Blue Bay Marine Park: Fact or farce?

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Friends of the Environment and the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society (MMCS) appeal to the Government to stop the farce: either MANAGE the Blue Bay Marine Park or DE-PROCLAIM the park. When the two Marine Parks at Balaclava and Blue Bay, were proclaimed on the 7th of October 1997 (Proc. No. 15 of 1997), the MMCS hoped that at long last a new era of lagoon and reef management was at hand.

What a deception! Although the Marine Conservation Service had been created, full staffed and trained since two years previously, up till now, nearly 5 years later, the service is not in full action in the Marine Park. As far as we can see,

No finalised management plans, No apparent action on or in the water, No control of development on the shore, No protection of the spectacular coral life, No controlled public access to educate and sensitise the public and visitors to our wonderful natural heritage. Who is to blame? We place the responsibility on the Mauritian public. It is Everyone of us who bears the blame for. We know that many of the lagoons of Mauritius are highly polluted. We know that the reefs are up to 80% dead in parts. We see the coral sand being dug out and sold as building material, which many of us buy. We see juvenile fishes being caught all round the coast-many of us catch them ourselves. We laugh at the colour of streams and rivers, flowing purple, red or blue, emptying textile dyes into the lagoons. Go to Bain Des Dames and smell the putrid gases. We may even display beautiful seashells in our homes, taken live from the lagoons.

So we applaud when two marine parks are proclaimed. Because we believe that at long last the Authorities are saying stop! Halt to this short-sighted disregard for what is one of Mauritius' finest assets - its beaches, lagoon, reef ecosystems.

Visit Blue Bay. Enjoy the speed boats whizzing up and down the bay. Hear the splash of anchors dropping all over the delicate corals, crushing years of growth. If you have dived, as we have, you would be surprised at the tons of rubbish and detritus of all sorts at the bottom. When the MMCS last did a clean up, after 3 tonnes of wastes we gave up, there was too much.

In 1994, when the MMCS proposed a joint Government-Hotel-MMCS project to physically demarcate a small part of the Bay to protect the marine life, and encourage controlled visits, we got a sympathetic hearing and practical suggestions from Mr. Couacaud of Beachcomber. However, the Directorate of the Environment provided no feedback whatsoever-"point mort".

How can the MMCS agree to another major development project on the Ile aux Deux Cocos in the Marine Park in the absence of an objective evaluation of the environmental impact? It would be an aberration if Government did not demand an EIA for the project. Any responsible developer of such a project would concur with such a demand. We forget sometimes that an objective evaluation of possible environmental, economic or social effects of development projects is a normal duty of any responsible individual or company in society. It would be even more convincing if ISO 14000 standards were set for coastal hotels, as has been attained by a single hotel on the Waterfront, to show their commitment to environmental protection.

But in all this, where is the management of the Blue Bay Marine Park? How can a National park be proclaimed in the absence of a Management Plan? It is rather like creating a company without fixing the objectives before hand. The Marine Park personnel are there. They have been trained. The boats and scientific instruments are there. The Government divers are ready to monitor…but there is no plan! What a waste of public funds, as Minister Arvind Boolell himself stated publicly time ago.

Will it need a boating accident before Government to enact a law like the Pleasure Crafts Act Regulations (GN 168 of 1998) which restricts boating speed and access around Ile Aux Cerfs? Why not do so now?

When the first National Park was created in the Black River Gorges, the Wildlife and National Parks Act No 13 of 1993 obliged the Conservation Service to prepare a management plan for the park. The Conservation Service is bound to manage the Park according to the Plan.

In the Fisheries and Marine Resources Act No 22 of 24 December 1998, dated just one month ago, Section 7 stipulates that Government may proclaim "Marine Protected Area - Fishing Reserves, Marine Parks or Marine Reserves." But! There is no obligation to provide a management plan! So, we remain in the dark as to whether the Blue Bay Marine Park was proclaimed in order to pretend that something was being done to protect our marine environment - which is certainly NOT the case, or bureaucratic lethargy or lack of political will is the cause for the absence of a managed marine park. Indeed, Government spending between 1989 and 1993 included Rs 5.5 million to prepare a general Marine Environmental Plan and Rs 7 million in order to assess the setting up of Marine Parks (GM Project 11-00-02-91). It looks like the funds did not serve much use - the really ideal marine areas to proclaim as reserves are around the northern islands, Tamarin to Le Morne and in Chagos and St. Brandon archipelagos.

The European Union is paying millions of rupees in a Regional Environmental Project. The Project has been monitoring the south east coast - we know they have results but what are they? We hear and read pious statements in glossy brochures, but on the ground, who is doing what to protect our marine ecosystems? We call on the EU / COI to enlighten us - not with soothing platitude, but with hard facts. What pollutant levels exist in Blue Bay? What proportion of the coral cover is dead or damaged? Is the level of littoral construction compatible with sustainable ecosystem functioning? Surely we should be applying the results of good research work to the real situation. What effect would a permanent enclave of hundreds of people (120 occupied hotel rooms plus staff) on Ile Des Deux Cocos have on the Marine Park Ecosystem? Is it not far fetched to suppose that the objectives of a high density commercial hotel and the objectives of a Marine Park could coincide, as suggested by the promoter of the Hotel?

Are not Mauritians beginning to feel the need for space and wilderness? After six days's hard work in a factory or office, is it not reasonable to expect a small piece of beach, shade of a filao tree, peace and quiet? And these areas are becoming increasingly rare. Tourists, too, feel the need for quiet and space - it is all very well for a hotel to advertise that it is at a Marine Park, as did Maritim Hotel many years before (!) it was a park but tourists soon see through the farce - the absence of management is visible.

The MMCS calls on the public especially those who live around Blue Bay, as well as politicians and bureaucrats, to:

We have only ourselves to blame when we wake up to find that Blue Bay looks like another Grand Baie. Cease the farce - make Blue Bay Marine park a fact!

Friends of the Environment

Mauritius Marine Conservation Society

Source: Le Week End, 7th of February 1999