Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through depletion of resources such as air, water and soil; the destruction of ecosystems and the extinction of wildlife. It is defined as any change or disturbance to the environment perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.
The main environmental problems facing Mauritius are water pollution, soil erosion, and preservation of its wildlife. The sources of water pollution are sewage and agricultural chemicals. Mauritius cities produce 0.1 million tons of solid waste annually. The erosion of the soil occurs through deforestation.
The Ministry of Housing, Lands, and the Environment has principal responsibility in environmental matters. As of 2001, only about 1.8% of the nation’s total land area is protected. According to UN reports, Mauritius ranked third in the world on the list of countries with the most endangered species in the mid-1990s. In 2002, there were 44 extinct species. As of the mid-1990s, 3 of Mauritius’ mammal species and 10 of its bird species were endangered, as well as 269 of its plant species.
Endangered species on the island of Mauritius include the pink pigeon, Round Island boa and keel-scaled boa, green sea turtle, and Mauritius varieties of kestrel, parakeet, and fody. Extinct species include the Mauritian duck, the Mauritius blue pigeon, and the red rail.
One of the biggest threats that the environment faces today is environmental degradation. One of the main reasons for environmental degradation is human activity. Rampant burning of fossil fuel and deforestation are major causes of this degradation. Also, over hunting, expansion of residential areas, increasing population and industrialization are degrading the environment beyond repair.
The toxic chemicals let out by industries end up contaminating the water bodies. This, in turn, makes the water bodies polluted and the water is not fit for drinking or irrigating land. Also, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, are contributing to the gradual warming of the planet, a process known as global warming.
This warming is having a negative impact on the climate and we can observe climate change everywhere. Agricultural activities are wreaking havoc with the environment. Agriculture is leading to degradation of the soil and contamination of ground water due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers.
Strong economic development
Strong economic development on a small territory is generating threats on environment.
In a developing country, there is often a gap between development and prevention or correction measures.
In Mauritius, we have very fast development simultaneously causing numerous problems, a lack of human resources and frequent undeserved privileges. There are various conflicts of interest on a small space, particularly on the coastal zone, between various activities.
Tourism in Mauritius
The tourism service provider in Mauritius is heavily dependent on natural resources, that the physical environment. The traditional marketing approach of “sand, sea and sun” has created a mindset that led to the concentration of tourist facilities in coastal areas.
Coupled with an economy’s growing dependence on tourism revenues and the agglomeration of hotels on the coastline, tourism has developed into a sector of the economy in its own right which has led to a greater use of coastal and marine resources. This dependence is not without cost, both for the economy and industry. According to Empretec Mauritius, the tourism industry has undoubtedly contributed to the degradation of coastal and marine environment.
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The actions of the tourism industry have a close relationship with the coastal and marine resources and are heavily dependent on coastal and marine resources. As there are fragile ecosystems and which are interconnected in coastal areas, they are experiencing increased stress due to human activities such as fishing in the lagoon, pollution, erosion, overexploitation of coastal waters and coral.
The actual construction of hotels directly on the beach head has significant environmental impacts. Very often, there are sediment run-offs into the lagoon and haphazard disposal of construction wastes into wetlands. When permission is given for works directly in the lagoon, such works very often involves dredging and excavation which increases turbidity when mud is disturbed and is carried away by currents to be deposited somewhere else in the lagoon, on corals for instance.
Furthermore, often Government grants permission to remove beach rocks to create bathing areas as was carried out in the south of the island a few years back (2004-2005). Such works interfere with beach dynamics and interestingly enough, this has often resulted in beach erosion. A few years later the hotel promoters were forced to replace some of the rocks to mitigate the beach erosion they created in the first place.
Heavy construction works in lagoon 2005 – west coast
In the seventies and eighties it was very common for hotels and bungalows to build jetties that impeded greatly the long shore current which in turn caused local accumulation of sand in one place and sand erosion in another. These jetties also impede the free passage of the public up and down the seashore. At times there were even high walls that descended right into the sea so as to physically prevent people from walking in front of a number of bungalows. It took energetic action in the early nineties from authorities to gradually put an end to this disgraceful practice. Indeed, government workers were sent together with officials to pull down those walls and jetties thereby re-establishing long shore currents and also permitting the free passage of the public.
Example: Grand Gaube
By 1992, hotels with more than 75 rooms must have, by law, a water treatment plant on site, it is not known whether all the different hotels’ treatment plants are really adequate to cope with the load or whether some seepage does occur at times which could have adverse effects on the lagoon. Sometimes sewage treatment plants were built close to the seashore as was the case in 1990 in the north.
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Sand erosion caused by the construction of piers and other hard structures close to the sea shore and by sand mining (thankfully banned in October 2001) is a significant problem as detailed in the Baird report of 2005. The seriousness of the problem can be gauged by the fact that the Government has, over the past years, built sea defenses at certain places round the coast like Grand Baie, Cap Malheureux and Flic en Flac. The defenses consist of placing at selected places gabions which are wire netting cages 1 metre cube in volume filled with rocks. The objective of this method is to hold sand in place and permit the local accumulation of sand. Unfortunately gabions tend to disintegrate with time for instance at Flic en Flac.
The clearing of sea weeds, corals and other rocks in the lagoon close to the shore has regularly been carried out to create suitable bathing areas or sky lanes for hotels. Though, in some cases, the clearing is fairly innocuous, on a couple of occasions, it cannot be said to be so. It needs reminding that sea grass beds are nurseries for fishes and other sea creatures.
In 1993, the Touessrok Hotel at Trou D’eau Douce (east coast) carried out very important works in the lagoon with the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment report. The government of that time informed the management that “the ministry has no objection to the implementation of the proposed works in relation to (i) the dredging of the inner cover and of the two channels (ii) dredged material treatment and handling onshore (iii) beach recharging and widening (iv) erection of a groyne and (v) the construction of an artificial breakwater to protect the cove beach, provided that the following conditions are observed” (Le Week End 20th of June 1993). Though the local fishermen went to court to obtain an injunction, it does not appear that they managed to influence the course of things.
From 1995 till 2000, promoters fought hard to have a hotel built on “ilot des deux cocos” in Blue Bay Marine Park. Their initial works in August 2000 did cause damage to coral fields in the vicinity. However for once Government had the initial works stopped and subsequently rejected their Environment Impact Assessment report in April 2001. It is worth mentioning that it is the first time that a hotel project had been rejected by the Authorities on purely environmental grounds. It is undoubtedly a landmark in environmental management in Mauritius. It is possible that from then on promoters might be a little more aware of the importance of sound environmental management for the tourism industry.
Unfortunately, little is at present known on the impacts of hotel development on the coastal and lagoon ecology. Yet there is anecdotal evidence that points to sewage seepage from hotels into nearby lagoons in spite of most hotels having primary and secondary sewage treatment plants.
In several places, bungalows and even hotels have been built on wetlands or marshy grounds, for example at Flic en Flac or Grand Baie. This has resulted in a drastic reduction of wetlands around the coast, hence wetlands are no longer there to act as natural filtering systems of either sewage or storm waters.
The water table at Grand Baie has risen significantly, for example, and is now only a metre deep. Flooding and pollution by sewage is now a reality in parts of Grand Baie. At Flic en Flac also, construction of hotels and bungalows has been going on for years on marshy lands. And now certain parts of Flic En Flac are regularly flooded after heavy rains with little scope for a permanent solution to the despair of residents. It is important to realise that wetlands act as natural filter beds cleaning storm or rain waters before they enter the lagoon system. Lack of wetlands inland can lead to sediments finding their way into the lagoon thereby polluting it.
Environmental Impact of the Recreational Use of Beaches
One of the main impacts of the use of beaches by the public on the environment is the fact that a fair proportion of the public fails to use the dust bins provided on the beaches for the proper disposal of solid waste. Hence, at times and on certain beaches, there is solid waste accumulating on site. This waste, apart from being unsightly and a source of bad smells attracting rodents, can drift into the lagoon waters thereby polluting it.
Furthermore, at certain places, the lagoon is used by some people as a huge and uncontrolled dumping ground. Regularly, non governmental organisations working in the field of the environment and professional divers team up to remove from the lagoon bottom large quantities of solid waste which found its way there. For example on the 7th of June 1997, during the “World Environment Day” divers removed from the lagoon of Blue Bay ( South of the island ) car and truck tyres, old nets, discarded plastic bags and bottles, broken plates and even radio sets.
At low tide, it is common for locals or tourists to go reef walking sometimes even at night. The potential for coral damage is evident. In the nineties undersea walking was introduced as a tourist attraction. This activity has lead to localized coral reef damage. Nowadays authorities have ceased to issue new permits for this activity, though previous operators appear to continue their activities.
Environmental Impacts of pleasure Boats Operations
Anchor damage by pleasure crafts or fishing boats is thought to be a significant factor in the destruction of corals whilst oil seepage from motor boats can have an impact on lagoon health, especially in places like Grand Baie where there are lots of boats at mooring.
Over the years there has been a fairly widespread effort to install mooring buoys especially at popular diving sites in order to limit anchor damage. There is evidence that this measure has helped to a certain extent. Boating operations in lagoons have often created conflicts with swimmers on public beaches when boat operators openly flout safety regulations and common sense by loading and offloading passengers for boat trips directly from public beaches and travelling at high speed close to the sea shore. Authorities had to demarcate bathing areas along popular beaches to limit accidents.
Coastal zones are undoubtedly under heavy use, and pressure will not cease in the foreseeable future as long as there are significant increases in tourism arrivals and with more of the population going to the sea side for leisure activities. With the world economic and financial crisis of 2008 – 2009, tourism arrivals have begun to drop. Although no-one knows how far or how deep this present crisis will be, reductions in tourism arrivals will lessen pressures on coastal zones, thereby opening up a window of opportunity to put in place a coherent coastal zone management plan.
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