Treasures of the sea

One of the most astonishing features of Mauritius is the coral – both the reef and the lagoons with coral “gardens” just below the surface. You can go for a boat trip at Blue Bay in a glass-bottomed boat. For about 1,000 rupees (maybe £20/$34) you can hire a boat with a couple of crew for an hour or two. This gives the chance to see the coral and associated fish as well as to swim from the boat and go to the beach opposite Blue Bay at the Blue Lagoon Hotel/Shadrani.

Coral is extraordinary in its variety of colour shape and fish that it attracts. It grows slowly – only about 1cm each year – so one can believe the claims that the enormous white domed coral in the blue bay coral garden is 800 years old. If you haven’t seen coral in the wild previously then don’t leave Mauritius without seeing some. Many people take home pieces of coral, fascinated by the texture and beauty of the calcium branched patterns of the dead coral. If collected from the beach this is harmless as these coral pieces will otherwise be broken down by the waves to make the characteristic white sand of the island.

The coral beds are also home to sea cucumbers, spikey sea anenomes and vast numbers of fish – Mauritius has several thousand species of fish and many are brightly coloured. The large number of fish is possible because the coral supports such a large variety and quantity of life – even the coral has evolved into many different species. Whilst coral makes up only about 1% of the ocean habitat it is the home to 25% of ocean species. 

Some of the small offshore islands have been turned into nature reserves. For example in the south east, near to Mahebourg, opposite the Peskil beach resort hotel is Isle aux Aigrettes (“Egrets’ Island”). Trips to the island can be booked through the hotel or from Mahebourg harbour for about 800 rupees per person, although surprisingly the exhibition centre manager is welcoming to anyone landing under their own steam in small craft. Here there is a visitor centre with an exhibition of indigenous species, some extinct and some, like the pink pigeon, making a healthy come-back. Also in the visitor centre are sculptures, a gift shop and perhaps incongruously a coke machine! There is a good guided walk around the island though you are asked to keep to the pathway. In order to help with conservation, the conservation NGO running the Isle aux Aigrettes has cleared it of both rats and imported plant species.

To the south of Mahebourg and along from Blue Bay is the Pointe Jerome. This is a favourite place for water sports including water-skiing, kite surfing, wind surfing, snorkelling and simply swimming. All beaches in Mauritius are officially open to the public and so the only issue sometimes is getting to them. In the last few years the Mauritians have very much improved their facilities at beaches with more public WCs and much less litter.

As a tourist you will see the long, brightly coloured wooden fishing boats which are usually powered by a combination of wind, motor and rowing power. If you are staying in self-catering accommodation you are very likely to find fish salesmen at your door offering locally caught fish. These will be very fresh and it is safe and sensible to buy this way, but don’t hesitate to haggle over price and to ask for advice on preparation and cooking. You will do well if you can establish a regular supplier so that trust can be built up on both sides and you can make special requests (e.g. prawns, squid, etc)

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