Moyenne Island – Moyenne Island, Republic of Seychelles - Atlas Obscura
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Moyenne Island, Republic of Seychelles

Moyenne Island

A newspaper editor turned this abandoned island into a tortoise nature preserve that's now the world's smallest national park. 

Many of us fantasize about what we would do with our own island. Brendon Grimshaw turned his fantasy into a wondrous reality—a flora and fauna preserve, primarily housing over 100 land tortoises, the only human inhabitant watching over a paradise of endangered beauty.

Grimshaw, who died in 2012, bought the island for a meager £8,000 in 1962. An adventurer with a love of nature and travel, he had always wanted an island to call his own, and was very attracted to the beautiful spots in Seychelles, window shopping for years throughout the smattering of Indian Ocean islands.

Then, he met Moyenne, with its measly four types of trees so overgrown you couldn’t even walk past the beach and brush so dense coconuts never managed to hit the ground. It was a hard, long road to paradise, but with help from a partner, Rene Antoine Lafortune, and a bevy of misadventures (Tropical storms! Sharks!) Grimshaw developed the wild island into a gorgeous preserve, where he then lived with his Testudine friends.

Moyenne Island, once an unkempt brush pile, is now home to 16,000 plants and trees, mahogany, palm, mango, and pawpaw that he painstakingly transferred to attract the host of native birds that flocked from neighboring islands. Nature paths wind in and out of the plant life, leaving room for visitors to explore, and explore they may, as long as they remember that the tortoises have the right of way.

A reptilian version of a crazy cat lady, Grimshaw transported and bred roughly 120 tortoises onto the island, and they roam freely, many of them likely to have been destroyed on the other islands by development and careless humans. While under Grimshaw’s care, they flourished. Even today, visitors are reminded of whose home they are actually guests in by a sign that reads, “Please Respect the Tortoises. They are probably older than you”

Bringing the island to life was Grimshaw’s greatest accomplishment. His efforts paid off: the island was declared a national park. Grimshaw had been offered as much as $54 million for the property but stubbornly refused, convinced that any buyer would destroy his tortoise paradise and turn it into another big hotel resort. It is now safely regulated as the smallest national park in the world, and also holds the distinction of having more species per square foot than any other national park in existence.

Grimshaw chronicled both his life as an adventuring editor and his transformation of Moyenne in the book Grain of Sand.