L'Ile Aux Bénitiers


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The sandy shores of ile aux Benitiers

A view of the islet from the mountain top of Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire

(Courtesy of Mrs Tania Haberland)

 

About 500 metres off the coast at La Gaulette (South West of Mauritius) is l'ile aux Bénitiers. It is a large coral sand island approximately two kilometres long and 500 metres at its widest point and 65 hectares in area. The island itself has very little biodiversity value since it has a highly modified vegetative cover and is used as a coconut plantation. Since 1927 the islet has been leased to a private company that tends the coconut plantations there. On the northern tip of the island there is a small colony of migratory sea birds.

The lagoon is vast and shallow with large coral fields in relatively good health. The region around the island is the fishing ground of locals who for years have used the islet for leisure purposes and a stop over when fishing in the lagoon. Over the past decade or so, a number of small entrepreneurs have used the islet to bring tourists there on day trips or on camping. It has become a very popular location for tourists and on certain days up to a dozen boats of all shapes and sizes can be seen off the islet.

This never-ending stream of tourists and day-trippers carries with it a number of consequences. For instance, part of the island is littered with solid wastes and shows traces of fires due to improvised stoves. It even appears that fires have broke out on a few occasions, especially in the southern tip.

Sand erosion is also a severe problem in the southern part and this is exacerbated by illegal sand removal.

In February 2002, the local group FAIL (Food and Allied Industries Ltd) together with the lease holders, the company Soolaman Nubheebucus and Co Ltd, announced their intention of building a hotel there that would be made up of bungalows comprising 97 suites in all. Almost immediately a number of individuals and organisations have voiced their opposition to the project which has received a fair amount of press coverage lately.

It appears that the project may be financed, in part, by the European Investment Bank. It is a European Community Institution that has attracted a fair amount of criticism from European environmental organisations for its lack of proper environmental monitoring of the projects it finances.

The project has not been submitted to the authorities yet and is still in the preliminary planning stages as of May 2002. Such a project will have to go through the Environmental Impact Assessment procedures. For years the granting of an EIA license was a virtually guarantee for very few EIA reports were rejected by Government. However since the Blue Bay Affair where a hotel project on a small islet in Blue Bay Marine Park was rejected by Government, in part due to strenuous opposition from environmental organisations, the EIA procedure is no longer the rubber stamp it once was. A fact that will have to be taken more seriously by would be promoters.

In October 2002, the group FAIL has made it publicly known that it had abandoned the project on the islet because the conditions Government had imposed are incompatible with what they had in mind. In November 2002, the Mauritian Government announced that there is not going to be any hotel development on the islet, which instead will be transformed into a nature park for the public. This is a surprising change in Government policy which for decades had been to allow promoters to transform vast tracts of public coastal lands and beaches into hotel resorts to which the average mauritian had subsequently little access. Whether this policy will actually be implemented remains to be seen.

 

 

Here follows a few links to press articles (in French) and documents on the matter:

The Latest News on ile aux Bénitiers

Rejet d'un projet de développement touristique: L'île aux Bénitiers fait des vagues (20 avril 2003)

Nandcoomar Bodha : "Il n'y aura aucun développement hôtelier sur les îles entourant Maurice"(20 avril)

Le gouvernement résilie le bail à l’île-aux-Bénitiers 11 avril 2003

Pas de projets hôteliers sur l'île-aux-Bénitiers

Il n'y aura pas de projets hôteliers sur l'île-aux-Bénitiers. Selon une source gouvernementale, c'est la décision qui a été prise, récemment, par le gouvernement. En revanche, l'îlot pourrait bien être converti en un espace naturel pour le public.

L'île-aux-Bénitiers a fait, cette année, l'objet de la convoitise du groupe Food and Allied Industries Limited (FAIL). Déjà propriétaire de l'hôtel Labourdonnais Waterfront, à Port-Louis, ce groupe industriel voulait construire un établissement de luxe sur l'îlot. FAIL avait, au début de l'année, présenté à un comité ministériel présidé par le Premier ministre sir Anerood Jugnauth, la maquette d'un projet hôtelier sur l'îlot. Mais le gouvernement avait insisté sur le fait que tout projet ne concernerait qu'un tiers de l'îlot, tout au plus. Les deux tiers restants seraient convertis en espace naturel protégé et en espace de loisirs. Finalement, FAIL a abandonné son projet.

L'îlot fait environ 150 arpents. Il abrite une cocoteraie et il est loué à bail (renouvelé en 2001) à un exploitant agricole, la société Nabeebaccus, elle aussi partie prenante du projet de FAIL. L'îlot a longtemps excité la convoitise de promoteurs hôteliers, notamment à l'époque où sir Gaëtan Duval était ministre du Tourisme. Selon nos informations, le ministère des Terres et du Logement étudie actuellement différentes options, en ce qui concerne la location à bail de l'îlot.

D'autres groupes hôteliers, dont Naïade Resorts, avaient également montré un intérêt dans le développement touristique de l'île-aux-Bénitiers. Rappelons que l'îlot est utilisé régulièrement par des opérateurs de bateaux de plaisance pour des pique-niques touristiques.

Le Mauricien 22 novembre 2002

Le groupe FAIL abandonne son projet à l'Ile-aux-Bénitiers (6 novembre 2002)

Le sort de l'île aux Bénitiers évoqué dans Africa Geographic (5 mai)

Ile-aux-Bénitiers: retour à la case départ (1 mars 2002)

Développement sur l'ile aux Benitiers (1 mars 2002)

REPORT ON L’ILE AUX BENITIERS:Arguments (Factual & Hypothetical) for Protecting the Islet from Development. March 2002 by Tania (Haberland) van Schalkwyk

French résumé of the above report (march 2002)

En opposition à un projet hôtelier Création d'un Collectif pour la Défense de l'île aux Bénitiers (24 fevrier 2002)

 

Last Update: 22nd of April 2003

Date on the web: 30th of March 2002