An “environmental catastrophe” waiting to happen is how some local experts are describing construction of the proposed Anse à La Mouche hotel project, which is expected to be given the green light imminently. Those working on the design of the four-star hotel, however, say the impact on surrounding mangroves and wetlands is being minimised as much as possible.

by W. J. May

Construction of a new state-of-the-art 120-bedroom hotel in the sleepy district of Anse à La Mouche is expected to be given the go-ahead this month, in the face of widespread environmental concerns from the local community.

Sitting amid the swampy coastal wetlands of land parcel C7983, a few minutes’ drive south of Maia Hotel, the four-star property is planned to include restaurants, bars and pools, among other leisure facilities, as well as an adjacent retail village and large residential area later down the line.

A lease agreement signed between the government and the Anse La Mouche Development Company (Seychelles) Ltd (ALMDC) in March 2018 shows the land has been leased at a rate of SCR1 per year for 99 years, for a premium of $4.5 million, which has already been paid.

The developer has been named as the Royal Development Company (RDC), a sizeable Abu Dhabi-based investment company. This newspaper understands project managers are currently waiting for final approval from the Planning Authority before embarking on the works.

Speaking to TODAY on Thursday, Patrick Lablache, consultant to the Ministry of Housing, Infrastructure and Land Transport (MHILT) said that “everything is above board and ready to go.”

Lablache, who has over 40 years’ experience in land management and development, confirmed the first phase before the hefty project gets underway is to divert the coastal road away from the sea and around the back of the proposed hotel. “This is out on tender currently,” he noted.

The news has sparked major concern among a number of civil society organisations who are scrambling to make their voices heard before it is too late. They complain that none of the objections they raised at a meeting in August 2019 between community members and the development team regarding the environmental impact of the hotel have been taken into account.

In an appeal channelled via the civil society platform CEPS, several NGOs including Sustainability for Seychelles (S4S), the Terrestrial Restoration Action Society of Seychelles (TRASS) and the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS) declared that “once again, we get the impression that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process is done merely as a procedural formality and the outcomes are generally ignored.”

Their gripes centre on the destructive consequences they say the development project will spell for the wetland site the hotel will occupy.

Dr. Marie-Thérèse Purvis, S4S board member, said the environmental impact will be “catastrophic.”

“It is not OK to build yet another large hotel in the middle of a wetland. It will be built by the beachfront and to do that, they will fill in around one-third of the existing wetland to a height of one-and-a-half metres with sand or soil, I suppose, and then concrete,” she declared, pointing out Seychelles has been a signatory of the Ramsar Convention for protecting wetlands since 2005.

Dr. Purvis described the developer’s proposals to regulate the flow of water through the wetland by using weirs (a sort of small dam) as “crazy.”

“The marsh is a tidal water environment so putting weirs will affect the entire ecosystem of the area,” she said. A biodiversity assessment of less than a quarter of the total area planned for development stressed its “high conservation value”, with large numbers of birds, reptiles, insects and crustaceans could be found.

Residents have also complained the road diversion will block public access to the Anse à La Mouche Beach and cut the community in two.

Other environmental experts, however, have argued that flat out opposing such a project, during a time when the country’s economy is on its knees, is perhaps “short-sighted.”

Those are the words of Dr. Nirmal Shah, who has conducted EIAs for Banyan Tree Hotel and Constance Lémuria. He reasons that the plans for Anse à La Mouche are inappropriate in their current form but says the project’s critics should work with its developers to “tailor it according to the social and economic needs of the country.”

“I believe this is not the right time for a huge tourism development, but on the other hand blocking it entirely is also blocking a more acceptable version of it that can benefit the whole community,” he said, adding that government must bring all parties to the table to find “something that is acceptable and ‘middle-of-the-road’ for everyone.”

A project representative for the Anse à La Mouche development TODAY spoke with on Thursday, however, refuted claims the hotel will adversely affect the environment.

“A lot of concerns have been misguided, in my opinion,” he said. “If you actually go on site and realise what is being done, you will see the environmental aspect has been catered for in the design. We are not aiming to destroy anything. Whatever means that can be taken, have been.”

The representative added that developers “will not just bulldoze the wetland to dig them out.”

“Everything has to be done in accordance with a dedicated environmental officer and the Ministry of Environment. In fact, there’s very little development within the mangroves – if there is any it’s 2-3% of the total existing mangroves. The idea is to rehabilitate them so they form part of the development in the end,” he added, citing the example of Constance Ephélia, which was meticulously built around the Port Launay Mangrove Ramsar Site.