Tougher penalties to tackle poaching of Seychelles endemic nuts as revised legislation comes into force

Conservation |Author: Julia Malbrook and Sharon Uranie | November 6, 2015, Friday @ 13:28| 5028 views

A healthy Coco de Mer tree. Formerly set at around $387 (5 thousand Seychelles rupees) the penalty that can be imposed on anyone caught poaching the iconic nut has now been raised much higher. (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) 

(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles is introducing tougher punishments to clamp down on poaching of the iconic Coco-de-Mer, the world’s largest nut, endemic to the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Earlier this week saw the approval of amendments made to the 'Coco-de-Mer Management Decree' by the National Assembly.

The piece of legislation in place since 1978 was last reviewed in 1994, but certain provisions with it, especially as far as offences and penalties were concerned, were said to be outdated.

Formerly set at around $387 (5 thousand Seychelles rupees) the penalty that can be imposed on anyone caught poaching the iconic nut has now been raised much higher.

The new minimum penalty is around $1,930 (25 thousand Seychelles rupees) up to a maximum of $38,670 (500 thousand Seychelles). A two year prison sentence can also be imposed on the culprits of such offences.

A mature Coco-de-Mer nut is a prized possession for tourists coming to Seychelles, selling for between $450 and $750 each. Photo License: CC-BY

It was in August this year that the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change came forth with a series of recommendations to amend the 'Coco-de-Mer Management Decree'.

This followed increased poaching incidents and concerns raised on the rapid decline in the number of mature nuts being collected especially on Praslin, Seychelles second most populated island.

Praslin and the neighbouring island of Curieuse are the only places where the Coco-de-Mer palm grows naturally, and it is estimated that there are just nine thousand of these endemic palms growing in the Seychelles archipelago.

The two biggest caretakers of Coco-de-Mer trees on Praslin are the Vallee de Mai, which is managed by Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), a public trust established in 1979 and the privately-owned Fond Ferdinand, which is managed by Le Ravin de Fond Ferdinand.

In an interview with SNA, the environment ministry’s legal officer, Sharon Gerry, noted that most of the Coco-de-Mer theft cases on Praslin occur in Vallée de Mai, one of two UNESCO World Heritage sites found in Seychelles.

Although such cases are reported to the police in most instances the culprits are never captured and in cases where the offenders are caught, there are few prosecutions; something Jeremie has attributed to “a lack of evidence.”

According to figures available from the environment ministry, two cases of Coco-de-Mer theft were reported on Praslin in 2014 while this year the figure has tripled, with 6 cases reported to date. In the only case that has gone on trial this year, the accused has been convicted to three months imprisonment. 

Pictures showing empty husks of the coco-de-mer nuts  left behind by the poachers being picked up by a security officer in Vallee de Mai. (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

Strict laws governing the possession, distribution, control and exploitation of the precious nuts have been in force for many years. In January 2013, people owning coco de mer trees and nuts were given an ultimatum to have their trees and nuts registered while coco de mer dealers were also called to ensure that their license were in order.

The kernel of the coco de mer, which is the inner edible part of the nut, are normally thrown away in order to make the shell lighter to be sold as souvenirs to the many visitors to the Seychelles shores.

Despite not being commercially available in Seychelles over the years, the introduction of licenses have allowed for the dried kernel of coco de mer to be exported mainly to Asian countries like China where it is believed to have aphrodisiac properties.

With even the privately-owned palms protected and regulated by law, the nuts are now in high demand, usually fetching between $450 and $750 each, while the edible kernel is sold for an estimated $250 per kilogram.

Jeremie told SNA that the amended law also caters for offences such as the possession of the Coco-de-Mer nut without a valid tag, inability prove with valid documentations the reason for having the nuts or possession of stolen nuts.

The revised legislation also grants the Minister of environment certain powers for example to set regulations to protect of all parts of a Coco-de-Mer tree as well as the area where it grows. 

“The amendment of the decree is targeting everyone from those who are instigating people to poach, the person executing the crime as well as the person who receives stolen goods. We want to discourage the public from destroying the nuts,” says Gerry.

The recent amendment to the Coco-de-Mer decree is but the first phase of the revision of the legislation.

“The first phase was to review the penalties for the offenses related to Coco-de-Mer theft. The second phase is to review the law as a whole, see what is working and what is no longer applicable. The transportation permit is also something that will be reviewed,” explains Gerry.

The second part of the revision of the ‘Coco-de-Mer Management Decree’ is expected to be ready early next year.

The Coco-de-Mer is listed on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). (Romano Laurence, Seychelles News Agency) Photo License: CC-BY

The Seychelles Island Foundation which manages the Vallée de Mai has welcomed the first amendment of the Coco-de-Mer decree saying it was "long overdue."

“We also feel that it will be important to implement the second phase too…we hope that it will reduce poaching of the nuts now that there is an appropriate deterrent,” says SIF in an emailed response to SNA.

“SIF itself have a comprehensive education and outreach programme where we aim to educate and engage the public in the protection of the Coco de Mer….These activities demonstrate the value of the Vallée de Mai…as the engine for generating revenues across Praslin.”

The coco-de-mer nut is listed as “threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List. It takes six to seven years for one coco-de-mer nut, which can weigh up to more than 30 kilograms, to mature.

It is recommended that 20 percent of nuts remain in any of the Coco-de-Mer forests in Seychelles to ensure the regeneration of the forest.

Aside of amending legislation, a task force was also set up on Praslin earlier this year. It's aim is to facilitate the exchange of information and better coordination between all stakeholders in an attempt to reduce the number of poaching incidents.

Tags: Coco-de-mer, Coco-de-Mer Management Decree, poaching, Vallee de Mai, UNESCO, SIF, Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, National Assembly


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