‘When a boat drops anchor on the reef, the damage caused to the animal and vegetal life can be particularly dramatic as the swell and the wind can cause the chain to scour the seabed within the boat’s swinging space,’ explains Cathy Young, the Project Manager for Reef Conservation Mauritius. It takes years for the corals to grow again and hence be able to shelter fish and become effective barriers again. Reef Conservation Mauritius has joined in an ambitious project to install mooring buoys launched in 2000 by Shoals of Capricorn and the Mauritian Marine Conservation Society. The first four buoys, financed by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme, were installed in the lagoons of Pereybere and Grand Bay.
Permanent mooring buoys around Mauritius and Rodrigues
The success of this pilot project then prompted the Ministry of Environment to extend it at national level. The Marine Conservation Management Consortium (now Reef Conservation Mauritius) was created in 2003 to manage the project, which is still financed by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme. The organisation initially placed 16 buoys at 8 strategic sites to prevent as many boats as possible from dropping anchor and damage the seabed. These stainless steel buoys in the form of yellow pencils can provide mooring for up to three boats. A hydraulic drill is now used to ensure that the buoys remain in place. The organisation also held sensitisation and training campaigns to teach operators specialised in nautical activities and yachtsmen to use the buoys correctly and thus maximise their effectiveness.
‘The number of corals and fish has grown in places where buoys have been installed’
Scientific monitoring is undertaken regularly to ensure the effectiveness of the project. ‘We have observed that the number of corals and fish has grown in places where buoys have been installed,’ points out Sameer Kaudeer, a marine biologist for the association, who holds a Masters in sustainable development from Paris Sorbonne I University. To date, Reef Conservation Mauritius has installed some sixty mooring buoys, mainly in the north and west of Mauritius as well as in Rodrigues, in the marine reserve of Riviere Banane. Sixteen of them have been financed by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme, ten others by the Ministry of Tourism and five by the Barclays Bank. It’s been six years now that the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme has been financing the initiative and Pamela Bapoo-Dundoo, the UNDP national coordinator, wishes that ‘the Government and the private sector take over the project’. Veranda Resorts is the first hotel group to have sponsored the installation of a permanent mooring buoy at a popular snorkelling site in Grand Bay. Veranda Grand Baie Hotel & Spa also encouraged its guests and some of its staff to participate in a sensitisation operation conducted by Reef Conservation Mauritius. ‘We are actively looking for new financing, namely from hotel groups which have the possibility to include the installation of mooring buoys in their social responsibility policies, thus combining protection and education,’ adds Cathy Young. Working for ten years with environmental NGOs in Trinidad and Tobago has been an enriching experience for the new Project Manager of Reef Conservation Mauritius.
Protecting the marine ecology starts in the classroom
The first pilot project launched in 2006 by Reef Conservation Mauritius consisted in the creation of environment clubs and nature corners in primary schools to sensitise the pupils to issues related to the marine ecosystem. Reef Conservation Mauritius has gained credibility in the educational sector through this project, which is run in 16 primary schools in the north of the island. ‘We have an excellent response from the teachers as well as from the pupils,’ says Sameer Kaudeer, who is in charge of the NGO’s educational programmes. ‘The teachers have realised that the activity is complementary with science, English, history and geography courses all the while fostering the personal development of the children.’ Through this project, financed by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme and the Mauritian Scuba Diving Association, Reef Conservation Mauritius has developed a number of tools and materials (posters, CD-Roms and books) devoted to the discovery of the marine habitat in Mauritius. It has also held sessions to provide explanation to the teachers on the use of these tools and materials as well as on the basics of marine ecology. ‘The programme includes a part on the land habitat with the discovery of plants, their growth and the difference between an exotic and an endemic plant. The part devoted to the marine habitat aims at creating understanding of issues related to the protection of the marine environment and sensitising the participants to the various ecosystems, namely coral reefs,’ says Cathy Young, in conclusion.
CRM is present in public and private schools, as well as in Priority Education Zone
This first success has encouraged Reef Conservation Mauritius to reinforce the project and extend it to some forty primary schools along the northern coast (due to logistics constraints). ‘We wish to reach all socio-economic groups, this is why we are present in public and private schools, as well as in Priority Education Zone and ANFEN schools (Adolescent Non-Formal Education Network),’ points out Sameer Kaudeer. He has set as his mission to raise awareness among Mauritian children to encourage them to protect their island. He considers that ‘The best way of changing things is through children.’The NGO has doubled efforts to reach its aims. Its new project, ‘Marine Environmental Education for Primary Schools in Mauritius’, is financed up to US$50,000 by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme over a two-year period to October 2010. Reef Conservation Mauritius wishes to continue sensitising young schoolchildren to issues related to the marine environment. It also collaborates with the Ministry of Environment to include the theme of the marine environment in schoolbooks. To this effect, the NGO’s team has been working closely in the past few years with the National Curriculum Centre for Research and Development, which is responsible for designing primary schools’ curriculum. ‘The theme of the sea cuts across various other themes. We have thus tried to include it in different subjects, not just sciences,’ points out Sameer Kaudeer, who also takes to heart the theme of insularity. ‘We live in an island but it isn’t mentioned in any schoolbook.’ As at end 2010, the NGO will have set up environment clubs and nature corners in some sixty schools in the north and east of Mauritius and sensitised about 2,500 schoolchildren and 120 teachers, without forgetting the 2,400 families concerned by extension. ‘We have targeted primary school children, who effectively act outside the school context, namely with their families.’
The Beach Resource Centre
Inaugurated in September 2007, the Beach Resource Centre has been created in the context of the Pilot Project for Marine Environmental Education and Resource Centres for Beaches in Mauritius. It benefited from the support of the Beach Authority, which donated and renovated this public building on the Pereybere beach. The NGO uses the building as a platform for education on the marine ecology and addresses a varied public. Books, DVDs and various games on the discovery of the marine habitat of Mauritius are available free of charge at this facility, which is open every day of the year. Open days are regularly organised by the Reef Conservation Mauritius team with animations and learning sessions. Interactive discussions are sometimes improvised with visitors on the impact of daily activities on the environment and on the corrective measures humans could adopt.
Various courses are also provided to operators specialised in nautical activities and fishermen who wish to further their knowledge of coral ecology as well as the use of permanent mooring buoys.
Students aged between 14 and 21 are also invited to visit the centre every Saturday to participate in courses provided by the ‘Club Mer’ to learn the basics of marine ecology – from the principles of oceanography to the study of corals and rocky coasts. After having learnt this initial part, they follow swimming courses completed with first-aid and snorkelling courses.
The educational programme intended for primary schoolchildren also comprises a day at the Beach Resource Centre, followed by the exploration of the lagoon in a glass-bottom boat.