutiny in August 1982, but it was quelled after 2 days when loyal troops, reinforced by Tanzanian forces, recaptured rebel-held installations.

At an Extraordinary Congress of the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF, now known as Parti Lepep) on December 4, 1991, President René announced a return to the multiparty system of government after almost 16 years of one-party rule. On December 27, 1991, the Constitution of Seychelles was amended to allow for the registration of political parties. By the end of that month, eight political parties had registered to contest the first stage of the transition process: election to the constitutional commission, which took place on July 23-26, 1992. A consensus text was agreed upon on May 7, 1993, and a referendum to approve it was called for June 15-18. The draft was approved with 73.9% of the electorate in favor.

July 23-26, 1993 saw the first multi-party presidential and legislative elections held under the new constitution, as well as a resounding victory for President René. All participating parties and international observer groups accepted the results as "free and fair," as has been the case for each subsequent round of elections in Seychelles. Elections were next held in 1998, when candidates for Vice President ran on the same ticket as candidates for President for the first time. President René was re-elected in both 1998 and 2001, but retired in 2004, turning over the Presidency to then-Vice President James Michel. Though aging, former President René remains an influential figure in Seychellois politics.

The July 2006 presidential elections saw President Michel win his first elected term. Following a 6-month boycott in the National Assembly by the SNP opposition party, President Michel dissolved the National Assembly in March 2007 and called early elections to fill the vacated seats. The SPPF thereafter held a majority with 23 seats, while the SNP/DP alliance held 11 seats. In the May 2011 presidential election, incumbent President Michel was again victorious, winning 55.5 percent of the popular vote. The National Assembly voted to dissolve itself in July 2011, prompting early legislative elections in October 2011. Those elections were boycotted by all major opposition parties (though one new, minor opposition party did participate), resulting in Parti Lepep sweeping the seats in the National Assembly.

Government

Government Type: Republic

The president is both the chief of state and head of government and is elected by popular vote for a 5-year term. The Council of Ministers serves as a cabinet, and its members are appointed by the president. The unicameral National Assembly has 31 seats -- 25 elected by popular vote and 6 allocated on a proportional basis to parties winning at least 10% of the vote; members serve 5-year terms. The judicial branch includes a Court of Appeal, a Constitutional Court and Supreme Court; judges for both courts are appointed by the president. The legal system is based on English common law, French civil law, and customary law.

Seychelles has had a multi-party system since the adoption of a new constitution in 1993. Multi-party elections deemed free, fair, and credible took place in 1993, 1998, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2011. Parti Lepep has won the presidency and majority in the National Assembly in all of the elections, except for the 2008 by-election that it boycotted.

Capital: Victoria - 26,000 (2009)

Administrative Divisons: 23 administrative districts; Anse aux Pins, Anse Boileau, Anse Etoile, Anse Louis, Anse Royale, Baie Lazare, Baie Sainte Anne, Beau Vallon, Bel Air, Bel Ombre, Cascade, Glacis, Grand' Anse (on Mahe), Grand' Anse (on Praslin), La Digue, La Riviere Anglaise, Mont Buxton, Mont Fleuri, Plaisance, Pointe La Rue, Port Glaud, Saint Louis, Takamaka

Independence Date: 29 June 1976 (from UK)

Legal System: based on English common law, French civil law, and customary law. The Seychelles has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International Criminal Court (ICCt) jurisdiction

Suffrage: 17 years of age; universal

International Environmental Agreements

The Seychelles is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.

Agriculture

Agricultural Products: coconuts, cinnamon, vanilla, sweet potatoes, cassava (tapioca), bananas; poultry; tuna

Irrigated Land: 3 sq km (2008)

Resources

Natural Resources: fish, copra, cinnamon trees.

Land Use:

arable land: 2.17%
permanent crops: 13.04%
other: 84.79% (2005)

Energy

Energy in Seychelles
  Production Consumption Exports Imports Reserves
Electricity 260 million kWh
(2008 est.)
241.8 million kWh
(2008 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
0 kWh
(2009 est.)
 
Oil 0 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
8,000 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
0 bbl/day
(2010 est.)
6,203 bbl/day
(2009 est.)
0 bbl
(1 January 2010)
Natural Gas 0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(2009 est.)
0 cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
Source: CIA Factbook

 

 

Conflict

International Disputes: together with Mauritius, Seychelles claims the Chagos Archipelago (UK-administered British Indian Ocean Territory)

Economy

Since independence in 1976, per capita output in this Indian Ocean archipelago has expanded to roughly seven times the pre-independence, near-subsistence level, moving the island into the upper-middle income group of countries.

Seychelles' economy relies on tourism and foreign direct investment. Employment, foreign earnings, construction, banking, and commerce are all largely dependent on these.

The services sector -- including transport, communications, commerce, fishing, and tourism -- has accounted for close to 70% of GDP in recent years. The share of manufacturing has been between 15%-20% of GDP, although it fluctuates from year to year owing to changes in output from the Indian Ocean Tuna cannery. Public investment in infrastructure and strong foreign direct investment inflows in the tourism sector have kept construction buoyant, with its share of GDP at around 10%. Given the shortage of arable land, agriculture, forestry, and fishing (excluding tuna) make only a small contribution to national output.

GDP in 2010 was estimated at $750 million (official exchange rate), and GDP per capita was $8,720 ($21,050 calculated by purchasing power parity - PPP), putting the island in the World Bank's "upper middle-income" bracket. For that reason, Seychelles is low on the agenda of international donors and aid flows are limited. Given the small size of the economy and its heavy dependence on tourism, the island remains vulnerable to external shocks, including the threat of piracy from the nearby Horn of Africa. There is some offshore banking activity, and recently also the prospect of oil in Seychelles’ waters.

Economic growth was strong in 2006 and 2007, with real GDP growing by 5.4% and 7.3%, respectively. Growth slowed to 3.1% and 0.7% in 2008 and 2009, respectively, due to external shocks, lower tourism earnings, and the persistence of structural constraints reflected in a rising debt burden and foreign exchange shortages. Real GDP grew by 6.3% in 2010, driven mainly by tourism and foreign direct investment. Inflation, which reached a historic high of 32% in 2009, has been brought under control and is estimated at less than 3% for 2010. Foreign exchange reserves are estimated at U.S. $211 million compared to U.S. $169 million in 2009, equivalent to more than 2 months’ import cover. The budgetary surplus, which was initially estimated at 7%, will now be 9.4% of GDP for 2010.

Seychelles had years of socialist-oriented economic policy during single-party rule, characterized by price, trade and foreign exchange controls, a prominent role for parastatal companies, and robust debt-funded development spending. This led to rapid economic development, but also created serious economic imbalances. These problems included large fiscal and external deficits and mounting debt arrears, which contributed to persistent foreign exchange shortages and slow growth. Press reports indicated that high-level corruption contributed substantially to these problems. In October 2008, facing the near-depletion of official foreign exchange reserves, Seychelles defaulted on interest payments due on a U.S. $230 million Eurobond issued 2 years previously, severely damaging its credibility as a borrower. The government subsequently turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support, and in an attempt to meet the conditions for a stand-by loan, began implementing a program of radical reforms. These included a fundamental liberalization of the exchange rate regime, involving the devaluation and floatation of the rupee, and the elimination of all foreign exchange controls. In light of the economic and financial reforms, the IMF approved a 2-year U.S. $26 million stand-by loan in November 2008, which represents the Fund's first-ever formal program in Seychelles.

Seychelles’ program implementation continues to receive praise from the IMF, helped by the committed implementation of reforms and broad-based public support for the process. Reflecting this, the IMF converted Seychelles’ 2-year stand-by agreement into a 3-year fund facility worth U.S. $31 million in December 2009. An IMF mission in May 2010, visiting for an initial review of the extended fund facility, commended Seychelles for meeting all of the program conditions to date. The IMF’s endorsement continues to facilitate the engagement of other key donors, including the World Bank, which approved a U.S. $9 million policy support loan for Seychelles in October 2009 as a prelude to a 2-year interim country assistance strategy. The IMF’s seal of approval will also facilitate the rescheduling of Seychelles’ large foreign debt burden. In a key breakthrough, Seychelles’ commercial creditors (which hold about 60% of Seychelles’ debt) gave their approval in January 2010 to a restructuring offer from the Government of Seychelles that will see the amount owed cut by 50%, with repayments taking place between 2016 and 2026. In combination with the 45% debt write-off agreed by the Paris Club of creditors in April 2009, it is estimated that Seychelles’ debt burden should fall from about 98% to a more sustainable 56% of GDP for 2010. However, Seychelles remains highly exposed to external shocks, including piracy threats and risks to the European economic outlook (source of most tourists).

Seychelles is ranked 8th in Africa and 103rd worldwide in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business report, and comes in at 142nd in the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. In February 2011, global rating agency Fitch assigned Seychelles a Country Ceiling of 'B' (from ‘B-‘ in 2010) and a short-term foreign currency Issuer Default Rating of 'B'. According to Fitch, Seychelles' revised ratings “reflect Seychelles' outperformance, by a wide margin, of the fiscal targets set for it by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, for a second consecutive year.”

Although Seychelles is eligible for the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), it has been unable to take advantage of AGOA thus far. Seychelles is not qualified for apparel benefits under AGOA and, in any case, its apparel manufacturing capacity is negligible.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $2.244 billion (2011 est.)

GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $1 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $24,700 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 1.9%
industry: 18.7%
services: 79.3% (2011 est.)

Population Below Poverty Line: NA %

Industries: fishing, tourism, processing of coconuts and vanilla, coir (coconut fiber) rope, boat building, printing, furniture; beverages

Exports: canned tuna, frozen fish, cinnamon bark, copra, petroleum products (reexports)

Export Partners: UK 25.1%, France 19.3%, Mauritius 10.8%, Japan 8.1%, Italy 5.6%, Spain 5% (2006)

Imports: machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, petroleum products, chemicals

Import Partners: Saudi Arabia 16.4%, Germany 10.1%, South Africa 9.2%, France 7.6%, Spain 7.1%, Singapore 5.4% (2006)

Economic Aid Recipient: $18.81 million (2005)

Currency: Seychelles rupee (SCR)

Ports and Terminals: Victoria

 
Glossary

Citation

Agency, C., Fund, W., & Department, U. (2014). Seychelles. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbeede7896bb431f69ad23

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