Manoeuvring through the mangroves of Mauritius

Posted by David Henning on 4 May 2022

Many who visit Mauritius tend to never leave the confines of their hotel resorts or venture beyond its world-renowned beaches. But for the curious adventurer, meandering through the island’s mangroves reveals a trove of natural wonders.

On the northeast of Mauritius lies an islet called Ile d’Ambre, one of the last remaining wildlife sanctuaries on the island, right across an unassuming bay. This bay serves as a launchpad as you first navigate a few fishing boats before paddling towards a wall of green.

It is only when you get closer to them that the twisted roots coming out of the water become apparent. Ile d’Ambre is one of the last natural strongholds left on Mauritius, where the Mauritian Forestry Service estimates that only 2% of the island’s indigenous forests remain. Interestingly, this little islet is thought to be the place where the last dodo was killed.

Mangrove forests provide important habitats for various plant and animal life forms and even though they only cover 0.5% of the world’s ocean surface area, they are estimated to bury 70% of the carbon sequestered in the ocean.

These forests are vital for the day to day life of human subsistence. A United Nations study on the critical role of the Mauritius mangrove ecosystem revealed that 70% of the country’s commercial fish species depend on them for their survival.

In the last three decades, Mauritius has lost 30% of its mangroves, prompting the government to embark on a restoration programme which saw a total of 60 000 seedlings planted across the island. This has boosted the number of mangrove forests in Mauritius from only 45 hectares in 1980 to 145 hectares in 2013.

The mangroves have formed a natural labyrinth throughout the bay, and thankfully our guide Patrick Haberland from Yemaya Adventures knew his way through the alleyways formed by the roots.

Getting up close, I caught glimpses of life: oysters growing on the side of roots and hundreds of crabs crawling around. Patrick guided us into a clearing for a dip, a spot he aptly calls ‘coconut pool’ due to the water’s milky shade.

Afterwards, we climbed back in the kayaks and were about to set off back to the mainland when a little scurry in the water prompts Patrick to say: ‘There goes a little Zambezi’! Even apex predators need this protected ecosystem to survive.

Pictures: David Henning

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