In early 1974 John Busby had the chance to join his friend, the zoologist Bryan Nelson, for a few weeks on Aldabra, a large atoll in the Indian Ocean, north of Madagascar, between the Seychelles and the African mainland, 9 degrees south of the equator. At the time Aldabra was run by the Royal Society of London as a research institute, as they had recognised its importance as a unique wildlife haven. It is now a Unesco Natural World Heritage site run by the Seychelles Island Foundation who continue with research into its fragile habitat and wildlife.
At the time it was an adventure getting to the atoll (and a bigger adventure getting off it when the regular supply boat failed to arrive for week after week), but it proved a fruitful source of inspiration for many drawings, watercolours and oil paintings in the months that followed. John also created 22 lithographs of birds and other wildlife from the atoll in limited editions, some of which were hand coloured.
He wrote about his experiences in his book Land Marks and Sea Wings in 2005
“The indigenous birds showed no fear of us. Aldabra flightless rails came into the huts and even sampled cups of tea. Aldabra fodies – colourful sparrow-like birds – and the rare Aldabra kestrel nested in old buildings.
Red-footed boobies nest in trees on the fringe of the lagoon, alongside frigatebirds. When roosting in the evening, they let their wings droop to conserve energy – strange shapes seen from a boat passing underneath…
At night the island is taken over by crabs of many kinds, cardisomas and the large tree-climbing robber crabs. Woe betide any creature lying injured and unable to move. Hermit crabs and fiddlers are out in the day. Large fruit bats cast eerie shadows over the beach in the moonlight.
The Milky Way and all the stars are magnificent. Being close to the equator, both the Southern Cross and the Plough were visible.
Sunsets were often spectacular – the sun flashing from orange to green in the second before it vanished below the horizon and darkness fell. Distant storm clouds added height to the dimensions of our flat world.”
See the Aldabra gallery for John Busby paintings and drawings.
A lot has changed since 1974…
While Aldabra’s status as a wildlife haven is now protected its geographic position means it is gathering much of the detritus of our modern world – plastic ocean waste washes up on its shores contaminating the beaches.
The Aldabra Clean-Up Project aims to raise money to fund a clear up of the beaches, and to repurpose and recycle it. They are also campaigning against single use plastic items and will conduct research on the types and quantities of litter collected.