A cutting-edge conservation project aiming to preserve the picturesque coral reefs of Mauritius has been launched alongside the chance to win a holiday to see the project first hand with your family, courtesy of the National Marine Aquarium and the Shandrani Resort & Spa. Jon Bayley finds out more.
On a planet dominated by ocean, coral reefs occupy less than 1 per cent of the Earth’s surface, yet are home to a quarter of all marine life.
But these vital habitats are under threat in Mauritius and worldwide.
With over 322km of pristine sandy beaches and 243sq km of lagoons, Mauritius has 150km of fringing coral reefs surrounding it. The island boasts a marine biodiversity of some 1656 known species. So it’s no wonder with such credentials that the small island nation is one of the world’s most popular luxury holiday destinations.
Yet this very tourism industry has unknowingly been threatening the future of the reefs deemed so important. Snorkelling, diving and watersports are big culprits, causing breaks and damage to the corals, most of which take up to 50 years to grow to the size of a football. This damage is often exacerbated by visitors walking on or touching the coral, not realising this can break it or make it more susceptible to disease. Fuel and chemicals from boats are also significant contributors to the now-diminishing coral ecosystems.
While tourism is by no means the only factor causing damage to the reef, the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth has developed a new project aimed at enabling hotels and resorts to become locally-based leaders in conservation practice and guardians of the reefs that are so vital to their businesses.
Paul Cox, director of conservation and communication at the National Marine Aquarium explains: “Working with the luxury Beachcomber chain and their Shandrani Resort & Spa, we have been able to trial an award structure to help the hotel group reduce their impact on the environment, gain an understanding of reefs, and their importance to the island’s ecosystem.”
This Conservation through Tourism Award is a process to educate hotel staff, visitors to the resort and the local community about the importance of coral reefs and how to protect them. Overall, the scheme aims to engage the local community in the long-term sustainability of their local reefs by becoming involved in their protection.
The training elements of the process are registered with the Mauritian Qualification authority to allow for other hotels to easily sign up for the award scheme.
Lauren Humphrey, NMA project manager for the Conservation through Tourism Award, said: “This isn’t about telling some people on a tropical island about coral reefs then leaving again. It’s about the people of Mauritius understanding that their unique selling point that underpins their tourist sector is at risk from the same industry.
“This project gives local people the knowledge to start them on the road of conservation and citizen science – things they may never have considered before.
“Our role is to start this journey for them and put them in touch with the organisations locally that can keep the project going long term. If we don’t all act now, the Mauritian economy, and the wider ecosystems of our oceans will all suffer. It’s fantastic to see a 5* hotel chain like Beachcomber taking the initiative to work with us.”
Fabrice Pinault, hotel manager at Shandrani Resort and Spa, said: “The Shandrani hotel has this great opportunity to be next to the turquoise water of Blue Bay Marine Park, and when the National Marine Aquarium decided to launch a conservation project over the bay, we were so excited to be the first hotel of Mauritius to be part of such a beautiful adventure.
“A dozen of our staff, named the Shandrani Rangers, have monitored quite a few projects on marine conservation issues this past year. 2013 will be remembered as the year that we have initiated our pro-ecological programme known as Shandrani Cares for Sea Life, in the Blue Bay Marine Park.
“We are so proud to participate in a campaign that will help protect marine resources.”
As a paper with deep interest in the environment and the preservation of wildlife, the WMN has teamed up with the National Marine Aquarium in
Plymouth and Shandrani Hotel & Spa to offer a family of four a £6,000 experience learning about and making a difference to the reefs of Mauritius.
What are coral reefs?
Aside from offering shelter to the coastline, coral reefs are communities, and one of the most
diverse ecosystems on the planet. Inhabitants include fish large and small, reptiles such as turtles, invertebrates like crabs and
starfish, and anemones with their resident clown fish.
In total it is estimated that coral reefs provide economic and ecosystem services to the value of
$375 billion per year. The creatures living on the reef provide the main source of protein to more than one billion people, but each also has its own place in the ecosystem helping it to function. Coral reefs have even provided a number of compounds commonly used in modern medicine, to treat cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.
By 1998 16% of the world’s coral reefs were already lost, and scientists estimate another 32% are in danger if human impact is not reduced. Despite numerous contributing factors causing their decline, a more considerate and conscientious tourism industry would minimise these impacts and give islands like Mauritius a brighter future.
Five things you can do
1. Be an eco-tourist – when booking holidays, look for those that sponsor environmental charities.
2. Offset your carbon emissions from your flight – a few airlines offer this.
3. Take only memories, leave only footprints – ensure you leave any shells and corals on the beach rather than taking them home with you.
4. Be purchase-savvy – try not to purchase jewellery or souvenirs made from shells or coral.
5. Ask hotels if they have an eco charter of things you can do to help.
Luxury resort joins forces with top marine aquarium
In 2012, the all-inclusive luxury 5* Shandrani Resort & Spa part of the Beachcomber hotel chain partnered with the National Marine Aquarium out of a genuine concern for the health of the Blue Bay Marine Park bordering the resort.
The initial phase consisted of a specifically designed training course explaining the importance of the coral reef community, while the second phase involved the communication of this knowledge with wider user groups, such as local schools.
The resort also has to make significant changes to reduce the impact of the hotel on the local environment – in time the aquarium will be working to get these criteria accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
This process is now part of the Shandrani Rangers’ daily routine, something the lucky winners will be able to experience first hand, alongside guided snorkelling trips and nature walks.
For further information on Shandrani Resort visit their website here.
To support the National Marine Aquarium and their marine conservation work click here
Enter the competition online using the form below:
- Question: How many km of fringe reef does Mauritius have? Is it:
- A. 150km
- B. 15km
- C. 5km
- Question: Other than the ecosystem what else do the Mauritian reefs support? Is it:
- A. Economy
- B: Sugar
- C: Birds
- Question: What can you do to help the reefs? Reply in 20 words or less.