Simon Reeve meets the real life Robinson Crusoe

The Indian Ocean presenter makes contact with a Brit marooned for 39 years on a desert island

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I spent six months filming in the Indian Ocean for my new BBC series, trying to capture how the life of the ocean affects the people who live there. I met many extraordinary people, none more than Brendon Grimshaw (left), an elderly and somewhat eccentric Yorkshireman who has turned an island in the Seychelles into the smallest national park in the world. 

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Brendon bought Moyenne for £8,000 in the 1960s. He was a journalist by profession and had edited newspapers in Africa. But by 1973 he had grown tired of that life and so moved onto the island — and he’s lived there ever since. He’s now in his 80s, but has no intention of leaving his home. 

I’m sure that’s where he will die and be buried. Brendon has completely transformed Moyenne. He brought in 16,000 trees and planted them by hand. He laid paths around the island and built a wooden house that he still lives in to this day. He has also introduced birds to the island and breeds giant tortoises — I think there are more than 100 of them roaming the island now. 

You’ve got to be eccentric to breed giant tortoises on a remote island like this. And you’ve got to have a stubborn streak to be willing and able to survive in a place like Moyenne. But I think what marks him out as a true British eccentric, or perhaps as a typical Yorkshireman abroad, is his grit and determination to make the island his own private paradise. 

Brendon has been offered phenomenal sums of money to sell it, but all he has ever wanted to do is to preserve it as it is. He got his wish in 2008 when Seychelles officials agreed to classify Moyenne as a national park, which means there can be no commercial development on it. He is a real-life Robinson Crusoe — the difference is that he marooned himself and has no wish to leave. 

Saved by seaweed 

I’m pictured left just off the coast of a beautiful little island called Nusa Lembongan near Bali, where the locals are engaged in the production and harvesting of seaweed. They have what amount to underwater allotments producing this most fantastic resource. The islanders take seaweed cuttings, tie them to a piece of rope and string them together in shallow areas of the sea. 

And the stuff grows very quickly — some varieties up to several feet a day. It’s a really useful food source — many experts think we should eat a lot more of it — but it’s the use of seaweed as a fuel substitute that is really exciting. 

In the past few months, scientists have worked out how to convert seaweed into ethanol, which can be used instead of petrol. It doesn’t need fertiliser, pollute the planet or take up valuable land space. The production and exporting of seaweed are keeping most of the island in employment, but it’s something the rest of the world should be looking at. 

Flip-flops are for life 

The issue of marine pollution makes me angrier than almost any other. While the rest of the planet seems very disconnected about the rubbish that ends up in the ocean, for the people of Kiwayu off Kenya’s north-east coast the problem is literally washing up on their shores. 

They get swamped by plastic they don’t know how to deal with, but they’ve found an ingenious way of treating the vast numbers of flip-flops the waves bring in — they’re turning them into souvenirs and works of art. It’s a depressing feature of our throwaway society that these flip-flops are in the water at all, but having been discarded by people on their beach holidays often thousands of miles away, at least the locals are turning a problem into a positive and, in turn, boosting their economy. 

Pirates, kidnappers and life in a war zone 

Mogadishu is as dangerous a place as you get on Earth — the capital of Somalia is certainly the most dangerous spot I have ever been to. But what is happening here is key to the story of the Indian Ocean. We joined Ugandan peacekeeping troops (see left) who are attempting to retake the city from Islamic militants. 

The conflict is raging and on the front line we saw and heard incoming fire from the militants — I can’t imagine how people survive there on a day-to-day basis. 

Because of the chaos in the city and elsewhere in Somalia, piracy has become big business. The only way to deal with it is by dealing with the problem on land, and Mogadishu is the epicentre. 

We obviously hear about the Westerners who are kidnapped, but there are hundreds of sailors and seaman from the Philippines, India and Bangladesh being held along the Somali coast. You have villagers in Bangladesh who are literally shaking tins to raise money to bring their people back. It is a human tragedy on an enormous scale.

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Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve is on BBC2 tonight at 9:00pm.