SUPERNATURE MAN LEAVES EARTH

Fighting tears in his eyes, Nirmal remembers another scion of Seychelles conservation Lyall Watson a science writer, conservationist and polymath who passed on, recently.

[ROCHE CAIMAN 15TH/07/08]Lyall Watson, one of my role models, quietly passed away on June 25th. He had been struggling with cancer for some time. Best known for his international best seller "Supernature" which was reprinted 10 times and translated into 8 languages, he researched many subjects in scores of countries, had a PhD earned under Professor Desmond Morris (of "Naked Ape" fame), appeared in his own television shows and wrote twenty five other books. What is less known is that he was a Seychelles aficionado, visiting the country regularly and unfailingly meeting up with my father and I.

I was a young boy when I first met Lyall. He was here for some weeks and I vividly recall zooming around St. Anne and other islands in his orange Zodiac and snorkeling on what were then almost pristine reefs. The next time he appeared was as Cruise Director of the Lindblad Explorer and I spent time with him sailing to Fregate and Cousin.

But his ground-breaking (and little known) contribution to Seychelles conservation was his role in the International Whaling Commission. I remember intense discussions in the mid 1970’s between him, my father and others at my Dad’s house on the subject of conservation of whales.  

In 1977, with a clear mandate from the new President of Seychelles, Mr. Albert Rene, Lyall and Sydney Holt (a brilliant fisheries scientist and conservationist) set off around the Indian Ocean to persuade coastal countries to join an Indian Ocean Alliance which would lobby for an Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The process was funded by the Threshold Foundation set up by Prince Sharam of Iran who had the lease on Darros Island.

Mr. Rene made Lyall the first Seychelles’ Commissioner for Whales (and Sidney Holt, who became the  bệte noire of the Japanese, Scientific Advisor). He represented the country at the International Whaling Commission where the Seychelles Resolution for an Indian Ocean Sanctuary was successfully passed in 1979, one of the most significant events in international conservation.

Lyall continued to visit us and never failed to bring autographed copies of his best selling books. He wrote in my father’s guest book once: “Kanti is more than a man, he is an idea, an international conspiracy, a spider who sits in a vast web of knowledge tugging at the strings just to see what happens. We happen. Strange minds following strange paths we get tangled in his web..”. In one of his letters, Lyall acknowledged the great inspiration he had received from my father.

I had the privilege to continue Lyall’s work when I took over as Commissioner for Whales, with  Sidney Holt as my Scientific Advisor. I cherish the autographed books he gave me, including one on whales and dolphins in which I found an omission in the identification key of an uncommon beaked whale when trying to identify beached specimens at Cascade, near the International Airport. His response to my fax at the time was: “Nature is more mysterious than we shall ever know”[ENDS]

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