Walking the Beaches – Second Day on the South Coast

The next day we had scheduled to complete this south coast walk so we had to get back to Savannah, or at least the next village of L’Escalier.  Mike and I had explored the track leading from L’Escalier to the coast a few weeks before.  I remember completely making a fool of myself as we drove up to a shelter on the cliff tops, a large slab of concrete underneath which seemed to have a pile of charred sticks on it.  From the vehicle that was about all I could see, but given its position I said to Mike “Looks like a fabulous place to have a barbecue”.

Mike glared at me as he often did “I doubt it since it’s a crematorium for a Hindu Funeral.”

I must have flushed but then recovered saying “Well it is a similar principle, I suppose.”

Now it was just Jeremy and I, and I told him the story as we parked up next to the shelter.  Given the surprises the previous day’s walk had thrown up, I had looked again at the imagery and it looked like more or the same today, although it looked even more rocky and with steep cliffs.  There didn’t seem to be any more idyllic retreats for plantation owners, but there were plenty of woods, so who knew?  At least I had already been to our destination, in the calm of a little lagoon near the village of La Bouchon.  When I had been exploring on my own a couple of months previous, I had come across this pretty spot and was looking forward to sharing it with Jeremy.

We had that second day stiffness when starting out, but given Jeremy and I had now been walking these coastlines for a couple of weeks, we were a lot fitter than we had been and still put on a pace along the track.  Indeed for a while it did stay the same at the end of the previous day, that neglected parkland look with small indomitable trees and long grass, and lots of stone walls now partitioning nothing.

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Another gorgeous piece of unexpected coastline

Walking the Beaches -On tiptoe…. and trapped

So slightly nervous, we struck out down the grassy track leading to this mysterious building.  As we got closer we realised it was a house, very much lived in.  There were no people visible as we approached.    Our grassy track opened up on a very well kept and soft grass lawn flanked by a stream and a pond.  The pond opened into a gushing stream tippling forcefully over the edge of the cliff, which at this stage was only about 5m high.  Below the rocks were piled high and the sea was crashing in close to the falls.   The house was fairly small – I estimate no more than 3 bedrooms – and quite compact.  Made from the dark black granite rock held in place with grey mortar, a cyclone could not have as much chipped at it.  We had to walk along the lawn before dropping down to the beach.

Progress was slow, though, along this next stretch – the rocks were a couple of metres high with large chasms between that took a lot of precision leaping (and braking) to span them.  Some were wet with spray, others slimy with algae.  We eventually thought for all the hazards of trespassing, we would be better off on the land itself.  So we clambered back up the cliff and saw an incredible sight. At first it looked like more fish tanks as if we were approaching another fish farm, but then they revealed themselves to be ornamental ponds with an old stone edge and stone urns at each corner; a very attractive waterfall spilled from one pond to another. At the end of the final pond were a cluster of buildings.  Well, there was nothing for it, we had to get past those buildings.  We hoped to get back down on the beach because now the long sandy beach was not that far away.

Once more we were scuppered.  We crossed another tightly cropped lawn in front of more holiday homes, just as sturdy and beautiful as the previous ones, and found a tall fence in the way on the cliff top. Although the cliff to our right was only a few metres high here, the route was blocked by more huge boulders covered in a tangle of creepers.  No way would we get through here without breaking an ankle, we thought.

Jeremy and I had a conference to decide what to do next, and realised we were both whispering.  We were now trespassing on a very rich family’s estate and we did not know when we would meet burly security guards, Rottweilers or some irate old woman with a shotgun.  But we decided there was nothing for it – we had to go through this compound and try and head back to the cliff on the far side, hoping there was a gap in the fence where we could get beyond all this trouble.

Silently we headed inland along a stone pathway in front of the holiday homes.  Our worst fears were almost confirmed instantly – the garden next to us contained a brilliant blue swimming pool and sun bathing face down was a middle aged woman in two piece bikini, straps of the bra loosely dangling either side of her lounger.  We tiptoed past here, barely 3m from her face and entered a wooded area.  On the left were a series of smaller pools containing carp, the bottom of these pools seemed to have been painted as they were crystal blue.  We passed an enclosure with giant tortoises, and some cages with ring tailed lemur.  In the distance we saw cars parked and, horror of horrors, two gardeners having a break.  We could hear them chattering in Creole, but they were too intent on their smoking and tea drinking that they did not look in our direction.  Fortunately we noticed a track heading up to the right, back towards the cliff edge.  Hopefully we could get out of here without having to give explanations.

We walked quickly but without drawing attention to ourselves up this track and were soon in a thick woodland.  The track carried on to the back of the wood, but we thought it would be safer for us to cut into the thicket and keep out of sight, in case anyone were coming along the track itself – we could hear a chain saw going.  Yes another vision of my grizzly end was now in my mind along with the lion, shot gun, beaten up or arrest that was already cluttering it up.

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A gorgeous location – we can’t take the beach route – dare we walk up to the house?

Walking the Beaches – Were we trespassing?

We’d started to realise that these areas of Pas Geometrique were being used by the Plantation Owners as a pleasure land for their own recreation.  In our dumb way we also eventually grasped that the reason certain members of the civil service wanted us to make this the pressure zone was to ferret around trying to find out what exactly was going on , possibly with the idea of some land grab to get a piece of the action.  Indeed we already knew one area of this clifftop was scheduled to be developed as yet another of these spa hotels.  This was not necessarily solely an ethnic issue – the Hindu dominated government moving in on the Frenchies territories.  In fact the Frenchies; having lost political power to the English centuries ago, seemingly loosening their grip even more after independence, and with the decline of the sugar industries now hanging on to the remains of their real estate, looked like a spent force.  But you do not manage and dominate industry in a country for several centuries without learning a few tricks, and many of these families had got involved with the property developments and high class resorts all over the island.  If anything they were more dominant now that at the height of the sugar plantations.

In the shadows there was a slight movement; it looked like quite a large creature was lurking under the trees.  As we moved along the path in its direction, it noticed us and bolted – a deer.  Its movement sparked three more deer to follow.  So the high fence was to keep them in (shame about the rusted hole in the fence that we had found, though).  A thought played across my mind at this point.  What if the fence were not just to keep deer in?  These eccentric millionaires might have a whole menagerie of animals….. maybe carnivores too.  Jeremy did his best to calm me down, showing how the well clipped grass tracks here would not look like this if lions and tigers were  in the compound, unless the owners could be happy to lose a few groundsmen once in a while, and the fences would have been in much better repair.

We headed back to the clifftops to resume the survey and after half an hour or so ended on a headland topped by a small shelter.  We decided to lunch here on this remarkable spot and we reflected on both how gorgeous the landscape was here and how different it was to the rest of Mauritius.  The lagoon was hardly present – more like a series of rock pools at the foot of the cliffs, and the full force of the ocean roared in against the beach.   The woodland on top had a magical quietness, so unlike most of this densely populated island.  Looking ahead the cliffs seemed to soften a little and we could see some sandy beach pummelled by rollers, and in the spray, we could definitely make out quite a substantial structure.  We hoped that we could walk the beach here and once on the sand would make faster progress.  We had had enough diversions already and the curious nature of what we had seen had already caused us enough surprises for one day.  Also, we had to make a lot more progress to reach our expected rendezvous before sundown.

Walking the Beaches – Costly Detours

To our left we could see a complex of low buildings.  Our track fortunately dropped into the woods before reaching them and we were back near the sea on the clifftops.  I say fortunately as we were not entirely clear on our legitimacy at this point.  Two things were in our favour; we were working for the Mauritian Government, and we knew that if you were on the beach you were on public land.  This walk up the valley and back, though, had placed us firmly in private plantation land.  Many Mauritians seemed to use the cane tracks as public rights of way across the island, but we were also heading into the woodland that was pays geometrique and we had no idea who was leasing these lands.

The complex of buildings turned out to surround a sizeable fish farm, the lowest of its ponds we walked past on the cliff edge.  We entered the familiar parkland that Mike and I had explored a few weekends before and I was back on firmer ground again, knowing that locals were using this area for recreation and farming.  As we passed the holiday chalet with the turtle rock  in the pine trees the track turned inland once more and below us we could hear the gushing of a furious river deep in another gorge.

This time we were not so lucky; the gorge was deep and covered in a thick brush including bamboo and other tall grasses.  We kept walking inland, knowing every step this way meant another step the other to return to our work task.  On our way we noticed an open mausoleum ; a series of graves, one topped by a tall column with an outsize urn, no doubt for one of the plantation owner’s family in the late 1800s.

On we trod.  Eventually we saw a well metalled canetrack; it was in fact the course of the old railway line down to Souillac.  As we approached we spied several trucks thunder along spitting up a dusty trail behind them.  When we reached we realised the track crossed the gorge by an enormous iron girder railway bridge.  The view was spectacular on both sides, the lively little river gushing down a series of cascades.  Sitting precariously on a huge bamboo shoot was a monkey, preening itself and generally taking in the view for himself.  At the foot of the bridge was a rather untidily dressed man, a tall Creole guy with a beard, washing his CD collection.  He seemed oblivious to us watching him from above, but he was meticulously emptying a bag of CDs and dropping them into a pool of clear river water, then brushing them down before laying them on a sun drenched rock to dry.

We could not stay long, so crossed the remainder of the bridge and turned right.  The cane track, like its parallel one on the other side of the gorge, was far from straight and this just added to the frustration about the amount of time we were taking just reaching our study area.  In amongst the fields and hard up against our boundary track was a securely fenced compound.  Again we were a little nervous approaching it but it was fairly obvious we were at the rear and would not be confronted by any gatekeepers.  It was hard to make out what it was; we could see various things inside the chain fence with its barbed wire securely affixed atop.  There seemed to be brightly coloured play areas and we wondered if it were a facility for children, in some way.  But surely having barbed wire around the outside would be both dangerous and a bad image for any child facility.  There were single storey buildings, difficult to tell what they were for although some were obviously offices.  Then we saw something which solved the riddle.  A lady in a white coat emerged from one of these anonymous buildings and was leading a monkey on a leash to the play area, which we realised was securely caged in.  It twigged in my mind that this was a facility I had read about, which was keeping wild monkeys captive.  Caught from the wild in this southern part of the island, they were eventually sold to research labs, mainly in Europe but also in North America.  Mauritius remains the second largest exporter of monkeys for research in the world.  I had heard of the trade and knew there was a centre; now I had seen the location with my own eyes.  I have mixed feelings about the use of animals in research; mostly I believe that there is merit in their use in the whole cycle of medical science, but no for other purposes.  I am human centric in my view – well after all, I am only human…  But I see no reason for unduly harming animals (or for that matter plants) when alternatives can be used.  And the idea of shipping off populations of monkeys half way round the world seems ludicrous.

It was over an hour from when we had left the coast that we found ourselves close to it again – again able to see our original track barely 300m away across the gorge.  We realised that we could not afford another diversion like this and next time, we should aim to try and get down on to the beach and ford the river.  Now another challenge emerged.  As we approached the pas geometrique, we noticed a large pickup truck pulling away – we were not alone.  We were not spotted but we cautiously approached the wooded area.  It was firmly fenced in, and the fence was at least three  metres high.  There were tracks going in but they were blocked by locked gates the same height.  We could not see the sea.  There was nothing for it but to continue eastwards and hope we could get through.  With luck, it was not too long before we saw a gap in the fence and we clambered in.  We really felt like breaking and entering now, but once inside we calmed down as we were in yet another enchanting parkland with thick lush grass.

Walking the Beaches – Striding out

When we described this to Jeremy when he arrived, we believed that the whole length of this coastline was like this – a thin wooded strip of land beyond the end of the cane fields maintained as a public, yet very intimate park.

We bit the bullet early one morning.  Even the drive was logistically a challenge – being about as far from our house in Calodyne as you could go on dry land.  We set off before sunrise and the grey cloud was still quite gloomy as we approached the aptly named Gris Gris.  We were both a lot fitter from both our walking of the coastline and some evening strolls around the Calodyne area but we knew this was to be a long day.

The first stretch was familiar to me but it was surprising how quickly we got through it (Jeremy was a lot younger and fitter than Mike), and we reached the corner of the wood where I had turned back in less than fifteen minutes.  It was here we had our first setback of the day.  We knew from the images and maps that several sizeable rivers tumbled between the cane fields and spilled out in to the ocean along this stretch of coastline.  We had hoped to ford these at the coast itself, but at this first river, we realised there was no easy way down the cliff, with its loose rocks and muddy vegetation.  The alternative was no easier – it was to follow the cane tracks up the side of the gorge until we could spot a safe and sensible way across.  We started walking, hoping the elusive ford would not be too distant.  No such luck.  In fact no track crossed the river until very near the main road, by which time we would be a couple of kilometres inland, with an equally long walk to regain the coastline on the other side.  In the end we took a gamble and cut a trail through the undergrowth at a point where we could see a way back up on the other side of the valley.  The gorge was not too deep here and although we had to wade through several inches of water to get through, we escaped relatively unscathed. Then we had the soul destroying walk back along the other side, along where the cane fields met the wooded gorge, and still being able to see where we had walked nearly half an hour beforehand across the valley.

Walking the Beaches – A secret world

Our team leader, Mike, and I had visited Gris Gris a couple of months before.  The administrative centre for Savanne District, the most southerly of the island’s ten districts, is a charming little town called Souillac.  The town itself is tucked in to one of the more sizeable river estuaries – a narrow steep sided valley with fringing mangroves at its mouth.  You can see why the town was founded in the valley as the river mouth is buffeted by rolling waves coming in from Antarctica.  Now in modern times people flock down a narrow road out of town that leads to the clifftops at the southernmost tip of the whole island.  It is described as a public beach but the majority is a well trampled grassy knoll some 40m above sea level.  The view is breathtaking – you see a line of cliff headlands stretching away to the east within which nestles tiny coves of pristine sand unblemished by sun loungers.  A mixed woodland frames the clifftops and as far as the eye can see, no building sullies the vista.  The majority of people who visit here are Mauritian with the odd adventurous tourist being shown the island on a taxi ride.  Most stay within this little parkland, maybe long enough to have an ice cream.  A few will explore down to the first beach below the cliffs and a number in the know go as far as the first headland.  Mike and I followed a few of these to see what the fuss is about.  We found a taxi driver speaking of “La Roche qui Pleure”, describing some fable of a woman left on the rocks by some jilting lover, forever weeping.  He tried to describe the face of the woman, although if it was what I was seeing, I could see why the guy ran away.  The waves crash against this face relentlessly .  Mike and I continued on along a track past a convent and well into the woodland at the top of the cliff.  Now we were alone save for the odd local guy marching back with a fishing rod and some potfish, or some child either up to no good or just ending an amazingly imaginative adventure.  The further we got away from the car, the more we realised just what an enchanting coastline this was, and far away from the heavily pedalled touristic beaches elsewhere on the island.

We decided to see where else we could get down to this area.  It proved very difficult , the main coast road turns inland at Souillac, and the slopes down to the sea were some of the largest sugar estates  in Mauritius.  We found a way in which looked legitimate – in fact it was signposted several times to “the Beach”.  This was very useful as cane tracks, as I have said before, are notoriously difficult to navigate through at all times of year except when the ground is bare. As we reached the end of the road, it was obvious that there was still woodland along the entire clifftop.  My original thought was that the cane fields reached almost as far as the cliffs with them dropping rather unceremoniously into the sea.

I was not expecting what we saw.  A track wound steeply down the cliff and it was thick with a red mud , so we decided to save our new pickup truck the bother.  Even with all the 4 wheel drive and gadgetry that could have made it cope, we didn’t think it worth the risk not knowing whether the track petered out at the edge of the cliff with nowhere to turn.  As it was we shouldn’t have worried.  On each side of the track were an assortment of exotic trees – exotic to Mauritius you understand –  fruit and timber trees of the highest quality.  We noticed that much of the ground level was well tended too – smallholder plots of peppers, onions, herbs and spices, with the odd cereal crop like maize thrown in.  We even saw a couple of women weeding away amongst their crops.  Our original track descended to meet a more level one, beautifully grassy and obviously clipped.  We could hear the sea roaring away below us but only occasionally got glimpses of it.  Instead we walked through a paradise parkland, ending up at a small cottage set amongst some dark pine trees.  It appeared unoccupied but incredibly well kept.  At the cottage’s entrance was a huge lump of volcanic rock that resembled the shape of a turtle.  We realised this was some kind of holiday home, or maybe a retreat for the plantation owners.  Yet there was evidence that we were not trespassing – that others were commonly using this area for barbecues and parties.  There were a couple of small concrete shelters in amongst the trees and people had obviously used them recently.

We were quite perplexed as to why such a well maintained yet almost secret parkland existed here.  It certainly looked like the plantation owners were responsible for this part of, what was still after all, pas geometrique.  But it seemed to have open access at least to locals, and we were not stopped or questioned here.

Walking the Beaches – Why is the south coast a pressure zone?

Two down, four to go.  One night, Jeremy and I looked at the map of Mauritius spread on the floor of the porch and looked at the south coast.  For some reason the government had identified this area as a pressure zone.  Even from the map we could see that was hardly an apt description.  The lagoon here, where present, is very narrow, shallow and rocky; hardly suitable for resort type water activities and in many places even lacking a sandy beach.  The pressure on the government to expand the tourism product had encouraged some big name resorts to set up shop on the western part of the southern coast, mainly on old sugar plantations.  These resorts were different beasts from elsewhere, more spa like with all facilities artificially built inside the compound.  No swimming in the sea or sailing here but there were large pools or water parks nestled in amongst the buildings.  These resorts, though, were not our area to concentrate on.  We were to look from the most southerly point of the whole island, a popular cliff top park called Gris Gris, eastwards along a 30 kilometre stretch of coast almost to the end of the airport runway in the south east corner of Mauritius.  As well as it being a lot longer than our previous stretches of walk, it was logistically more challenging to complete.  All our other sites would have either a coastal road running alongside or frequent vehicular access to the waterfront.  Here there were only a couple of known public access routes and if we had to curtail our journey at any point, we would have to walk a significant distance uphill along straight canefield tracks to reach a public road.  We had started using a couple of project vehicles and left one at either end; here we decided we would drive ourselves to the start, but rely on our project team leader to come and find us when we had decided we had had enough – in case the terrain was too difficult to reach our car by nightfall.

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What lies beyond the horizon as we think of walking the south coast

Walking the Beaches – The mystery of the lagoon

When we eventually got out on the water looking for the algal mats that were the source of material on the strand line became a priority.  This coastline was a problem to navigate in; whereas elsewhere the lagoons were wide and extensive, here there were several rocky barriers that meant we had to use either different boats in each section or transport the boat by road from ramp to ramp to obtain full access.  Even so, one or two of the smaller lagoons at the southern end were inaccessible by any boat.  Also, the prevailing wind direction for Mauritius was from the south east at this time of year, which impacted strongly on the Belle Mare area; whereas Grand Baie had been sheltered, the outer reef was bashed by high waves almost continually, and where the reef was broken up by deep water gaps called passe, the currents rushed in causing a significant hazard for a small open boat.

Again we were lucky to use glass bottom boats, and had a charming Creole captain who was much more courageous and lagoon-savvy than his Grand Baie counterpart.  We were afraid we were going to find the whole lagoon smothered in a green algal covering, choking the reef to death.  On the satellite imagery I had interpreted there were large dark green areas throughout the lagoon and the characteristic colours and textures of reef were rarely present.

The nearshore area was sandy bottom, with the occasional rocky substrate, as we expected.  When we reached the first of these dark green areas, we were astounded.  Yes there was algae tangled around the reef but the reef itself was very much alive, and if anything expanding.  On the staghorn coral, at the ends of lots of little yellow branches appeared almost fluorescent blue patches of recent growth, and there were not just the large ancient stands of coral heads, but plenty of tiny baby corals starting to branch out.  In fact, it was the liveliest and most densely packed area of coral organisms I had seen anywhere in Mauritius. Tangled up amongst it was all this algae, though.

We trawled extensively over the lagoon trying to pick up clues on the original source of the algae and the impact on the reef but we continually saw that the reef and other habitats here were generally in broad health, despite the slimy covering.  Then the boat engines cut.  The captain had underestimated the amount of running around we were going to do and the boat’s fuel tank was empty.  The boat started to drift northwards along the lagoon parallel to the beach.  Fortunately when the power was lost, the boat was less than thirty metres from the shore, and given our captain was local he spotted a friend on the beach.  It happened to be a Sunday and the beach was busy enough.  Although he spoke in Creole, we got the Captain’s drift; he was asking his friend to fetch some more fuel from a nearby resort.  As in many places the water was shallow and our helper splashed out with some more outboard motor fuel in a large water bottle.  Our captain gave him a grubby rupee note and then looked at the water bottle – he looked at us all in the boat waiting for him to start again and smiled.  He handed the bottle to me and reached below the outboard motor to release the fuel intake pipe.  He dipped it in the open bottle, then fired up the outboard.  He took back the bottle and settled it on the seat beside him then with a huge grin on his face recommenced the trip.

Walking the Beaches – The oddly dressed Englishmen

The twelve kilometre stretch of coastline was the easiest of the lot to walk – even where the few Pas Geometriques villas touched the shoreline the beach was wide enough or the rocks were flat enough to traverse quickly.  Apart from picking up the freshwater springs along the beach, and a couple of bad planning decisions to put hotels right next to eroding areas of sand, there was little to record and it turned into a nice day for a long walk and chat to Jeremy.  We must have looked strange to the tourists.  Italians seems to favour this stretch of coastline in particular and both the women in string bikinis, the men in Speedos, both sexes holding garish drinks garnished with every type of fruit and vegetable, and happily shouting, singing, dancing or basting in sun oil, they would stare at these two English men in their baggy short sleeve shirts and baggier shorts, both grubby from days of walking in the heat, carrying clipboards and what must looked like oversize mobile phones (GPS).  What was more our behaviour just did not fit in with the relaxed and informal atmosphere of these places; we would ignore the palm trees, the bars, the swimming pools, we would walk up to bits of low wall and stare at the cracks; we would stoop down at the water’s edge and…. did he really just dab his finger in the sea and lick it?  For some reason no-one dared ask us what we were up to, or whether we had legitimate business at the resort.

The locals were even less interested in us; occasionally one would watch us, most greeted us as we walked past but hey ho, just eccentric Englishmen – better not engage as you might end up with more than you bargained for.

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Odd beachwear

As it was a week day when we walked the beach, the many stretches of public beach were all but deserted.  Once or twice you may find a dog walker, some locals would have parked their cycles next to a filao tree and were standing knee deep in the lagoon with long fishing rods, but for the most part we would walk along this picturesque coastscape of filao trees and grassy banks, black rocks, white sand, an ever present wind on our backs and the swirl of waves breaking continuously along the reef and beach.

Walking the Beaches – the mystery of the east coast algae

Our work on the coast at Belle Mare and Palmar was split in a similar way to before – trips in the lagoon to look at the coral reef and seagrass beds, and walking the coast to look at defences and other issues.  A major new issue here was the washing up of huge amounts of algal material onto the shoreline day after day.  The Department of the Environment for  whom we were working had done some preliminary investigations.  The Beach Authority were trying to tackle the result.  In a few days, a layer of algae would coat most of the beaches from one end of the lagoon to the other, and the rate would increase if the weather had been turbulent.  Having decaying alga on your beaches is severely detrimental to your tourist image (you would not put it in your brochures!) so the hotels employed people to rake it off the beaches every day.  That was not so bad where a resort had , say 100m of beach, but the larger resorts and the public beaches had kilometres to clear.  In some places the work was on an industrial scale, with diggers coming down on the beach to scoop up the strandline, and trucks towing away the smelly , dirty loads.  One day, when exploring the back of the district to look for possible reasons for why the algae was blooming in the lagoon, we discovered where they were dumping the problem – along a disused forest track there was several hundred metres worth of rotting algae over 3 metres high in places.  It was posited with Environment that they could be looking at this as a valuable source of fertiliser is the salt could be washed out.

Before commencing the detailed survey we looked around the area to try and find the reason why the lagoon was starting to choke with algae.  Pollution seemed the obvious culprit – enriching the lagoon with either agricultural inputs or human waste, but there were no natural run off channels along this part of the coast.  Instead the coast was a sandy berm higher than the immediate hinterland.  Behind the sand, in an intensely agricultural zone predominated by onion growing,  were several freshwater lakes.  We took a close look at them but could not see any concentrated sources where fertiliser could be running off – so unless it was the combined effort of all the onion growers or the large catchment from the island’s interior covered in sugar cane fields,  we could not fathom it out.  If it were just the drip drip effect of so much agriculture – why was the algae prevalent in the lagoon here but not elsewhere in the island where similar intensity of agriculture was in the catchments that fed into them.

We did work out how any pollutants could potentially be transferred from these lakes into the sea, though.  A common feature of both sandy coastlines and ones where permeable rocks exist is that freshwater can leak through and appear at or below the shoreline.  While we were walking the coast, we noticed damp patches in the sand, even pools in some places, and in a couple of instances could see water bubbling up in a spring.  A quick finger in the water and taste test determined that the water was sweet and we duly noted these locations in case we found some pattern of these against the distribution of the algae in the lagoon itself.  Only after a few taste tests like this did we suddenly think – what if this is a sewage leakage of some sort?  Well, we spat out the sample as soon as we had our verdicts, and I never did get diarrhoea during this period, so it must have been “safe” – at least in a field working manner if not covering health and safety rules.

The other potential source was human effluent, but the resort hotels were meticulous about their sewage treatment – why would they not be – there was no point dumping waste in the lagoon you wanted your guests to swim, dive and sail in.  Occasional transgressions may occur when some failure in the system caused a leak, but it would never be on the scale to cause such algal blooms.

The other potential source could be offshore.  I know many beaches in the Caribbean can suffer from huge builds up of seaweed, thought to have been carried in on wind and wave from the Sargasso Sea, but I knew of no equivalent in the nearby Indian Ocean.