The mangroves habitat on Curieuse Islands is particularly important as it provides protection and shelter to small organisms, such as fish and crustaceans, from possible predators that normally exist out in the open water. It also provides nutrients to its dwellers because of the large amount of organic matter that is trapped among its roots and it acts as a barrier between the sea and the land. Sediments and garbage that are washed down the rivers are trapped in the mangroves, stopping them from getting onto the reefs and the coastal lowlands are not eroded because the mangrove forest protects them.
From the tortoise reserve a boardwalk leads through the mangroves to the Doctor’s House on the other side of the island. We set off for the hour-long walk and soon we begin to spot large holes in the sand. Looking a little closer we see crabs of different kinds scuttling across the sand. A brightly coloured mangrove crab rests between some young trees while a fiddler crab makes its way into a hole in the sand.
We begin to climb up some steep steps and arrive at the Curieuse Causeway viewpoint. The seawall was built in 1909-1910 and effectively closed off the mangroves, creating a pond in which Hawksbill turtles could be bred and stored for trading purposes (mostly for the shell). However, most of the turtles developed a disease and died by 1914 and so the project had to be abandoned. The wall was subsequently repaired and used as a walkway for visitors until December 2004, when it was almost completely destroyed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami.
We finally reach the large, restored colonial villa, known as the Doctor’s House, where the island’s doctor lived in the 1870s.
Curieuse island was used for the confinement of leprosy sufferers from 1829 to 1900, and again from 1937 to 1965. At times up to eighty men, women and children lived on the island – victims of the disease that for centuries had provoked widespread fear and revulsion. Their ordeal forms one of the saddest chapters in the history of the Seychelles. The first inmates of the camp on Curieuse were African slaves, mainly from Mauritius, who had been abandoned by their masters on various isolated islands in the Indian Ocean. The number of leprosy sufferers at the camp fluctuated over the years, however one man was said to have lived in the camp for over 30 years although the disease had already left his body. In 1900 the government closed the camps on Curieuse and transferred the inmates to the much smaller Round Island, off Praslin. In 1937 all patients were transferred back to Curieuse and the camp there was finally closed in 1965.
During the years of Empire, thousands of Scots lived and worked in Britain’s overseas territories where, in the opinion of one colonial governor, Scottish doctors were superior to others, not only in their medical and surgical qualifications but also in their abilities to adapt to harsh conditions. Dr (later Sir) William MacGregor was one of several doctors in the Colonial Service posted to the Seychelles. From 1837 to 1875 he was the medical officer for Praslin and La Digue, among his duties being the care of leprosy sufferers on nearby Curieuse island. MacGregor soon moved from Praslin to Curieuse, where he built the present house for himself and his wife. Known as the Doctor’s House, this building is now a national monument. MacGregor worked hard to improve the conditions for the lepers; having experienced poverty and hardship himself he readily sympathised with those less fortunate.
No one knows when or where leprosy first appeared, however there were references to the disease in Ancient Egypt and in Chinese medical texts from 400 BC. It was not until 1981, with the introduction of multi-drug therapy, that it could be said that a cure for leprosy had been found.
- Information sign at the Doctor’s House
- Information sign at the tortoise reserve
- Information sign at the mangroves on Curieuse island
- Information sign at the Curieuse Causeway viewpoint