History

Ile aux Aigrettes is one of the 49 islets that surround and belong to the island of Mauritius. Located in the historical bay of Mahébourg, at about 800 meters off the south east coast of the mainland, these 26 hectares of coralline limestone partially overlain with sand and soil deposits is what remains of an eroded dune exposed after a drop in the sea level some 30, 000 years ago.

Declared a Nature Reserve in 1965 and under the management of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation since 1987, this offshore islet now serves as an outdoor laboratory for the regeneration and preservation of the endemic species of the fauna and flora of Mauritius and its territories.

Free from human presence for a long period, Ile aux Aigrettes independently developed itself into a natural museum where a remarkable collection of endemic species of the Mauritian fauna and flora evolved and found a home.

However, the arrival of man on mainland Mauritius in the early 1500’s would not only disturb the balanced and peaceful ecosystem of the mainland but also that of the islet. The proximity of the islet to the shore and to Vieux Grand Port, their landing site, made Ile aux Aigrettes easily accessible to the first visitors. Artifacts discovered on the island are proof of the presence of man there since the earliest times.

The first people to attempt settlement on Mauritius, the Dutch, were also the first to set foot on Ile aux Aigrettes that they named Visschers Eyland or Fisherman’s Island. After a dreadful pillage of the native wildlife, they departed in 1712 leaving behind large surfaces of deforested lands once covered with coastal Ebony forests hugely exploited for their wood highly prized in Europe in the making of furniture. Many bird species, including the large flightless
Dodo, had also, by then, become extinct..

The damage and deforestation continued with the French who landed on the Mauritian shores in 1715. The ruins of a limekiln on Ile aux Aigrettes bear witness of their presence. An important part of the local industry, the lime industry impelled much deforestation on the islet, as a significant amount of wood was needed to fire the kiln. It is likely that fast growing exotic plant species such as the Casuarinas was then introduced to supplement fuel sources. Deforestation of the Ebony forests continued on the mainland to make way for sugar cane fields causing on both islands the loss of habitat for a number of endemic species leading them either to extinction or to the brink of it.

In the hands of the British since 1810, Ile aux Aigrettes served as a military base during World War II. The most severe degradation of the islet’s forest occurred then when vast areas were cleared to make place for the construction of a number of buildings and the installation of two cannons allegedly destined to protect the mainland from attacks.

After the war, the island was privately leased and used as grazing ground for goats. Exotic plants such as the Acacia (Leucaena leucocephala) were introduced on the island.

In 1965, although the islet was declared Nature Reserve, the felling of trees continued. In 1985, the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation set up a habitat restoration project for Ile aux Aigrettes with the aim of restoring this unique habitat and, at the same token, conserving the native species of the Mauritian fauna and flora. The aim of the project was as such:

- Remove all exotic species of plants from the island

- Spread and replant indigenous species of the Mauritian fauna

- Eradicate shrews who feed on the seeds of certain plants and the eggs of the native

- Reintroduce the endemic species of the birds of reptiles of Maurice on to the island

- Restore this unique habitat to its natural state of 400 years ago.

In 1987, when the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation obtained the lease for Ile aux Aigrettes, a warden was posted on the island to interrupt the massive poaching of the island’s forest by the locals and soon after, conservation work began on the island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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