‘Are you interested in seeing the largest brain coral in the Indian Ocean?’
The minute we set foot on the Blue Bay beach, we were swamped by hawkers selling artisanal jewellery and canvassers trying to sell us glass-bottom boat trips or snorkelling outings. Over fifteen operators hold a permit to undertake commercial activity in the Blue Bay Marine Park.
A 1,000-year-old brain coral is the main attraction
The Marine Park is the main tourist attraction in the region and the best site to observe the coral life in Mauritius. Situated near Mahebourg, a small coastal village in the south-east, the bay boasts a coral garden with a remarkable surface area and biodiversity. Tourists usually go to Blue Bay to visit the Marine Park, whose main attraction is a more than 1,000-year-old brain coral (Lobophyllia sp.) with a 5-metre diameter!
Providers in Blue Bay Marine Park are mostly descendants of local fishermen reconverted in tourism
Glass-bottom boat trips are the most accessible activity for all and visitors can enjoy the discovery of the charms of the place, quietly seated in their boats. Those wishing to get closer to the scene can embark on a boat and snorkel the site. The lagoon glitters with celadon-blue reflections and is an alluring invitation to take a dive. Dylan Rossun, our 20-year-old skipper, takes us aboard one of the boats that criss-cross the Marine Park every day. Dylan learnt his trade from his father, himself a former local fisherman who has gone into tourism. ‘Ten years back, when my father started his tourist activities in the lagoon, there were only three operators,’ explains Dylan, who knows by heart all coral formations in the lagoon. He shows us all the twists and turns of the coral garden resting at about 5 to 10 metres deep in warm and nearly limpid waters.
Nearly 38 species of coral and more than 72 species of tropical fish counted
We dive past the coral formations, with hordes of coral fish swarming around, and hover above successive coral heads. One cannot remain unmoved by their diversity: table corals, foliaceous corals, fire corals, stag horn and rose-shaped corals feature among some 38 identified species. The fauna of this sub-aquatic paradise is as amazing as its flora. Scientists have identified 72 species – namely butterfly fish, surgeonfish, pennant coralfish, fusilier fish, cometfish, damselfish, parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, sergeant-major, sea anemone and clownfish – which live together and cross each other in a highly coloured and splendid aquatic ballet. One can even cross the path of sea turtles, which are fond of the meadows of phanerogamous plants that abound on the site.
Coast guards patrol the area daily to ensure that skippers, swimmers and fishermen comply with the regulation
The 353-hectare marine park is a leisure area that is highly frequented by tourists and Mauritians alike. The activities undertaken in the park provide a living for tens of households. Several measures have been taken to strike a balance between the economic activity and the sustainable development of the site. Permanent mooring buoys have been installed to demarcate areas devoted to conservation, as well as areas where fishing, boat traffic, swimming and waterskiing are allowed. These mooring buoys have been installed at strategic locations to contain the damage caused to the corals by boat anchors. Skippers must hold a special authorisation to offer water excursions for a fee in the Marine Park. The setting up of this park aims at protecting the marine fauna and flora, preserving the biodiversity of the site, promoting scientific research on the marine biodiversity, as well as educating and sensitising the general public. Coast guards patrol the area daily to ensure that skippers, swimmers and fishermen comply with the regulation in force.
The number of boats visiting the Marine Park has kept increasing since tourist activity began on the site in 1992 – there are presently fifteen glass-bottom boat operators. Hence the need to manage effectively the rich but fragile wetlands. This is indeed the prime objective of the Ramsar Convention, which strives to ‘prevent the loss and degradation of wetlands the world over’. It ensures that wetlands are used wisely and in a sustainable way, while protecting the value of their biodiversity and the contribution of the ecosystem.