PEOPLE in the Seychelles have a saying that translates into 'Look, don't touch, but appreciate.' So it's appropriate that signs in Creole and English on this tiny island in the St Anne Marine National Park say that too, underlining the government's commitment to preserve what's left of its exotic natural heritage. Although this scattered archipelago of 115 islands is set in the azure Indian Ocean 1,600 kilometres from anywhere, dozens of species of flora and fauna have been eradicated since the first French colonisers, the first human inhabitants, appeared in the 1750s. Dozens more species are endangered, including the hawksbill and green turtles, slaughtered for their shells which, wrongly tagged tortoiseshell, have been used to make everything from spectacle frames to jewellery. 'They are very mobile throughout the islands so we don't really know how many there are, but a census in 1982 showed 2,000 breeding green turtles and less than 100 hawksbills,' said government scientist John Collie. The turtles now are listed as endangered by the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In 1991 the Seychelles Government stopped issuing licences to catch them. It now has a programme to re-train and compensate craftsmen who make their living carving the shells. All sales of 'tortoiseshell' have been banned. The World Bank has given US$800,000 for research into the hawksbill and about US$300,000 for the green turtle. 'Part of the money will be used for stock assessment,' said Mr Collie. 'We will also draw up a plan for managing turtle stocks over the next five years.' He said 13 bird species are on the government's own endangered list, including the magpie robin and the black paradise flycatcher. The government's environment division offers a US$6 bounty for killing European owls, which were brought in to the islands to kill rodents, but instead slaughter indigenous owls. Annette Carlstrom, a Swedish botanist who has been working in the islands for two years, said some 30 plant species are considered by the government to be in danger. The Seychelles lost most of its indigenous rain forests to ship-building in the 18th century, although small pockets remain on the main island of Mahe and on another island, Silhouette. More recently, creeping development and the over-cultivation of coconuts - the islands' main cash crop - have cut the numbers of the coco de mer, which takes nearly 1,000 years to reach full size and produce nuts.