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Back to Stories

Walking among giants

Pack your sneakers as no visit to Six Senses Zil Pasyon is complete without venturing into the Seychelles jungle on one of the marked hiking trails. The low-impact resort leaves two thirds of the island as a forest wilderness. Wild vanilla flowers bloom and lichen tops the trees, a sign of the pristine air quality. I’m here to see the reforestation work that began thanks to the vision of permaculturist Steve Hill back in 2007. Since then, the resort’s hosts have continued this arduous work to remove invasive species such as the tangled mass of Coco Plum and replace them with more delicate endemic plants and trees, including Takamaka, Indian almond, and Coco de Mer.

Restoring biodiversity

“We want the biodiversity on Félicité island to be authentic, rich and varied,” says Sustainability Manager Lucie Bennett, as we navigate the leaf-lined trail that weaves its way up the hill from the resort. We pass giant boulders and giant spiders – neither harmful – but both keeping us on our toes. Since she’s armed with an environmental science degree and machete, I let her go first.

“Invasive species are damaging as they can create biodiversity dead zones. Replanting native species leads to more productive habitats. It’s a labor of love but it will enable the reintroduction of rare birds.”

The island is once again becoming an Eden in full song, and it is hoped that one day it will be possible for guests to see and hear the elusive Seychelles Magpie Robin, Seychelles Paradise Flycatcher, and Seychelles Warbler, among others.

A long propagation cycle

In the meantime, it is easier to spot the Coco de Mer trees. Standing at an impressive 25 meters, they tower above the jungle canopy. These giants are vulnerable, partly because they are endemic to only two islands in the Seychelles and partly because they are in no real rush to propagate. “It takes six to seven years for the seed to mature and fall from the tree, and up to a further two years to germinate. And that doesn’t happen until the tree reaches reproductive maturity at 30 to 40 years.”

It hasn’t even developed a very clever way to disperse its heavy seeds – which are incidentally the largest in the plant kingdom. They average half a meter in diameter, weigh 15 to 32 kilograms, and are shaped like a perky female posterior. Many fail to flourish under the heavy foliage of their mama. That’s why, when Lucie spotted a viable seed eighteen months ago, she found it a good home and it is now thriving.

Myths surround these gentle giants

The Coco de Mer is so named because before the Seychelles were discovered, the seeds would float to the Maldives where fishermen called them “sea coconuts”. It was assumed they came from a forest at the bottom of the sea. The myths continue. Each plant is either male or female – the male flower is a one-meter long phallus-shaped catkin. Legend has it that the trees are shy, so whoever sees the trees mating will die or go blind. Lucie suggests pollination is more likely down to insects or the wind!

The reforestation work is funded in part by the Sustainability Fund, which comes from a percentage of the resort’s revenue. The fund supports three further high-impact local projects, sea turtle conservation, wildlife rescue of birds and bats, and youth engagement. “We mark international awareness days to offer fun educational experiences at the La Digue school on the neighboring island. I love these days as I hope to inspire the children to learn about their environment and maybe even explore careers in conservation.”

Garden-to-table abundance

What goes up must come down. After taking a hundred panoramic photos on Top Hill (Félicité is genuinely the prettiest island you will ever see) we snake our way down through the lush Takamaka trees to the resort’s organic garden. My jaw drops again at the abundance of crops. In July 2023 alone, the kitchen team harvested 31 species of herb, fruit, and veg – everything from bananas to broccoli, cauliflower to cucumber, and mint to microgreens. On a good month, crop production tops 1,600 kilograms.

As Lucie explains, “Our guests love to visit the garden and see for themselves how so much of our produce is organic, plastic free, and grown in and not flown in, massively reducing our carbon footprint. We favor natural methods over synthetic chemicals, for example, neem oil is used as an organic pesticide, and we also follow the principles of composting and cover crop planting, which is where one plant acts as a protector to keep pests off its neighbors.”

With 10,000 steps completed and several floors climbed, I feel no guilt in stopping by the Island Café on the way back. There, Lucie tells me that with a special export license, you are able to bring a government-approved Coco de Mer seed home with you. My suitcase was already brimming with stories and memories of this magical isle. Maybe I’ll come back when Lucie’s baby turns three.

Jessica Swales visited Six Senses Zil Pasyon in August 2023.


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