“Nuts for coco de mer: islanders rally to save world’s biggest seed”
by Anne Pinto-Rodrigues
The Guardian, April 5, 2021
How a country is coming together to save an endangered palm
Here’s another pitch for your consideration, from the island nation of the Seychelles in the western Indian Ocean.
The coco-de-mer, a palm species endemic to the Seychelles, produces the world’s largest and heaviest seed (a maximum weight of 18kgs). The palm takes anywhere between 15 to 50 years to mature and start reproducing, it’s slow growth rate contributing to its ‘Endangered’ listing by IUCN. Furthermore, there is a huge black market in the kernel of the seed (due to its suggestive shape), which has led to poaching of the nuts from protected areas. This has also affected the palm’s ability to regenerate naturally.
The Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), a non-profit responsible for managing the legal trade in coco-de-mer seeds as well as the management of two ancient coco-de-merforests on the island of Praslin, launched a campaign in August 2020 to get local Seychellois involved in the conservation of the palm. As per the scheme, locals can pay 500 Seychellois rupees (about 17 pounds) and submit an application to SIF to plant a maximum of five coco-de-mer nuts on their property. As the palm grows 25 to 35 metres tall, the property owner needs to have a minimum area of 10 by 10 metres available per seed. SIF staff visit the property and evaluate the overall size as well as the soil type, to decide if the applicant is eligible to plant the coco-de-mer and if yes, how many.
At the close of the application period in December 2020, SIF had received 101 applications for 368 nuts. To date, of the 57 sites visited and evaluated by SIF, 26 applications have been successful, while the information from 31 site visits is still being processed. With a fresh set of COVID restrictions in the Seychelles, 44 properties are yet to be visited by SIF personnel. On the successful properties, seed planting has begun, under the supervision of a SIF staff member. The germinating seed will also be monitored by SIF in the long-term to ensure the plant is growing well, and is healthy.
While only a few of the approved property owners will get to see a coco-de-mer palm reach maturity in their lifetime, the campaign has gotten the nation excited and involved in the conservation of this endangered palm species.
For this piece, I plan to interview SIF staff leading the campaign, some of the successful property owners, as well as a few botanists unrelated to the campaign.
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