Filmmaker Jack Reynor Takes Us Underwater During a Conservation Trip in Seychelles
The "Midsommar" star shares his photos and discusses the meaningful impact of conservation tourism.
After starring in the cult favorite horror film "Midsommar" — delivering one of the breakout performances of 2019 — actor and director Jack Reynor decided to take a break from life on set. And for Reynor, "taking a break" looks like heading out into the Indian Ocean.
Last December, Reynor embarked on a diving trip to assist with conservation efforts in the African island nation of Seychelles. After landing on Mahé, the largest island in the archipelago, he helped gather data for various government marine conservation projects and encountered some of the region's unique reef fauna. A certified PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and avid photographer, he documented his time on the ground — and underwater — exclusively for Travel + Leisure.
We caught up with Reynor after his trip to chat about his newfound love for king coconut, a close call with a venomous stonefish, and the importance of giving back while on vacation.
Travel + Leisure: What inspired you to do a conservation trip like this?
Jack Reynor: "I’ve been lucky enough to have a lucrative career in the film industry, which has brought me to some far-flung places. But after a decade of working hard at it, I’m starting to take a little more time off to enjoy traveling for the sake of experience. Given the sheer volume of tropical fish and larger underwater animals in Seychelles, you’re guaranteed exciting diving. But as a result of the coral bleaching events in 1998 and again in 2016, the dives, sadly, are quite as colorful as they once were — and I wanted to help."
How did you prepare for the trip?
“I actually came straight from working on a film in Cleveland, so I was wildly unprepared! I only had a day or two at home in Ireland before leaving. It was a case of throwing some t-shirts and shorts into a bag with some books and camera gear. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been much of a planner — I enjoy the experience of finding things I need when I get to a new place. That’s where the exploring usually starts.”
What were your accommodations like?
“I stayed at the H Resort in the beach area of Beau Vallon — a stunning resort with several restaurants, an idyllic spa, and secluded villas with private swimming pools and lounging areas. I had the pleasure of dining at two of the resort's restaurants. Once at Seyshima, an open-air teppanyaki restaurant with exquisite fresh seafood. And then at Trader Vic’s, where I was impressed with the fusion cuisine and cocktails.”
Any other memorable food experiences?
“The most memorable dining experience of my trip was a lunch I had alone at an authentic creole Seychellois restaurant called Marie-Antoinette. Entering the restaurant felt like stepping back into the 1800s. It’s an architecturally beautiful structure, filled with paintings and old furniture, and is now a protected monument on the island. The Fonseka family have owned and run the restaurant for over 50 years and have perfected their set menu, which has never changed: batter-fried parrotfish, tuna steak, pumpkin chutney, chicken curry, eggplant fritters, all served with white rice. Every dish was delicious and the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming.”
Can you explain what the dives were like?
“It's remarkably easy to find a dive guide to tailor a unique experience for you at one of the many dive centers across Mahé. Seeing a giant Seychelles tortoise and a juvenile manta ray in their natural environment was awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, they were a little far off for my lens to capture their image. But seeing these creatures gives you some perspective on just how diverse this planet is — how we are just one species of a vast multitude, and how we ought to learn to live with nature rather than living in spite of it.”
Did you ever find yourself in danger?
“There wasn’t much in the way of danger in Seychelles, but I did have a fairly close brush with a stonefish one day. They’re camouflaged to blend into a rocky environment, hence the name, and are reportedly the most venomous fish in the ocean. Yikes.”
What are some of your favorite memories from the trip?
“My first time standing on the beach at Beau Vallon, with the mountains catching the red light of the setting sun as the waves rolled gently in from the Indian Ocean, was definitely one stand out. Another was stumbling across a king coconut vendor on the beach, after a couple of dives. He skillfully chopped one up for me and handed it back with a straw. Words can’t describe how delicate and sweet the flavor was. I was surprised by the bright orange color of the king coconut, and by the gelatinous consistency of the meat.
"On the advice of a diving buddy, I walked across the street to the bar at Boat House and ordered a shot of Takamaka spiced rum, threw it in on top of the coconut jelly, and ate it with the makeshift spoon the coconut vendor had made for me from the top of the husk. That was the definition of the word tropical.”
What are the biggest takeaways from your time in Seychelles?
“I find that people these days are distraught with anxiety regarding climate change. And while it’s certainly an issue that requires urgent and substantial action, we can find ourselves drowning in a sort of panic about it, which doesn’t solve the problem. Although Seychelles has its issues with climate change — losing 90 percent of its coral reefs during El Niño in 1998 — its misty rain forested mountains, pristine beaches, and warm breeze reminded me to appreciate the landscape around me. Not to qualify each experiential moment within nature as a swan song to a dying planet, but to remain present in the experience, and not take it for granted, all while doing our best to preserve and protect it — even on vacation.”