Blue Bay Marine Park and Hotel Development
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The Blue Bay Marine Park is under threat from developers, read on for details.
Topography and Location / The Ancient Coral Beds of Blue Bay / Rapid Urbanisation of the Bay / The Marine Park / The Follies Project / EcoSud and Allies / Press Review
Topography and Location
Situated in the South East of Mauritius, Blue Bay is enclosed by coral reefs protecting it from oceanic waves. There is a narrow channel that connects the bay to the open sea. On each side of the bay there is a hotel, to the west the "Shandrani" and to the east the "Blue Lagoon" Hotels. To the North West of the bay lies the runway of the sole airport of Mauritius, the International Airport of Plaisance. On the Northern part of the bay lie a Coast Guard Station, a series of bungalows and then the public beach. Within the lagoon and atop the coral reefs lies a delightful islet of 4.22 hectares in area, called "Ile aux Deux Cocos".
The Ancient Coral Beds of Blue Bay
At the very centre of the bay, in between the islet and the coastline, lie ancient coral beds of great beauty and of great biological diversity. This diversity of corals makes the site of international importance.
At a depth of 5.5 metres, the seabed is covered with corals of which 80% are alive. The density of corals found here make it even more valuable and so unique. A study of the site has enabled researchers to identify about 50 different species of corals and more than 50 different species of fishes belonging to 25 families. The presence of Seriatopora hystrix at the site is to be noted, for it is a rare species for Mauritius.
In spite of pressure from tourism development, uncontrolled fishing and urbanisation, the coral beds are in good health, but there are a few signs of stress here and there.
Rapid Urbanisation of Blue Bay
Like most coastal zones round Mauritius, Blue Bay has had its lot of urbanisation but has suffered to a lesser extent compared to other coastal villages like Grand Baie or Flic en Flac. Yet over the years, urbanisation and tourism have transformed the bay altogether. Bungalows and hotel construction have greatly modified the visual environment, sky lanes were driven through the lagoon and there are numerous boats speeding across the bay. Furthermore, possible sewage seepage from nearby bungalows could impact on lagoon health.
The Marine Park
In the seventies, consultants suggested to proclaim the bay a marine park due to the presence of rich and diverse coral beds and the relative ease of access to the bay. Unfortunately for the next twenty years nothing happened whilst the bay was being rapidly urbanised. Eventually in 1997, the Blue Bay Marine Park was proclaimed by Government, proclamation no 15 of 1997, together with the Balaclava Marine park, proclamation no 14 of 1997. However, Government has yet to publish a management plan for the parks, though from unofficial sources such a plan is under preparation.
The Follies Project
In 1988, a company named Blue Bay Tokay Island Ltd was created and obtained in 1990 from the Government of the time the lease of the islet (All lagoon islets and offshore islands are State Lands in Mauritius and Rodrigues). The lease imposed more than 20 special conditions on the promoters. The project consisted of 15 bungalows. However, one of the promoters suddenly died in 1992 and the project never got off the ground.
Soon afterwards, another company called the "Quatre Cocos Investment Ltd" bought off Blue Bay Tokay Island Ltd. They put forward a hotel project that consisted of 120 rooms with swimming pool and restaurants. In 1993, they obtained from Government a further lease for a main land site on the so-called "Pas Geometriques". The main land site would consist of administrative buildings and a jetty.
In 1996, the promoters submit their Environment Impact Assessment Report to Government. Immediately, a number of organisations such as SPACE (Society for the Protection and Conservation of the Environment), ACIM (Association des Consommateurs de l'île Maurice), MMCS (The Mauritius Marine Conservation Society) residents and fishermen from Blue Bay voice out their objections to the project and submit these to Government. The Ministry of Environment rejects the EIA report and the promoters do not get their licence. The project is on hold.
The promoters decide to go to the Environment Appeal Tribunal to have the governmental decision over ruled. However, while the appeal is before the courts, the promoters take legal advice. Their lawyers advise them that as they already had a development permit for an initial project in 1990, and given that the Environment Impact Asessement Regulations were promulgated only in 1993, they do not require an EIA licence and so they can proceed with their initial project of 1990. Government requests advice from the State Law Office and in December 1998 the latter declares that because the law has no retroactive effect, the promoters can indeed bypass the Environment Impact Assessment procedures! In the meantime the appeal before the Environment Appeal Tribunal is set to be heard in January 1999. (Le Week End, 6th of December 1998: Demonstration against the Blue Bay Project).
The absurdity of this situation can be best understood when reading the following extract from the Environment Protection Act of 1991.
(1) Notwithstanding any licence, permit, or approval granted under any other enactment, any person being a proponent who commences, proceeds with, carries out, executes or conducts, or causes to commence, proceed with, carry out, execute or conduct, an undertaking -
(a) without an EIA licence; or
(b) in breach of any condition of the licence,
shall commit an offence.
Throughout 1999, non-governmental organisations and local residents demonstrate against the project and the press carries numerous articles on Blue Bay and Balaclava Marine Parks. (Le Mauricien 24 January 1999, After the construction of a hotel there will not be any marine park left to manage , Le Week End, 7 February 1999: Blue Bay Marine Park: Fact or farce?) During the same year, a number of local residents form an organisation called CADES and this time supports wholeheartedly the hotel project. (Le Mauricien 24th of May 1999: CADES supports the Follies Project). In June 1999 the promoters announce their intention to go ahead with the construction works and hope to be operational by 2001. In September 1999, the promoters withdraw their appeal from the Environment Appeal Tribunal. In spite of Government having accepted them bypassing the law the promoters do not act immediately. Due to unknown circumstances, more than a year goes by and it is only in late August 2000 that the promoters begin construction works. By then things had begun to change.
Enters ECOSUD and Allies
Meanwhile, in face of imminent threats of major construction works in the park, the residents organise themselves and set up a non governmental organisation called ECOSUD in August 1999 (Le Mauricien 6 September 1999: Ecosud fights for the marine park). Ecosud immediately calls for a code of conduct for the Marine Park due to the numerous boats criss-crossing the bay and causing anchor damage. To raise public awareness of the threats faced by the marine park, ECOSUD invites His Excellency Mr. Cassam Uteem, President of the Republic of Mauritius to visit the coral beds of the park. He does so in November and calls for development that respects the environment (Le Mauricien, 15-11-1999).
Photographs taken by ECOSUD on the 9th of September 2000
Note the lack of efficacy of the geotextile screens installed.
In late August and in the first week of September 2000, the developers start digging. ECOSUD does sit-ins and tries to block the works from proceeding. Alas, with little success, the bedrock on the shoreline where the marina is to be constructed is ripped apart and a huge trench is dug and about 400 metres cube of soil are removed from the mainland and the seabed. Immediately, mud flows into the park and covers coral beds out to a distance of 80 metres. The MMCS carries out a survey of the sea bottom nearby and collects seawater samples. The samples reveal that the pH fell from a normal 8.0 to an acidic 6.4 and turbidity rose dramatically together with the presence of numerous bacteria. The survey also reported severe localised destruction of the coral life. Although the promoters had geotextile screens installed these had no effect on the movement of sediments which reached out into the coral beds. Furthermore, the promoters had cleared their mainland site of all vegetation and this bare soil could at any moment be carried into the park by the heavy rains expected soon. Ecosud calls for a press conference to raise the alarm at this state of affairs (Le Mauricien 20th November 2000: La boue menace à nouveau le parc marin (in french)).
(Click Here for Aerial Photographs of the site and islet, note that the highly sensitive coral beds are to the right of the denuded site and within metres of it)
Photographs taken by the MMCS on the 25th of September showing the destructive effects of the initial works undertaken by the promoter.
Photo No 1,
Before construction works
Photo No 2,
After construction works
Photo No 3,
Close up of damaged corals
Photo No 4,
Mechanical Damage to corals
However, in September 2000, general elections are held in Mauritius with the result of a change in Government. The new alliance in power immediately has the works stopped. Within the same time period, ECOSUD goes to court to obtain an injunction so that the promoters would have to conform to the Environment Protection Act. In an about face, a representative of the State Law Office swears in court that the promoters now require an EIA licence before proceeding! The injunction therefore makes it clear that the initial works by the promoters are illegal! It is worth noting that the injunction costs ECOSUD the sum of Rs 50,000, worth US $ 2000 by the exchange rate of the time. By Mauritian standard, it is a large sum of money.
The promoters agree to abide to what the State Law Office stated in court and subsequently submits an EIA report in November 2000. The December deadline for public comments is extended to the 15th of January 2001. ECOSUD, the IELS, the MMCS, Friends of the Environment, Art Jonction and a number of individuals submit to the Department of the Environment their objections to the project and ask Government to reject the EIA report, to cancel the lease and to transform the islet into a nature reserve.
On the 13th of April 2001, Government rejects the promoter's EIA report on the grounds that the undertaking would have severe environmental consequences on the marine park (Le Week End, 15 avril 2001, Le permis EIA refusé au groupe Naiades à Blue Bay (15 Avril) ).
The promoters have one month to make an appeal to the Environment Appeal Tribunal which they subsequently do. The case is now before the Tribunal and a number of hearings have already taken place. Hearings were held in mid August 2002.
In the meanwhile, the promoters who appear never to give up have begun very discreet works on the islet so as to accommodate guests for the day, so they say. These works are illegal and contravenes a number of legal provisions. This does not appear to bother them and nor does it seems to bother the Government who is consistently failing to act. (Le Mauricien, 8 decembre 2001: Parc marin de Blue-Bay Travaux de rénovation sur l'île- des-Deux-Cocos). Once more Ecosud and its Allies react through the press to this state of affairs that is scandalous to say the least. (Le Mauricien 20 juin 2002: Des ONG dénoncent les aménagements effectués sur l'île des Deux-Cocos, Le Week End 23 juin 2002: Projet Follies à Blue Bay : Les ONG demandent au gouvernement de prendre "enfin" ses responsabilités )
The case is still in the courts and the next hearings are due in April 2003.
Press Review on Blue Bay (Articles mainly in French)
Sur l'Ile des Deux Cocos à Blue Bay Le projet "Follies" toujours d'actualité…(9 février 2003)
Les parcs marins en pleine ébullition (14 janvier)
Projet Follies à Blue Bay : Les ONG demandent au gouvernement de prendre "enfin" ses responsabilités (23 juin 2002)
Des ONG dénoncent les aménagements effectués sur l'île des Deux-Cocos (20 Juin 2002)
Les écoliers de Beau-Vallon visitent le parc marin (13 juin 2002)
Le projet Follies sur l'île aux Deux Cocos provoque un incident entre le promoteur et les ONG (9 juin2002)
Parc marin de Blue-Bay Travaux de rénovation sur l'île- des-Deux-Cocos (8 decembre 2001)
Le permis EIA refusé au groupe Naiades à Blue Bay (15 Avril) 2001
La boue menace à nouveau le parc marin (in french) (20 novembre 2000)
Eco-Sud fights on for the marine park of Blue bay (6 September 1999)
Blue Bay Hotel Project (juin 1999)
Blue Bay Marine Park: Fact or farce? (7 February 1999)
The Follies Project on Ile Aux Cocos (24th of January 1999)
Manifestation in Blue Bay (19th of January 1999)
Demonstration against the Blue Bay Project (6th of December 1998)
Date on the web: 17th of February 2001
Last update: 18th of February 2003