A Coastal Zone in Peril

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I come here often on weekends and whenever I can steal time for myself. I enjoy the easy drive (apart from the speed radars) that look at the passing drivers like two angry mothers. It is all pleasant to turn by at Beaux-Songes and Cascavelle, and see the blue ocean right in front, and ahead. Blue colour signalling to us hope and rejuvenation. How small we really are in front of the vast Indian ocean, pretending to ourselves that our puny little lives matter? Do we matter?

Existentially, I am convinced we do not, despite our many paraphernalia (my view not Sartre’s), and this is not a self-victim mode of thinking. I truly get pulled to the ocean because when I bask in it, it makes me feel like I am in my mother’s lap and she is a vast treasure, alike to Durga herself, who can save and kill at will. But she is kind and merciful, and mostly lets us pretend we are in control of our insipid lives. The long stretch of beach at Flic-en-Flac is enticing to all lovers of sea beaches. Its long sandy stretch, the carefully added buoys, keep away impatient and unceasingly passing boats of pleasure and give a feeling of protective assurance and calm, to the beach goer. How lovely is this part of Mauritius and how so easily accessible to everyone, rich and poor. On Sundays, one sees the grande masses of folks with chairs, tables and drinks. And of course a Mauritian obsession: food. Food, food, it is always about food. I took to snorkelling around the coast, because 25 years ago in my childhood days, this was the staple weekend activity. I felt a need to return to a happy time, lost to oneself. Simple snorkelling allows a close encounter with the inside entrails, the underbelly, of Flic-en-Flac. Alas, it shows a tragedy that many Mauritians are wildly unaware, or pretend they are not aware of, and carry on with ‘business as usual’.

A dying coral reef system (a subject barely discussed in the press) has led to a dead lagoon zone at Flic-en-Flac, a vast oceanic butter spread (no pun intended) of a multitude of coral fragments, dark and calcified, that spans all over the ocean floor. One would be lucky to see the occasional fish straddling here and there, but it is not difficult to see what has happened at Flic-en-Flac: a dead barrier has been over time, bombarded by swells, and with time, the weak barrier has slowly collapsed onto itself, and fragments have spread all over the lagoonal floor. We are aware of the phenomenon and look passively at it. Like looking at a dying mother, passing to the other world.What is being done truly and factually? Simply put, not much really, apart from the many ‘ramassage’ of garbage by many valuable groups and government contractors, which will not really help at all. Instead, and as a cynical reply, Flic-en-Flac grows in coastal intensity, every day, every minute. A destroyed wetland on this west coast, because of heavy development, has over the years, led to unfiltered water seeping into the coastal region/s, bringing pollutants in the lagoon, at abnormal and accelerated rates.

The death of the corals is not just a ‘global warming phenomenon’, but also a result of savage unplanned development on the coast, a savage and unplanned intensifying of activities, without any care to what is really fundamentally happening to the ecology of the lagoon. This is the Mauritian plat du jour. A cynical poisoned ‘bol ranversé’.

We need no crystal ball to know what will happen in the next ten years at Flic-en-Flac, using it as a symbolism of the state of the environment in Mauritius. A misalignment of beach energies, because of heavy coastal constructions, a dying reef, sea level rises will accelerate erosion at a massive and grand scale. The sand replenishment will, by then, have to be artificial ‘inseminated’ and this will not help, and this jewel of a beach will be defaced and lost to time.

I always left this part of the beach in red anger. Are we really taxing the tourists to create the right environmental fund/s to really look into research that would rejuvenate some of our coastal areas, like Flic-en-Flac, or are we just giving up and approving more development permits at Flic-en- Flac? No one seems to have a direct answer to this question.

The health of coral reefs should be the government’s topmost priority, and not more hotel constructions, big and small scattered all over the place, followed up with more houses aesthetically misaligned, and not only pouring their waste into their more septics, but also destroying the provincial feel of the lost Mauritian villages. A dead environment always starts with a scarred aesthetic of a town, any town.

Heavy pressure should be unleashed on the big hotel groups to wake them from their slumber, and the government should look into imposing a tax that would have to be levied on each arriving tourist as they descend on our soil, so a fund could be created to accelerate research on lagoon chemistry.

For example, do we really understand if seepage from the vast septic systems is not seeping into the coastal region/s changing lagoon chemistry and water quality at massive scales? Should not the government regularly report coast water quality to the public on a weekly basis, so the information on bacterial quality becomes transparent to all? I am appalled at the lack of activities and interest towards green policies.

The Ministry of Environment seems largely an ‘absent’ party, as this tragedy unfolds, and keeps unfolding. We should stop depending on ‘foreign’ consultants that pour in each year, disconnected to the Mauritian local problematic, and leave the island with big fees lining their deep pockets, without a real finality to beach front development planning. I see pointless the many landscaping programmes on the coasts, without a true understanding, of the chemistry and energy drifts on our coast. For example, can we regrow corals in some areas? Should more marine parks be instituted? Should a vast study be done on coastal intensity and lagoonal heath around the island?

If we look at Rodrigues and the ‘freshness’ and health of the lagoon, can we make the connections between the two local communities and see where could be the learning lessons, and what needs to be avoided. Maybe Rodrigues would then avoid the disastrous practices that we have happily adopted in Mauritius.

Flic-en-Flac is symbolism of the current state of environmental planning in Mauritius and people should be made clearly aware of this. A more concerted targeted effort seems lacking by the Ministry of Environment. So much time is being wasted in superficial projects designed to create a blitz-like impression on a population, largely unware of an inner rotting of the ecology of our region, and one can almost hear the mangroves, the remaining lagoon diversity crying out for help.

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