REPORT ON L’ILE AUX BENITIERS:
Arguments (Factual & Hypothetical)
for Protecting the Islet from Development.
Return: ile aux Bénitiers
For the attention of:
Minister of Agriculture, Food Technology & Natural Resources
Tania (Haberland) van Schalkwyk
La Gaulette, Mauritius
Table of Contents
RESUME: Summary of the main points covered in this report.
Section 1: An analysis of the lack of scientific studies; discrepancies & contradictions within & between the reports currently governing decisions made about the classification and therefore management and fate of all 49 islets of Mauritius; with a strong emphasis on l’île aux Bénitiers. The reports’ validity as a tool for decision-making is put into question. Written by: Tania (Haberland) van Schalkwyk.
Section 2: A list of 12 reasons (based on fact and/or informed opinions)why development of any sort on L’île aux Bénitiers would be an irreversible mistake: formulated & gathered through the consultation of various national & international sources: field specialists, ecologists, environmentalists, scientists, planners, fishermen, Environmental NGOs, civil servants and concerned citizens.
Many sources did not feel free to put their name to their statements &/ or opinions for various reasons linked to professional & political conflicts of interest. Some organizations & individuals contacted did not even want to comment at all. This section therefore remains un-referenced to protect confidentiality. This however, does not affect the pertinence and validity of the statements & arguments made. Instead, it necessitates a full investigation into the points made. Research of a scientific nature needs to be conducted in order to ‘once and for all’ have a clear politic of protection for all Mauritian islets.
In the meantime, this list of arguments is here to open a debate, solicit more information & opinions, counter- attack the propaganda for development currently circulating through Mauritius - be it in the Media, official reports or from casual mouth to ear, and encourage all citizens of Mauritius to make informed & responsible opinions and decisions around the future of our land & sea.
"Nu Later, Nu Lamer, Nu Ler, Sa mem Nu Lavie!".
Section 3: A selection of statements & opinions collected from some of the various sources consulted during the process of researching & compiling this report.
There is no apparent techno-scientific base to the Government’s classification of L’ile aux Benitiers as a ‘recreational island’, as opposed to being placed in the categories of ‘ nature reserves’. Furthermore, there are discrepancies within & between the reports dealing with the classification & thus management & fate of Mauritian islets.
This is true for the classification of all islets in Mauritius. In 1994, Brian D. Bell prepared, on behalf of the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust, a "Mauritius offshore islands survey report and management plan". On page 8 of the report, all of the Mauritian islets are placed in one of these four classifications:
This classification comes under the heading of Tourism & Education, (Nature conservation notably missing in the title- thus clarifying the report’s priorities in the classification procedure) with the following reason for their classification "according to their respective values for nature conservation, education and tourism".
Nowhere in the report is the marine biodiversity of the islets mentioned. The fauna and flora observations are limited. Therefore these classifications are questionable. A more in-depth study on the marine, flora and fauna biodiversity and ecosystems of these islets is necessary, in order to create an accurate classification of the islets and their resources.
Furthermore, the 2001 Task Force report on islets from the Ministry of the Environment, has reduced the classification of the islets to a mere 3 categories. It is stated that:
"Given that many of the islets have high conservation value or potentials, the Task Force proceeded by classifying these islets based on the International Union for the conservation of Nature (IUCN now known as the World Conservation Union, 1996) definitions and the recommendations of Bell’s Report (1994)"- p25 Task Force on Islets 2001
However, the reasoning behind shrinking IUCN’s 6 categories of protected areas and Bell’s 4 categories, has clearly got nothing to do with ‘high conservation values or potentials’. In order to "simplify the classification", the taskforce has ‘simply’ integrated all of Bell’s passive reserve islets (category 4) into the third category (i.e. Tourist & Recreational). This simplification does not mention IUCN’s categories, nor is it based on site visits, reports or research on the conservational value of the islets. Only 10 of all 49 islets were "surveyed"; and of these 10, only 7 (of 49) were actually visited by the Task Force. However, all 49 islets were classified. (p8-9)
According to the Recommendations of the Task Force, "The sensitivity, specificity and environmental values of these islets have been duly assessed on the basis of primary/secondary data collected and site visits effected." (p. 63)
It is already clear that 42 of the islets were NOT visited by the Task Force.
As for the primary and secondary data, it is not clearly referenced.
The 2001 Task Force report’s bibliography of references is limited, in many ways, most importantly by its lack of scientific reports on the marine environment/ecosystems/biodiversity of the lagoons that these islets play such a crucial part of.
The Task Force states the reclassification has changed because "now that the context has changed, all islets need to be managed and restored". (p 27) Surely restoration occurs more in the categories of open and strict nature reserve, rather than the tourist and recreational one.
By ‘simplifying’ the classification, the Task Force has NOT put these once passive reserve islets into a better state of protection. Rather, they have put the islets in a category which the Task Force go on to define as "islets having little biodiversity or wilderness value but having recreational and tourism potential". (p28)
Therefore, the Task Force has managed to classify 29 of our 49 islets as having ‘a limited biodiversity & wilderness value’, all in the name of ‘restoring’ these islets!
In chapter 10.5, dedicated to the "Creation of an Islet National Park"; right after sections 10.5.1: Definition of National Park & 10.5.2 : Rationale for adopting the National Park Option, there is a small section 10.5.3 : Views of the Forestry Services. Though this chapter 10.5 is supposed to be discussing the fate of the 16 islets being considered for the National Park Option, the Forestry Services is stated as being "agreeable that those without conservation value and with significant size e.g. l’île aux Bénitiers and Ile aux Fourneau may be set aside for limited tourism development (including hotel development)." (p. 90-91).
When reading this last section 10.5.3 the following questions have to be asked:
- Why is this statement being advertised in newspaper articles such as the Express 7th of February, page 3 , in the following way "A recent audit of the Ministry of the Environment, identifies l’île aux Bénitiers as the only one able to sustain a development that would not disturb the environment" ?
When the statement, clearly implicates other islets, because l’île aux Fourneau and l’île aux Bénitiers are being used as examples due to their ‘size’ and alleged ‘lack of biodiversity value’. According to the Task Force report, there are 29 islets with limited conservation value… How many of these islets are also of the size classifying them as being eligible for a tourist development, even a hotel?
And why are the Forestry Services views (obviously contradictory to the Task Force recommendation) mentioned in a report written by the Task Force? And finally, why are the Forestry Services views getting more press coverage than the Task Force Recommendation?
The Task Force report also chooses to selectively quote parts of Bell’s recommendations for l’île aux Bénitiers, conveniently leaving out the statement that "there should be no overnighting" on the islet (p. 139, Bell 1994).
This last statement obviously disallows any hotel, residential or camping projects to take place on the islet.
The 2001 Task Force site visit reports on the 7 islets visited are lacking in scientific backing of statements, such as the following concerning l’île aux Bénitiers:
"Biodiversity value: of no great importance except for the above mentioned waders." (p43)
What biodiversity? Marine? Flora? Fauna? Based on what scientific knowledge/reports? The marine life is not even mentioned…
The Ministry of Fisheries has confirmed that "This Ministry has not undertaken any specific studies or environmental audits for the region of Ile aux Benitiers and therefore, no specific reports exist on the latter." (letter on behalf of the Permanent Secretary, 11th of March 2002).
There are no scientific reports. This state of affairs calls into question all decisions made by the government regarding Mauritian islets. Therefore it is a reason sufficient to:
Until this study has been done and approved, all plans to develop islets in Mauritius must cease, and these islets must begin to be protected.
The results are:
-a lagoon, alive & rich in marine life sustaining a fragile marine ecosystem: coral, mammals, reptiles, mollusks & fish.
- a traditional lifestyle (including fishing) for the inhabitants of the region
- a peaceful haven to all visitors; therefore improving Quality of Life.
- many tourists being attracted to the area in search of authenticity and nature:
Such as the French actress Emmanuelle Beart (visited Mauritius 8 times last year), who, in a recent interview (weekend express, 17.02.02, p.38) said:
" and I pass days in places that are not very tourist-orientated, in the south, Black River, Le Morne. I love this part of the island with a passion."
- MARINE: mollusks: clams, "tec tec", "hache d’armes", oysters, "tipoulle", sea urchins, etc.
Corals: Acropora formosa and A. hyacinthus, other staghorn species, Pocillopora, . A. formosa , etc
Fish: damselfish, including Humbug, butterflyfish, wrasses, chromis, parrotfish, surgeonfish, snappers, grunts, goatfish, etc ( « Field Notes complied during site visits and reconnaissance, Mauritius, March 1995, Draft # 3» p.4, Mr. T Van’t Hoff ).
-TERRESTRIAL: Flora: "Bois Pipe and a "Kiss me Quick" relative, rare Phyllantus species;
Fauna: migrant waders that come to sleep on the sand banks.
(p. 43-44 « Task Force report » , 2001 ; p. 151 « Bell Report », 1994.)
These species should be conserved and other species restored. Development would disturb and endanger these species due to marine pollution, noise & light pollution, excessive human frequentation.
islets, states its full recommendations for l’île aux Bénitiers as following:
"This islet may be used for eco-tourism" (p80).
The International Ecotourism Society’s official definition of ecotourism is as follows: "Ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and improves the welfare of the local people".
- It is already clear that any development on the islet will disturb and NOT conserve the environment of the area.
-However, when it comes to "the welfare of the local people", an immediate response would be, ‘but a hotel/villas complex would bring much employment to the area and thus benefit the "local people". This reasoning is NOT true for many reasons:
.Many jobs and small businesses linked to a more diffused type of tourism, will be lost due to this project: for eg: the "piroguiers"
.Degradation and pollution of the lagoon will negatively affect the marine life and thus the fishermen’s livelihood, as well as inhabitants’ source of food.
.Small-scale fishing and tourism are ‘part and parcel’ of a way of life based on the concept of "multi-activities", which give the region’s inhabitants a certain ‘Quality of Life’.
"Welfare" and the "Quality of Life" is not only about employment. The peace and tranquility of life in Case Noyale, La Gaulette and Coteau Rafin will definitely be disrupted by pollution in all its forms, as well as a reduced access to an islet that plays a part in the lives of the local people.
- Mauritius has reached a saturation point with hotel projects. Any more development of this nature will have a negative impact on the very industry itself , both from a commercial and ecotourism perspective.
Due to this trend, future job loss is greater and more important ,than a short term rise in employment.
Even Mr. M. Oodiah, a sociologist who does not believe that the government gives too many beaches to the hotel industry (according to an article in the l’Express Dimanche, page 9) replied in the following way to the question " Should islets be conserved or given to ‘promoters’? "
- If we want to assure the sustainability of the Mauritian tourism industry, we must be suspicious of the temptation to develop the islets at any cost; which would be in contradiction to a visionary politic that is so necessary these days."
(OPRC 90) Came into force 2nd March, 2000
Came into force 6th December 2000
"Later, Lamer, Nu Ler, Sa mem Nu Lavie"…
Les îlots doivent être gérés de façon efficace par le gouvernement et rester vierges de tout développement. Que le gouvernement établisse une fois pour toutes une politique sans équivoque à ce sujet et la rende officielle au plus tôt pour mettre un frein à toute spéculation et toute convoitise.
The major scientific issues concerning the establishment of a hotel activity on I aux B are probably all marine in nature. The MMCS, while specialising in marine issues, does not see any major ecological issues for the terrestrial ecosystem, other than the changes on the land which might affect the surrounding lagoon. Of course, if there are massive changes made on the land, like addition of massive quantities of organic materials, fertilisers etc. then this will certainly change the nature of the land, but the ecological effects of this will be very noticeable in the surrounding sea.
While we have not made any study of the project nor the environment, we believe the major issues to be addressed by environmentalists, the promoters and government are :
1. changes in the water flows (hydraulic patterns) around the islet, which could have serious repercussions on the marine life (benthic organisms, the detrital layers, corals, algae and eventually on the island coast itself), from the following principal causes
c. pipelines across the channel, for water, electricity, effluents etc.
d. increased visitations of boats with the turbulence caused by their movement.
2. increased nutrient levels in the lagoon from leachate of increased nutrient levels on the island, which are possible on account of
a. more plants causing more organic material on the islet
b. fertilising of the hotel gardens and other planted vegetation
c. any effluents from hotel activities or those of their guests
d. more public visitors to the island who arrive with their wastes
all of which would upset the delicate nutrient balance of the lagoon and increase algal growth. Depending on the nutrient levels, this might cause eutrophication, which is a classic consequences of fertilisation in nutrient-poor lagoons, and is evident in many of Mauritius' lagoons. It must be remembered that Ile aux Benitiers was a coconut palm plantation, but which was not maintained. If there had been a "proper" or commercial agricultural activity on the islet with fertilisation of palms, this would have created the same danger. So this potential effect would have to be measured in absolute nutrient terms, before an evaluation of any negative effect can be made.
3. movement of sediments in the lagoon arising from boats/propellors criss-crossing the lagoon to access the islet, which could cause
a. decreased visibility of the water
b. filling in of the main channel to the north of the island
c. movement of organic matter from the eastern part of the lagoon to the northern part
all of which could cause prejudice to the marine biota and certain ecological change.
It is interesting to note that a major ecological feature of the ecosystem here is the channel to the north of the islet - up to 30m depth, and with a gravel bottommed and coral lined. This indicates a water movement from the islet to the Petite Riviere Noire channel which is extremely rich in biodiversity. This has ecological implications and is a feature which can be useful in several areas - monitoring of any future environmental effects, conducting nutrient-rich effluents away for the island, as a transport channel for access.
A major issue is what the MMCS have publically stated since 1994, and which has been quoted in the press, that the coastline and lagoon from La Preneuse to Le Morne is possibly one of the most pristine marine areas in Mauritius and is an ideal site for a marine reserve. The MMCS have discussed in the past why this is so (already-declared fishing reserve, national park on land, terrestrial topography and other reasons). This is a major issue to our viewpoint, and while there are implications for the preservation of biodiversity on a national scale, it is essentially a planning and political issue.
-The Mauritius Marine Conservation Society (MMCS) is an NGO which acts as a marine environmental watchdog, a proactive research organisation (albeit with limited resources), conducts public sensitisation projects, conducts practical environmental improvement prorgammes, holds public discussions etc. The MMCS counts several biologists among its members, as well as many divers, nature lovers and people from all walks of life.
The Mauritius Marine Conservation Society (MMCS)
Comment, dans un contexte de récession économique mondiale, de baisse de fréquentation touristique et de de remplisage faible des hôtels déjà construits à Maurice, le Ministère du tourisme peut-il se lancer dans une campagne forcenée de développement hôtelier dans le pays ? C’est totalement absurde et dangereux.
Il semblerait, d’après ce que nous avons appris, que c’est le ministère du Tourisme lui-même qui organise le forcing et impose du développement hôtelier sur l’île-aux-Bénitiers. En début d’année dernière (2001), le Ministre du tourisme aurait souhaité, d’après certains témoins, voir se développer sur l’île-aux-Bénitiers pas moins de 5 hôtels ! L’île Maurice serait-elle aussi étendue que l’Australie dans l’esprit de certains conseillers et courtiers du gouvernement ?
Aujourd’hui, les autorités consentent finalement à céder un tiers de l’île pour le projet hôtelier du groupe FAIL, le reste de l’île devant pour un autre tiers être aménagé en espace public, avec restaurant, le troisième tiers étant conservé en l’état pour devenir une Réserve naturelle. Comme si l’on allait pouvoir organiser une cohabitation harmonieuse entre les tortues de mer, les oiseaux migrateurs et le ski-nautique, les barbecues, le bruit du dancing et les toilettes publiques. C’est ridicule !
La politique du Ministère du tourisme est anti-économique car elle fragilise le secteur touristique en dévastant les derniers espaces vierges de l’île que le touriste réclame. Emmanuelle Béart l’a fait remarquer dans son interview publiée dans l’hebdomadaire Week-End en février 2002. Elle aime, dit-elle, partir à la recherche d’espaces qui ne soient PAS TOURISTIQUES ! C’est clair, sauf pour nos décideurs.
Les touristes ne viennent pas à Maurice pour se retrouver concentrés dans des hôtels-ghettos. Ils recherchent l’image de rêve que l’île Maurice a longtemps véhiculé. Malheursement celle-ci est aujourd’hui à l’agonie. La baisse de la fréquentation touristique est en train de le confirmer.
Au lieu de suivre l’exemple notamment des Seychelles qui a réussi à préserver son patrimoine naturel en éduquant la population depuis son plus jeune âge à des considérations écologiques, l’île Maurice préfère continuer à faire les yeux doux aux mercantis de tout poil. Ce sont eux qui font régner leur loi dans ce pays. Nous allons en payer les conséquences néfastes et pour très longtemps.
L’absence complète de réaction des ONG environnementales locales devant cette absurde gestion de nos ressources en dit long sur leur propension à respecter la loi du silence imposée par leurs bailleurs de fond, la plupart du temps les mêmes que ceux qui sont à l’origine de tous ces projets néfastes à la protection des paysages et des écosystèmes de notre zone côtière.
Il est heureux que des personnes responsables de la région de La Gaulette se soient mobilisées et aient décidé d’agir immédiatement en diffusant une pétition qui résume très bien les raisons principales pour lesquelles il faut, non seulement rejeter purement et simplement tout développement hôtelier sur l’île-aux-Bénitiers mais au contraire mettre en route un programme de réhabilitation de la bio-diversité de celle-ci, en y associant les populations locales.
Toucher à l’île-aux-Bénitiers c’est également toucher et dégrader tout son environnement marin extrêmement riche et fragile. Cela ne semble pas du tout émouvoir nos joyeux bâtisseurs d’hôtels. Toutes les garanties données par le groupe FAIL en matière de respect et même d’amélioration (quelle prétention !) de l’environnement de la région ne sont que de la poudre aux yeux quand on apprend, en plus, que la Banque Européenne d’Investissement, leur partenaire financier, contrairement à ce qu’elle prétend et tente de mettre en avant, n’a aucune compétence ni qualification experte en matière environnementale. Une banque, c’est évident, ça s’occupe uniquement de gros sous et sûrement pas de petits poissons.
It was not so long ago since we had another cry for help on the net from Doris Seneque about Ile des Deux Cocos in Blue Bay and that apparently helped. So never ever give up!
Although I did snorkel off Ile aux Benetiers in 1995 while I worked in Mauritius,….
My notes say, amongst others, that there are extensive stands of Acropora formosa and Acropora hyacinthus, along with other species of staghorn coral. The corals were generally healthy here….
In the end it is all a matter of making choices. Where does Mauritius want to go in the near future? I remember that a 200,000 limit on the number of tourists had been set in the past, and that when that number was reached, the limit was doubled to 400,000. At the time that was done the number of hotel rooms under construction or planned already exceeded that number. Clearly, there is no political will to make choices, and only the voice of the people can influence politics.
Good luck and all the best in your endeavours,
- Tom van’t Hof
Marine & Coastal Resource Management Consulting
The Bottom, Saba
"Specializing in marine protected areas since 1979."
I share your strong concerns. Often, development is rushed and the environment is ignored. We are only experts on impacts to marine species. We cannot help on what impacts might occur to migrating birds, etc.
Marine impacts can come from a variety of sources...sewage run off is a major problem and I am not sure how the developers are addressing this issue, also, if they are going to water or fertilize the development these too can cause problems.
It is also difficult for us to remotely assess the species diversity and population densities of the existing marine life...but if a baseline study is not done, you will never know what impacts are occuring.
There are many ways to assist you...but it is costly to send someone to do these assessments and unless the developers or the government is willing to undertake them….,
- Todd R. Barber
Chairman, Reef Ball Foundation
CEO, Reef Ball Development Group, Ltd.
6916 22nd Street West
Bradenton, FL 34207
Nou oppoz kategorikment,kontre tou devlopman qui pou fair lor lil au Benitiers, Surtou quand sa ban devlopman la pou afecte la vie marine. Sa devlopman la pou afecte directeman en centain de pecheurs de la region.
We do not agree with the project that is being undertaken on Benitiers Island. The project, which consists of constructing a hotel on the island will in many ways contribute to the development of the nearby villages, but the cost to the environment will be greater than the social benefit…
To many people the island does not hold any great value but what we must consider is the natural environment surrounding the island. In order to prevent the depletion of that wonderful underwater world, we must prevent this project from taking place. The island is surrounded by coral banks where thousands of fish live…
Another important point is that this part of the island has enough hotels to provide employment for the people living in the region. There are going ot be 6 hotels in the future (Belle vue Inochetia, Le Paradis, Dina Robin, Berjaya, Apavou, Les Pavillons).
I must say that this is more that enough. If the new hotel is constructed on Beniteirs island, it will not be the people of the nearby villages who are going to benefit from employment, but it is rather people coming from towns who are going to work here. ..
…We are going to live a hectic way of life like people in towns, always stressed… We are going ot be doomed like Grand Bay- suffering from pollution…
I am an adventure outdoor operator in Mauritius offering my clients the possibility to visit undeveloped places of nature; one of these places being l’ilot Benitiers. I am therefore against any hotel project on such a peaceful environment; however would be favorable on a nature reserve plan, as long as no major construction would occur.
The major reason being that there are so limited isolated places left in
Mauritius. We have been hearing of major hotel projects in the past year (La
Prairie, Bel Ombre, Snt Felix, ilot darne) I am concerned for the future
generations and for my business‘s future as well as for our natural resources…
- Patrick Haberland
As a concerned Mauritian, and a lover of nature, I strongly disagree with any project being made on l'Ile aux benitiers, which will in any degree affect the already fragile eco system of this island. I strongly feel that we are losing a lot of future opportunities of attraction to tourists as we (in Mauriitus) wildly and unprofessionnally develop our beautiful island. L'ile aux benitiers, should be preserved and reinstalled in its original form, as it is one of the last beautiful nature reserves that still remains untouched by cement and buildings and too many motor boats.
I will second actions taken against such nature -unfriendly development.
- A concerned Mauritian citizen.
I am totally against the development of Ile aux benitiers - in any way whatsoever except if it was for a project similar to Ile aux Aigrettes, where it is a protected area for ecological purposes - for the following reasons:
1. Will create a precedent -
None of our islands should ever be developed in such a way. They should remain in their natural state.
2. Will most definitely damage the eco system - Any construction in any lagoon will disturb life (based on Blue Bay research). Or if we look at the Grand Baie lagoon for instance, it is so opaque and muddy, caused by the traffic of boats on a daily basis. I would imagine there would be a great deal of traffic to take the tourists back and forth from mainland to the island not even mentioning during the construction.
3. Will restrict access to Mauritians -
The islands are part of our heritage and it is only fair that all Mauritians have access to it and not just a select few who can afford to pay hotel fees.
4. Far too many hotels on the island already - It’s been said that the ‘seuil de tolerance’ is getting closer and closer. I feel that the Mauritians’ attitude towards the tourists has changed over the last couple of years. There is a certain agressivity towards them as the majority of the population is feeling that their island is being taken away from them and given to the tourists. The best beaches have already been taken and I fear that if they start with the islands it will degrade the situation.
There you are in a nutshell why I feel that this project should never happen. Feel free to contact me should you need additional info.
It’s great that you’re taking such a keen interest and initiating this movement. I truly believe that if people stand up and say no, something can be done. I sincerely hope that you’ll be able to get people like ecosud Involved
- Anonymous Mauritian (JOB: Director)
I am definitely against any buildings on any islands….
I also think that Mauritius has reached a saturation state regarding tourism and any more risk to crash.
- Olivier Tyack
I would like to add my name to this petition. I don’t have any particular statements or knowledge to be quoted on, but I think that it would be a shame to develop this land, because of course any development will have to have an impact on the environment which will not be a favourable one. So, add my name!
- Francoise van Es (South Africa)
> Thanks for your mail. I am not an expert in marine life or preservation of
> environment, but I just feel the terrible non sense of building every where
> in Mauritius.and in particular in a place as l’ile aux benitiers, which is
> such a beautiful and peaceful place.I agree to sign any petition against
this > project of building houses on the island.
> This is probably again a project of a "happy few" who are seeing a way to
make money without considering the aspect of spoiling the nature….