Brendon Grimshaw bought a neglected tropical island and protected the paradisiacal eco-reserve for more than 40 years — Today, Moyenne Island stands as a reminder of what the Seychelles looked like before tourism arrived.
Real life Robinson Crusoe and the paradise he bought to preserve
Moyenne Island is a small island of 9.9 hectares (24.5 acres) in the Seychelles. Moyenne Island was abandoned from 1915 to 1960 when Brendon Grimshaw acquired it for $10,000. This island had been uninhabited until then, and no human being had set foot on it for more than 50 years. Grimshaw quit his job and moved there forever. For what purpose? Taking care of the island, protecting it and, yes, making it one of the smallest National Parks in the world.
The Man Who Bought a Tropical Island
In 1962, Brendon Grimshaw did something many of us only dream of: He bought a tropical island. Moyenne Island lays 4.5km (2.8 miles) off the north coast of Mahé, the largest of the 115-island Seychelle archipelago. Uninhabited, overgrown, and with legends of pirate treasure, Grimshaw fell in love with the tiny island the moment he set foot on it.
Originally from Yorkshire, in the UK, Grimshaw was working as a newspaper editor in Kenya. Tanzania had just declared independence and Kenya was about to follow. He figured that his job would pass to someone local. At 37, he began considering what to do next. He wanted a life closer to nature and dreamed of owning land in the Seychelles.
Under the guise of a holiday, Grimshaw went to Seychelles to see if there was any way his dream could become reality. After a few weeks, he started to wonder if he had to rethink his plans. Even in the early 1960s, the prices of the few islands for sale were not for the faint of wallet.
Then just before he left for home, a young man in the street providentially asked if he was interested in buying an island. Later that day, they visited Moyenne Island. “It was totally different,” he said many years later. “It was a special feeling. This is the place I’d been looking for.”
So for £8000 (about $10,000), Moyenne Island became his.
Moyenne is what the Seychelles were like before tourism arrived
Moyenne is one of the smallest of the Seychelles’ inner islands: it measures just 0.4km long and barely 0.3km wide (1300ft x 1000ft), and its coastline runs for less than 2km (1.24 miles). Its highest point rises to an altitude of just 61m (200ft) above the water’s edge.
Moyenne possesses the same paradisical white sand and granite boulders that characterise so many Seychelles shorelines, but it’s also home to a dense, unbroken wall of trees that cover the island, forming a low pyramid above the water’s edge.
Despite Moyenne’s diminutive size, restoring the island’s natural beauty was a massive task. A combination of neglect and heavy-handed human intervention had left Moyenne dishevelled and gasping for air. Weeds choked the understorey, and the island was so overgrown that, it was said, falling coconuts never hit the ground. In the tangle of weeds, birds were noticeably absent and rats foraged in the undergrowth.
By Grimshaw’s side was a local named Rene Antoine Lafortune, the 19-year-old son of a local fisherman. The two became inseparable, and together they set about transforming the island, clearing the scrub, planting trees and forging paths through the undergrowth. It was painstaking, back-breaking work – and it became Grimshaw’s life-long obsession.
Grimshaw’s initial goal was to protect Moyenne from overdevelopment. At first, this meant uncovering the island’s raw beauty and building a humble island home where he could live out his days. But his longer-term dream was to create a natural paradise that would outlive him and remain protected long after he was gone.
Real life Robinson Crusoe turned down $50m for his tiny paradise island
Brendon knew that in order to transform the island he would have to nurture the area’s wildlife back to full health. He gradually introduced giant tortoises to his corner of the Indian Ocean and eventually shared Moyenne with 120 of the indigenous creatures.
Brendon’s relentless hard work inevitably attracted the attention of wealthy investors, who viewed the Seychelles as a tropical paradise and an ideal spot for a luxury holiday destination.
The ‘real life Robinson Crusoe’ is said to have been offered up to $50m for his small island in the Seychelles. But the Dewsbury lad turned the eye-watering offer down and instead moved to secure its future in a different way.
As he had no children to pass the island to at the time of his death, Brendon signed a perpetual trust with the Seychelles’ Ministry of Environment in 2009. The agreement marked the island’s transformation into a National Park. To this day, it remains the smallest island in the world to hold that title.
Brendon Grimshaw passed away in 2012 and his grave sits alongside that of his father, who came to live with him in later life. His tombstone reads: "Moyenne taught him to open his eyes to the beauty around him and say thank you to God." Rene LaFortune passed away in 2009.
The island is now overseen by the Moyenne Island Foundation and remains largely undeveloped. A restaurant serving local dishes, a small museum dedicated to Brendon’s life, and two nurseries for giant tortoise hatchlings form the only additions to the area, reports the BBC.
No more than 50 visitors are allowed on the island at any one time, even during peak tourist season.
To watch the hour-long feature documentary about Moyenne Island — “A Grain of Sand” — click here.
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