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Captain Bob Wallace throws the bow line ashore as the Odyssey docks in Port Louis, Mauritius.
Photo : Chris Johnson

November 2, 2003
The Mascarene Islands - Arrival in Mauritius
Real Audio Report
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from Mauritius in the southwestern Indian Ocean.

Arriving in a country for the first time is always exciting. The crew is unsure what to expect, but the anticipation of meeting new people, visiting new places and exploring the surrounding waters, rejuvenates us all after a long passage at sea.

Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion are known collectively as the Mascarene Islands. Reunion is officially part of France, while Rodrigues is part of the independent Republic of Mauritius. The geographic isolation of Mauritius kept it from being settled until 1598, and even today it is one of the worlds best kept secrets.

The volcanic Mascarenes erupted from the ocean floor some 13 million years ago between southern Africa and Australia. Taking a further 5 million years to appear above the ocean surface, followed by an additional 4 million years of surface eruptions, they have now been extinct for some 200,000 years. What remains today are the weathered rims of these once enormous peaks.

The extinction of the volcanoes signaled the beginning of life and the appearance of a slow but steady stream of unique and fragile ecosystems that evolved in isolation in a predator free sanctuary. First to appear on the lava formations were pioneering plants such as lichens, ferns and mosses. Seeds of other plant species soon washed ashore or were brought by birds. In a relatively short period of time - geologically speaking, the slopes of Mauritius were carpeted in lush rainforest and the plains were a garden of palm savannah. Reptiles, birds and bats found their way deliberately, were blown of course in strong winds, arrived on rafts such as logs, or as in the case of the giant tortoise, floated patiently with the current in their own buoyant carapace (shell). Interestingly, all arrivals are shown to have links with other Indian Ocean islands, Africa or Asia.

LatestPhoto
Woody and Sara provision at the local market in Port Louis in preparation for the next research leg.
Find out more about crew who are currently onboard the Odyssey for the Mauritius expedition.
Photo : Chris Johnson

Unfortunately, the solitude experienced by the original inhabitants was shattered by the arrival of man. Human intervention signaled the beginning of a massive wave of extinctions comparable in magnitude to what occurred in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Magnificent hardwood forests were felled for export and agriculture, while introduced plants quickly swamped what remained of the indigenous species. In unison with the plants, a remarkable band of animals, many endemic to the islands were lost, perhaps the most famous of these was the Dodo. Evolving in isolation, the original inhabitants were completely vulnerable to man, a predator they had not yet learned to fear. Also wiped out were legions of endemic giant tortoises and lizards, great colonies of birds, and the gentle, slow swimming dugong.

Today, Mauritian's are proud of their natural heritage and there is vigorous support for the establishment of National Parks to preserve the few remaining areas of original habitat. Programs are underway to restore populations of endangered species of fauna, to reestablish and conserve endemic vegetation, to eradicate introduced species and to monitor marine mammal populations. During our time working in Mauritius, the Odyssey crew aim to highlight the invaluable work of many such programs.

The delightful cultural blend that is modern Mauritius has its origins in a mixed history. The Dutch, French and finally British colonized it, while slaves were brought in from Madagascar, and convicts from Europe, Indonesia and India.

Mauritius gained its independence in 1968 and its population has continued to grow steadily at an average rate of 1% per year. The population is estimated at over 1.2 million, and has one of the greatest population densities in the world. Characterized by its intoxicating and flamboyant mix of cultures, diversity is reflected in the exciting range of cuisine, musical styles, traditions and languages. Life here is harmonious and relaxed, the people are exceptionally friendly and the crew is enjoying a warm reception and unrivaled hospitality.

LatestPhoto
A view of some of the mountainous countryside in Mauritius.
Photo : Chris Johnson

For now our time in port is short, the crew will be here long enough to refuel and provision before heading out on our first research leg where we look forward to encountering sperm whales.

Links:

Written by Genevieve Johnson

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