Eco-tourism exclusive: Heaven and wilderness collide
By: Bruce Simpson, Managing Director, North Island, Seychelles
Beginning his ecotourism career in 1990 working as a guide in South Africa, Bruce Simpson, Managing Director of North Island, Seychelles, has nearly 30 years’ experience under his belt. Joining the North Island team in 2004, Bruce now uses his experience to aid the resorts eco-friendly initiatives and to maintain its impeccable standards.
“I would describe myself as a self-taught student of life. I really wanted to become a veterinary scientist, but I was a particularly bad student and failed zoology, which obviously is an essential requirement! I have a twin brother who was working as a guide and I went for an interview pretending to be my brother. I got the job! My brother decided not to take it, so I said to the guys, ‘Look, I’m Bruce, Mike’s twin brother…’ and that’s how I got into the industry!
I guided for eight years and worked for some wonderful companies including Londolozi and Singita in Sabi Sands. The rest is history… I may have got into the industry by default, but my family had always taken us to the Kruger National Park when we were growing up – we have a place with a small game farm there – so my passion and interest has always been in nature.
I worked for Wilderness Safaris for 16 years, managing some of the companies in various countries, doing Business Development and looking after some of their premium products, which is how I started at North Island.
Wilderness Safaris are both a tourism company and a conservation company, but the conservation aspect has always – 100% – been a priority. Wilderness Safaris bought and developed North Island as a business growth opportunity but more importantly as one of their most ambitious conservation projects in 1997.
The aim was not just to create the world’s leading private island hideaway, but also to turn back the clock and undo all the damage wrought by man and to create a safe haven for indigenous Seychellois fauna and flora. They had a bold vision and brought on board four private shareholders to turn the dream into reality.
The Seychelles biodiversity is very interesting with an ecosystem functioning in dynamic landscapes with gigantism – a biological phenomenon in which the size of an animal isolated on an island increases dramatically in comparison to its mainland relatives.
We spent six years researching what was on the island and then came the lengthy process of rehabilitation.
By the time we opened, we had already succeeded in eradicating a great deal. We removed all of the nine feet high lantana plants surrounding the plateau of the island and got rid of the cocoa and vegetable plants as they were not compatible with the island.
In the early days when there was sea trade between the east and the west, explorers like Vasco da Gama would come through the Cape and up to the east to trade, stopping in Seychelles.
They would collect fresh water and plant trees, fruit and vegetables which they would then pick on their return journeys the following year; basically, they messed up the natural habitat. We’ve come on hundreds of years later and are restoring it to how it was – and to how it should be.
With seedlings procured from the local botanical gardens, we planted over 140,000 plants!
We’re really proud that through hard work, determination and commitment that 21 years later the results are starting to show: we’ve already rehabilitated 20% of the island entirely, and about 36% of it partially. And, we will continue in our quest to rehabilitate and to make North Island an eco-friendly paradise – being on a rocky granite, this is not easy, as you can imagine!
That said, despite the magnitude and complexity of the task, Seychelles as a destination is a wonderful place to operate if you care about the environment. In many ways, this is driven by the government who are exceptionally good at both protecting and rehabilitating what they have – they are amazingly forward-thinking for such a small country. This eco-drive has been spearheaded by previous presidents and has been sustained through the changes in government along the way.
The focus at North Island has been on the island itself, but one of the new initiatives for this year is to create a partial marine park around the island. This has already been done in parts of Seychelles, so we know it can be done and we have the drive to do it.
Last year we won the National Geographic World Legacy Awards, in the ‘Conserving the natural world’ category. We are incredibly proud of these achievements and also of the focus and energy of our dedicated teams who have made this happen.
One of my most gratifying moments ever has been the successful reintroduction of the Seychelles White-eye, a bird species that was critically-endangered and faced extinction before our part in its rescue was considered. It’s an amazing story of commitment to a single dream; one that continues years later with the real results only starting to show now. We are now looking at reintroducing one of the rarest birds in the world, the Seychelles Magpie Robin.
It is these groundbreaking endeavors that ensure that North Island continues to raise the bar for eco-friendly tourism.”