The Seychelles outer islands Alphonse and St François have been designated Important Shark & Ray Areas (ISRAs) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which has highlighted the two locations as critical habitats for certain sharks and rays.
Alphonse and neighbouring St François make up the Alphonse Group, containing the St François and Bijoutier island nature reserves and what are described as miles of untouched sandflats, seagrass beds and coral reefs.
Both these Indian Ocean atolls have now been identified as supporting sharks and rays at important stages of their lives, with the St François lagoon regarded as potentially one of Seychelles’ most important nursery sites.
Lemon shark pups are seen in great numbers sheltering in the shallows of the white sandy bays among the mangrove stands, according to Blue Safari Seychelles, which operates a nature-focused eco-resort in Alphonse Atoll.
Both lemon sharks and reef mantas are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and Blue Safari says that if ongoing scientific research positively confirms St François as a manta nursery it will be one of fewer than five identified to date.
White-spotted eagle rays form annual courtship trains in the shallows, with pups frequently seen next to the shoreline, according to the resort.
At least four species of sting ray use the St François Lagoon as a nursery site, with babies visible in the shallows year-round, while aggregations of Critically Endangered grey reef sharks and white-spotted wedgefish are said to be common sights on the outer reefs and reef crests.
Alphonse Island lies about 250 miles south-west of the Seychelles capital Mahé and Blue Safari’s PADI five-star dive-centre visits 24 sites reachable in under 30 minutes by boat.
Blue Safari says that it is playing a critical role by helping to protect shark and ray populations. “The perils facing sharks and rays from human activity and from climate change are extensive, so scientific criteria are essential to establish the importance of ISRAs for the survival and well-being of targeted keystone species,” commented Keith Rose-Innes, founder of the resort and chairman of the Alphonse Foundation.
Rose-Innes said that the foundation would “continue to engage with decision-makers and global policy leaders to stress the importance of conserving these magnificent sea creatures.”