By Linley Bignoux.
With human to species interaction being fraught with “contrasting interests” that interfere with the process of life in our oceans and on land, Mauritius much like the rest of the world’s nations grapple with balancing economic and social prosperity with environmental issues and degradation.
Marine biological and ecological footprints in Mauritius environmentally and economically have always been a “sticking” point for Mauritius and like most island nations have unique flora and fauna , adding to somewhat of a conundrum when balancing or pursuing economic interests , versus environmental conversation.
With over 1000 species of marine fish and around 700 coral species feeding some 4000 fish species, the island republic is one destination of contrasts environmentally and economically.
With a population of some 1.3 million, Mauritius is famously revered and admired for its pristine beaches, lagoons and coral reefs and in more recent decades its economic social-economic, political and tourism success, however, the ecological footprint and many of the environmental impacts of human activities on the island nation have become an increasing problem, again much like everywhere else in the world.
Mauritius, official name Republic of Mauritius-Republique de Maurice (French) is an island country in the south-west Indian Ocean, it lies some 800 km of the coast of Madagascar and some 2100 km of the African continent. The language spoken in Mauritius is predominately French, French Creole with English sharing official status with French.
There are over 1100 recorded and catalogued marine fish species in Mauritian waters with just over 700 coral reef species which subsequently nurture around 4000 species over the deep ocean and lagoons of Mauritius.
Both the human-induced or anthropogenic causes on the Republic of Mauritius are numerous, marine biological diversity and environmental heritage have suffered via a myriad of ecological and environmental issues facing the nation.
Moreover, the construction industry due to ongoing infrastructure development on the road development, future rail projects and commercial property has stressed nearby coastal resources on the prosperous island nation.
Heavy construction projects have been a constant theme over the last 20 years or so, with much of the Mauritian construction activities centred in the South West coast from Le Morne, strengthening all the way up to the north coast in Grand Baie.
Urbanization and tourism around the northern and western regions of Mauritius have sustained ongoing degradation of the peripheral coral reefs and marine life habitats within the lagoons which encircle around 90 per cent of the island.
Estimated to be approximately 75 per cent in area utilization, hotels and just over half of the sugar cane industry and large textile manufacturing industries in Mauritius are situated in nearby proximity Mauritian coastal areas.
Notable sedimentation increases within the inner lagoons construction and sand mining on coastal areas have had a devastating impact water desalinization have altered the natural composition if lagoons, causing both biological and ecological troubles, which radically affects the marine biodiversity over time.
The prolific use of heavy industry agricultural fertilizers have installed eutrophication in Mauritius’s lagoons, one primary source of anthropogenic causes of coral degradation coupled with climate change and rising sea temperatures while algae and periodic algal blooms have multiplied, suffocating Mauritius’s corals, a trend witnessed globally.
Agricultural land on the island nation inhabits approximately 38 per cent of landmass with the sugar cane industry being the principal agribusiness category encompassing some 70 per cent of Mauritius’ land, with much of the sugarcane being for export.
From the standpoint of present and future economic prosperity, Mauritius has in large been the first in the African region for political stability and certainly by the media, a much noted and praised economic miracle which entails a high GDP, high human development index and efficient health and well-being scores for over the last decade or so.
The rapid growth of its economy, much of which was built on the foundations of tourism, sugar cane production financial services and the information technology service sectors, has had an enormous impact on the environment.
Coincidentally coastal areas and deep-sea natural resources for the republic island nation are of crucial importance, like many island nations around the world. Increasing coastal real estate development by property and hotel developers, coral reef degradation and overfishing by industrialized foreign fishing fleets have had a degrading effect on Mauritian Terra firma.
The continuing decay in fisheries yields has been highlighted both by government and non-governmental sources domestically and international, rising coastal erosion and a fast rise in tourism numbers have extended more pressure on existing environmental carrying capacity and natural resources overall.
From a strictly marine biological and oceanographic viewpoint, Mauritius will have to logically stem and revise much of its commercial and economic activities to strike a balance between environmental and social-economic progress, logically many nations are literally and figuratively in the same boat and same sea.
Gathering the notion that Mauritius, like many transient middle to high-income economies globally can ward of marine degradation over the next decade will be a challenge, socially and economically
However advances from primarily non-governmental organizations over the last 20 years, and from the Mauritian government via environmental policy changes have created no fish zones, which there are nine in total. This with six Marine Protected Areas around the Mauritian lagoon has been a positive addition in conservation efforts.