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  • Farzeen Heesambee

Bio-diversity in Mauritius

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Recently I have become more interested in environmental issues and ecocriticism and its impact on Mauritius.

Ecocriticism is the study of literature and the environment from an interdisciplinary point of view, where literature scholars analyse texts that illustrate environmental concerns and examine the various ways literature treats the subject of nature.

Biodiversity is a term used to describe the enormous variety of life on Earth. It can be used more specifically to refer to all of the species in one region or ecosystem. Biodiversity refers to every living thing, including plants, bacteria, animals, and humans. “Without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity,” says Prof David Macdonald, at Oxford University.

Why is it important for Mauritius to start thinking about this?

First of all, Mauritius is an island and environmental issues should be at the heart of any issue discussed about any island. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for a long time. We have seen continuous attacks on our beaches, forests, indigenous plants and animals.

Black Ebony: Mauritius was once known for its Ebony trees, the plants were widespread across the island, today this same plant is in great danger of extinction. A plant that could only be found in one island only, just like the Dodo, and we all know what happened to the Dodo.

In 1638, settlers from the Dutch East India Company (VOC) attempted to colonise the island and set up an organised ebony business to sell the rare black wood but abandoned this enterprise when they left the island.

The British also harvested a large portion of the ebony forests. The wood was presumably used for carving and decor in London for the Empire. This is one of the most expensive types of wood in the world and it takes a very long time to grow.

Eventually only a small portion of Ebony trees were left on the island, this in turned endangered other endemic bird species such as :Mauritius Bulbul, Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher, Mauritius Kestrel, Grey white-eye, Pink Pigeon and Echo Parakeet.

This is the circle of life, we take one thing, and others start to disappear and what's the long term effect? We find as humans we are also struggling as we are drowned down this vicious cycle that we created and now have to get out of.

As a result we start to spend more money and invest into planting Ebony trees, we start looking into rehabilitating the animals that we put in danger in the first place. More resources and more money is invested in saving their lives. What could have been avoided in the first place now becomes Mission Impossible that we all want to succeed so badly at.

Why go down that route in the first place? At first we were ignorant, but now that we have learnt form History, is it not time to re-evaluate what we do with our land, what we will have to do in 10 years' time to undo what we have already done?

It is in our hands and that of the existing Government and future governments to change things, we have a Minister of Environment who should whole-heartedly look into policies to protect whatever greenwood is left. Investors from abroad obviously do not care about the ecology of the country, they are temporary passengers there who just want to make more money, but those who are there and whose descendants will remain there rely heavily on those policies right now, we cannot wait 10 more years to change things around when resources will be scarce and it will cost a 100 times more than it does today. Whatever we plan to do in 10 years will never be able to replace the original version!

We already lost our dodos, are we ready to lose everything else? We rely so much on other species to survive, the plants we eat, the bees who pollinate those plants, the birds who eat those bees and so on.

In 10 years time, when all our natural resources will be gone, then we will be looking into converting our agricultural land into forests at very high costs which the population will be paying for. The less agricultural land we have, the less food we have, and the less food we have, the higher the prices. This is the law of demand and supply and we do not need to wait for this to happen.

Leave our filao trees alone, leave our forests alone, leave our islets alone, leave our mountains alone, leave our beaches alone and leave our fishes alone.

This is a sincere plea.

I would like to share with you a small passage of a description of the Mauritian landscape in 1836 to show a snapshot of what we have lost.

FH 11/02/21


Backhouse, J. (2014). A Narrative of a Visit to the Mauritius and South Africa (Cambridge Library Collection - African Studies). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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