The Other Mauritius – A visit to the ark

When you take off for London you also get an amazing view – the plane almost always takes off north to south so shoots off the coast and across the reef before turning sharply to the left to run up the east coast.

As it turns you can see the whole scope of Grand Port Bay, including Lion Mountain that I had climbed,  and a series of little islands, and one larger one.  This larger island was one I made an expedition one Saturday towards the end of my first visit via a booked tour.  The Durrell Foundation supported the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation to keep Ile Aux Aigrettes as an ark for the endemic and highly endangered species from the mainland.  The arrangements seemed a little loose and despite my experience of timekeeping on small islands, I travelled down to Mahebourg early as no way did I want to miss the chance to see this spectacle.  I had been told to go to a small car park on the coast just south of the town centre.  It was metalled with shockingly white stones and at lunch time it was roasting hot to sit in the car, so I strolled around trying to find some shade or take a chance to peer off a low wall into the lagoon.  There was a small boat tied up against this wall bobbing about in the water and I could see the low profile of my destination out in the lagoon, barely a kilometre from where I stood.  But there was no office here, and no staff or other tourists at the appointed time.  I stayed around but started kicking the stones  in the car par and cursing how bad arrangements often go in these instances.

Then a jeep roared into the car park with a couple of young people and a family on holiday.  A very tall Creole guy introduced himself, reaching down to shake my hand and he went over to the boat to prepare the ropes for casting off.  Another guy from the jeep got in the boat and started it up.  A third young lady produced a clipboard, took my money and ticked a list.  It all suddenly became very active.  I was invited to sit in the boat; although it was not going to be a long crossing I sat up front to avoid the worst of the splash.  The boat gently chugged out from the jetty then roared into life across the lagoon.  The water was so turquoise, the sun so hot; it was perfection.  It was also nice to get away from the mainland.  For all I was working on a coastal zone project, on this first time to the country I had not managed to get out in a boat till now.  The Ile Aux Aigrettes, our destination, revealed more detail as we got closer and closer.  It seemed almost completely covered in a low dense scrub.  It is formed of coral reef itself, a relic reef that has become raised above the sea level, and hardened into a pitted but very solid piece of limestone.  I could see where waves in the lagoon constantly abraded away at the rock, but only up to where the highest tide came a metre or so above the current water level.  The waves had deeply undercut the limestone but such is the hardness of that rock that it easily supported these huge overhangs.