With a population of only about 3,000, the Digueois pride themselves on using the bicycle as their main form of transport, unlike the bigger neighbouring islands of Mahé and Praslin, which have seen more urban growth. For locals, a car is unnecessary and moving with bicycles has always been a way of life.
“From a small age, my brother used to try and teach us how to ride the bike. They hold the seat and you’re thinking they are holding, then let you go and then you fall, and you lose your knees. And that’s how you learn to ride a bike,” said Florie Marie, a La Digue resident.” Still, my sister, she lives in Mahé, and she still doesn’t know how to ride a bike.”
Tourists also partake in the local tradition, renting bikes to explore the island. “La Digue is known to be a bicycle island. So, you will get clients wanting to travel by car to the beach, but the majority, they want bicycles,” said Travis Mills, who owns a bicycle-rental company on La Digue.
The island’s current vehicle count is 60, a sizable increase from the 10 it had in the ’80s when only wealthy families could afford to own cars. But it’s still a small number, one that is partly tied to the difficulties of individual vehicle ownership here: no cars are allowed unless they provide a public service. However, the rise in tourism construction and the necessary vehicles that come with that work has set alarm bells ringing, especially with locals.
“With more vehicles on La Digue, that aspect of tranquillity, quietness, relaxedness will no longer be there. And that will definitely have a great impact on La Digue itself, its tourism, its environment, and its ecosystem,” said Patrick Andre, the Seychelles’ Principal Secretary of Transport.
Conservationists caution that further development could impact the natural habitat of endangered species on the island, such as the Seychelles Black Paradise Flycatcher, known as the Vev in local Creole. The Veuve Reserve, a national park and conservation area set up to protect the endemic Vev, is a crowning jewel of natural beauty for the Digueois.