(BLACK RIVER DISTRICT, MAURITIUS)
The island of Mauritius is a paradise to behold: palm trees and fringing reefs almost completely line the coasts, with waterfalls and white sand beaches defining the rich, dynamic landscape of the small volcanic island. The island’s west side, the Black River District, is known for its exquisite dive spots where a plunge beneath the waves will acquaint you with creatures like octopuses, dolphins, rays and turtles. However, much like the rest of the world, Mauritius experiences threats from pollution (like phosphates that inhibit coral growth and pesticides that kill the animals) and the effects of a changing climate.
In its battle to fight these threats, the country faces unique obstacles including poaching, overfishing, a general disregard of the laws in combination with under-enforcement of the marine protected areas and impending plans for certain projects that will mean disaster for the marine ecosystem.
The Coastal Waters of the Black River District have been named a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue in support of bringing together Mauritius’ marine conservation community over the shared value of creating a healthy marine ecosystem that will last indefinitely.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, states, “The island of Mauritius is a blue treasure on Earth, and we must act on our knowledge to do what we can to protect it. People like Greet and the rest of the marine conservation community on Mauritius are a cause for hope!”
Greet Meulepas, Mauritius resident, Mission Blue Hope Spot Champion, and Co-Founder of BEYOND SCUBA says, “I took as an example the words of minister Premdut Koonjoo, ‘Saving the ocean is a programme for the whole world and we have to work together. I believe if any nation or any person has knowledge they have to share it, especially where the ocean is concerned.’ She describes, “These wise words made me think of what I could do to contribute to the conservation of the reefs. It is my way of giving back, for I am blessed to live on such a beautiful island. My other drive is my daughter: I wish for her to be able to dive over pristine reefs, swim with dolphins, turtles, sharks and whales. But I fear from what I see happening now that by the time she will be allowed to dive, the reefs and its inhabitants will be gone. The reef fish together with the corals are disappearing. There is hope, however: Mauritius is truly blessed because the sea temperatures have not risen above 29 ˚C! I believe a large-scale conservation effort could restore the reefs, give them time to adapt to new circumstances. That is why I respect and admire the conservationists that are doing a wonderful job and I wish to unite them to help them get better results.”
Marine conservation activities on the island have received some support– $10 million granted from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) have been allocated to developing a coral nursery, but Meulepas and other marine conservation activists believe that more needs to be done.
Sea Users Association adds, “Our members are all very concerned about the protection of our marine ecosystem. One of the main reasons for our engagement is to protect the marine biodiversity. Having this region nominated as a Hope Spot would help to further protect our marine environment and Sea Users from the projects which are detrimental to our environment.”
According to the UNDP, “[Marine conservation-focused policies and activities] will protect the island nation’s growing tourism industries, which account for 36% of Mauritius’ national GDP and employ approximately half the population– at the same time ensuring food security for fishers who depend on the reefs to feed their families, and reducing risks from high-intensity storms.”
Meulepas elaborates, “A large healthy reef can withstand stressful circumstances far better than a recovering patch between dead zones. An all-encompassing project involving dive operators, hotels and local fishermen could result in flourishing reefs and thus improved diving and snorkeling sites, which will doubtlessly benefit tourism.”
The marine life inhabiting Mauritius’ waters is quite magnificent. Lucky divers have seen cetaceans emerging from the surface to blow their holes and hunt for food, including humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris).
Meulepas and her goals for Mauritius have enthusiastic support from many ocean-conservation NGOs and organizations, including Protez Later Nou Zanfan (Protect the Earth of Our Children). They announced, “Mothers and children from Protez Later Nou Zanfan are so glad that the coastal waters of the Black River District are now a Hope Spot. We will work to stop any projects that are not environmentally friendly from being implemented within the Hope Spot. This is an important move– our kids and grandchildren will be able to enjoy their motherland, the sea, and its wonderful and unique fauna and flora unharmed by destructive practices.”
Gerald Rambert, local underwater photographer, adds, “I have been working as Mauritian underwater photographer for the last 18 years. I have unfortunately seen the impact of the erosion and the effect of the coastline developments on the coral reefs. I am happy to see that the Black River district has been approved as a Hope spot by Mission Blue and hopefully, it will raise awareness for the protection and restoration of the coral reefs.”
Emmanuel Ludovic Salomon, Dive Center Manager of Club Med Albion says, “I am very excited that the Coastal Waters of the Black River District are now a Hope Spot! We need ocean protection and reef conservation in order to maintain the quality diving services that we offer to our guests. No, reefs, no fish…. No diving tourists. So, yes, thanks to this Hope Spot we can turn the tide and stay in business.”
Mission Blue and Greet Meulepas are proud to support Mauritius’ marine-conscious community and encourage those on the island involved in research, conservation, ecotourism, diving, education, or other marine-conservation work to join together in support of encouraging eco-friendly policies and practices that will create lasting change for Mauritius’ vibrant marine ecosystems.
To get involved, Protez Later Nou Zanfan will be hosting a coast cleanup on Saturday 21st, 2019, 14.00 – 18.00 at the Albion Lighthouse. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/protezlaternouzanfan/
Here, meet Greet Meulepas and get to know the newest Mission Blue Hope Spot Champion. All are welcomed and encouraged to come help clean the beach, share ideas, and join in the movement to invest in a healthier future for Mauritius’ ocean. You can reach out to Greet directly regarding the newly declared Hope Spot at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Twain once remarked, “Mauritius was made first and then heaven, heaven being copied after Mauritius.” With the state of the world’s– and Mauritius’– marine ecosystems, it’s more important now than ever before to establish the framework to keep Mauritius beautiful and healthy, and to work to stop damaging practices and policies from claiming the habitats and livelihoods of both humans and animals.
In order to launch this Mission Blue Hope Spot, Meulepas and her husband are organizing a big online underwater photo and video contest: The Black River District Hope Spot Underwater Photo and Video Competition!
This contest is open to all and for free!
The contest is online and contestants can upload their work on the Black River District Hope Spot Underwater Photo and Video Competition Facebook page. There is an international jury in place to judge the entries in the following categories: