Seychelles, one of the world’s smallest countries, is composed of two main island groups: the Mahé group of more than 40 central, mountainous granitic islands and the second group of more than 70 outer, flat, coralline islands.
The islands of the Mahé group are rocky and typically have a narrow coastal strip and a central range of hills.
The overall aspect of those islands, with their lush tropical vegetation, is that of high-hanging gardens overlooking silver-white beaches and clear lagoons. The highest point in Seychelles, Morne Seychellois (2,969 feet [905 metres]), situated on Mahé, is located within this mountainous island group. The coralline islands, rising only a few feet above sea level, are flat with elevated coral reefs at different stages of formation. These islands are largely waterless, and very few have a resident population.
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The climate is tropical oceanic, with little temperature variation during the year. Daily temperatures rise to the mid-80s F (low 30s C) in the afternoon and fall to the low 70s F (low 20s C) at night.
Precipitation levels vary greatly from island to island; on Mahé, annual precipitation ranges from 90 inches (2,300 mm) at sea level to 140 inches (3,560 mm) on the mountain slopes.
Of the roughly 200 plant species found in Seychelles, some 80 are unique to the islands, including screw pines several varieties of jellyfish trees, latanier palms, the Bois rouge, the Bois de fer, Wright’s gardenia, and the most famous, the coco de mer.
The coco de Mer—which is found on only two islands—produces a fruit that is one of the largest and heaviest known and is valued by a number of Asian cultures for believed aphrodisiac, medicinal, mystic, and other properties. The Seychellois government closely monitors the quantity and status of the trees, and, although commerce is regulated to prevent overharvesting, poaching is a concern.
The original French colonists on the previously uninhabited islands, along with their black slaves, were joined in the 19th century by deportees from France. Asians from China, India, and Malaya arrived later in smaller numbers. Widespread intermarriage has resulted in a population of mixed descent.
Seychelles has a mixed developing economy that is heavily dependent upon the service sector in general and the tourism industry in particular. Despite continued visible trade visits, the economy has experienced steady growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) is growing more rapidly than the population. The gross national economy (GNI) per capita is significantly higher than those found in most nearby continental African countries.
The school system is a free, compulsory, 10-year public school education. Education standards have risen steadily, and nearly all children of primary-school-age attend school. The country’s first university, the University of Seychelles, began accepting students in 2009. The literacy rate in Seychelles is significantly higher than the regional and global averages for both men and women.
Seychelles is the only other place in the world besides Galapagos where giant tortoises still live.