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Coco de Mer adventures in the jungly hills of Curieuse

By Vivien Michel 2 years ago

Last week we restarted our special Coco de Mer surveys!

We have already admired some examples of the Coco de Mer palms, which are endemic to Praslin and Curieuse, in the Vallee de Mai National Park on Praslin. We now have the chance to investigate these incredible trees ourselves on our familiar island Curieuse.

There are a few fascinating facts about the Coco de Mer, that contribute to the Coco de Mer expeditions being unique and an unforgettable experience:

  • Unlike the more common coconut palm, the Coco de Mer palm has separate female and male trees. Female ones bear the well recognised huge nuts which can weigh more than 20kg. Male Coco de Mer palms produce catkins that can reach a length of 50cm or more.
  • Coco de Mer palms develop very slowly. A female palm takes at least 25 years until it bears fruit, nuts take about 7 years to mature and just a single leaf takes about a year to unfurl…
  • Coco de Mer nuts are highly sought after; you have to pay a huge price to buy one. The nuts have been very valuable since the French discovered the Coco de Mer palm in 1768.

Our exciting expedition begins at the edge of the Curieuse mangrove forest hiking up the hills. The challenge is to find the right Coco de Mer trees in the jungle; those which we monitor regularly as representatives for the whole Coco de Mer population on Curieuse. The atmosphere as we arrive is impressive; surrounded by huge trees and low scrub we enthusiastically follow the “trail” uphill stepping on dead palm leaves on the ground as well as on stones and muddy soil, climbing up little rocks, crawling under branches and crossing a stream… Sometimes we have to use a machete to make our path accessible. Out of breath due to the strenuous hike we stop for a minute and have a gorgeous view down on the sea.

Finally someone catches sight of the Coco de Mer tree, with the red marker band and the ID-number on it, we are looking for, yeah! So we unpack our equipment that consists of a lot of things. Most important are recording data sheets of course and the tape measure with which we determine the length of the leaves in order to calculate their growth rates. What makes every single tree a new challenge for us is the fact that surveying Coco de Mer palms can require a differing line of action every time; mainly due to the palms location or the diverse life stages we monitor. We investigate very small seedlings with just two palm leaves coming out of the soil, up to immature palms that already have got a stem, a lot of leaves and a height which makes it necessary to climb up the stem to take all measurements from inside. It is incredible how strong a single leaf stalk is; we sit on it comfortably; it carries our weight without difficulty. While taking measurements on the Coco de Mer palm it is not uncommon to encounter a gecko or an ants nest; the whole procedure is a lot of fun.

Suddenly it begins to rain; we do not mind as we have the luxury of wide palm leaves above us; providing natural rain protection just like umbrellas… The way back is slippery but we accomplish it nevertheless. Back at the mangrove forest we have a short, fun photo shoot with a really huge crab in the rain…

The Coco de Mer survey is definitely my favourite expedition. We deal with impressive trees; far away from civilization, have the most adventurous hikes with amazing views from the hills, and of course have lots of fun, especially while working in a team and searching for the right palm. We are proud of our efforts and achievements after the survey.