The Urbanisation of Coastal Zones
Return To: Coastal Zones
During the 60's, there was very little urbanisation of coastal areas. A few villages dotted the coastline with part of the coastal population earning a meagre living from the sea. Few people could afford bungalows and there were few tourists around. Indeed in 1968, the country welcomed 15,533 tourists, 20,587 in 1969 and 27,650 in 1970.
The situation began to change in the seventies when the price of sugar, the main export of Mauritius at the time, rose dramatically on the world market creating an economic boom in the country. This affluence enabled many more people to buy property in the coastal regions and the number of bungalows shot up. Most of these bungalows were built directly on the beachhead. It is important to understand that in Mauritius the strip of land between the high water mark and the low water mark is part of the public domain, free and unhindered passage along this strip is a right. From the high water mark, up to 81.25 metres inland, this band of land is know as the Pas Geométriques and belongs to the State, except in one or two places such as in Mahebourgh where this land can be privately owned. The State can lease the Pas Geométriques and does so quite readily for very lowly sums at times. It is on these State lands that virtually all bungalows have been built. The Pas Geométriques originate from the time of the French colonisation of Mauritius (1715-1810) when the military authorities decreed that for defensive purposes, the first 81.25 metres from the high water mark was to be left untouched and no constructions allowed there. This strip of land was considered vital to defend Mauritius against foreign invasions for it enabled guards to have an unhindered view of the coastline and enabled troops to be deployed and moved from one point of the coast to the other. When the British took over the island in 1810, they did not abrogate this French law but consolidated it through the Pas Geométriques Act.
In the seventies, Government decided to develop and encourage tourism as a means to provide both employment and much-needed foreign exchange. The availability of long stretches of sandy white beaches, a backdrop of greenery, and a generally friendly population made the prospect of hotel based tourism rather appealing. Thus tourism developed mainly, if not exclusively, along the coastline and hotel construction has therefore concentrated itself along the coastline. Of course, bungalow owners and the public also seek the same thing as tourists: sandy white beaches.
In addition to that, it is interesting to note the beaches that attract tourists are made up of coral sand, therefore coral reefs are not too far away enclosing a highly productive lagoon which naturally means that fishing villages are also not be too far away in many instances. Hence, fishermen, members of the public, bungalow owners and tourists (who are the latest arrivals onto the scene, so to speak) all compete for more or less the same resources: sandy beaches and clear water lagoons. This interesting mix has meant that coastal zones have undergone important changes and urbanisation of the coastline is but one of them.
In the eighties, Mauritius underwent what can be called an economic revolution that has had profound impact on every aspect of life in that small country. Successive Governments pursued active policies for the promotion of tourism. The success of these policies have been beyond everybody's expectations for tourism arrivals that barely reached 100,000 in 1980 topped 650,000 in 2000 and is expected to increase by 5% at least yearly (but for how long and at what cost?). At the same time, the Export Processing Zones fuelled by the textile sector took off in a spectacular manner whilst sugar exports remained strong. The country suddenly became much more wealthy and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) rose rapidly whilst sugar exports remained strong. The different Governments of that time were very liberal and generous in handing out parcels of Pas Geométriques to hotel promoters and would-be bungalow owners. No consideration whatsoever was given to environmental and social factors. This cavalier attitude has fuelled an anarchic urbanisation, with little, if any planning.
The result has been that some of the most scenic places along the coastline have been taken up by bungalows and hotels, often blocking for good the view and access to the sea. For instance, in such places as Pointe aux Cannoniers, Tamarin, Riviere Noire, Grand Baie, the coastal roads have no view of the sea save at occasional public beaches. For miles along the coastline, one will see nothing but the outer walls of bungalow or hotels. A very sorry sight.
A number of villages have grown to become small towns with no thought given to aesthetics or good taste. Grand Baie, Flic en Flac, Riviere Noire and Le Morne are all coastline localities at various stages of the urbanisation process. Undoubtedly, Grand Baie, situated in the north west corner of Mauritius, is at an advanced stage. Once a sleepy village of poor fishermen mainly it is now the tourist village of the island, combining the good, the bad, the ugly and the distasteful.
Flic en Flac, on the west coast, developed much later on but is catching up fast with Grand Baie in terms of urbanisation. Previously unused lands have been converted into residential areas, parcelled out and sold at ever rising prices. Unfortunately most bungalows erected reflect poor taste and conforming to no particular architectural design. The overall visual effect is mediocre. Furthermore some of the land parcelled out were wetlands or flood prone areas. Flooding during the rainy season is now a common occurrence.
Situated in the south west of Mauritius, Le Morne is a splendid peninsula with magnificent beaches and lagoons. Over the years, it has become a very popular beach resort for Mauritians. One of the first hotels in Mauritius was built there. In the 90's, Government allowed a string of new hotels to be built there directly on the beach frontage. With each hotel opening up, public access was reduced to smaller and smaller remnants of beaches. This process is still on going as new hotels are planned.
Last Update: 30th of April 2003
Date on the Web: 22nd of January 1998
URL of this document: www.intnet.mu/iels/coast_urban.htm