Imagine this – 9th of February 1507 (exactly 506 years ago today), a Portuguese naval expedition captained by Tristão da Cunha heading towards the Bay of Bengal, in running into turbulent weather is forced to change course and accidentally stumbles upon a deserted group of islands.
No one in sight – absolutely no one.
Nothing of interest.
They decide to rest, replenish stocks, name the islands Saint Apollonia, Cirne and Rodrigues and continue on their merry way towards their already established posts of Goa and Ceylon.
An extinction of dodo birds looks from afar as the vessel sails into the distance.
Nearly 90 years later, in 1598, a similar story.
This time, though, eight Dutch vessels on their way to the Indian subcontinent. Bad weather, the ships are separated and on the 17 September, five of the vessels land on the same island but this time they call it ¨Prins Maurits van Nassaueiland”, after Prince Maurits.
A couple of weeks later, the ships again take to the sea towards the Dutch outpost of Bantam, Indonesia.
An extinction of dodo birds looks from afar as the vessels sail into the distance.
The Dutchmen come back
and begin using the island as a stopover after long months at sea. But in 1606, two expeditions arrive for the first time and establish two harbour settlements, Port-Louis and the “Rade des Tortues” (literally meaning “Harbor of the Tortoises”).
With them, starts the destruction of the precious heartwood of the ebony trees found all over the island and very sadly, the extinction of the native Dodo birds, endemic to the island of Mauritius.
Slaves were also brought from neighbouring Madagascar and Africa.
The death and shipwreck in 1615 of Dutch governor Pieter Both who was coming back from India with four richly laden ships caused the Mauritian route to be considered cursed by Dutch sailors and stayed away from it.
In no time Danish sailors arrive, followed by the French, who ruled for over 100 years until they were forced to relinquish the isle to the British empire.
The Brits put a lot of changes into place – they abolished slavery, they compensated planters for the loss of their slaves, they brought indentured laborers from the Indian subcontinent, China, Madagascar, and Malaysia, and with that, they started a natural process of hybridisation that resulted in constant intercultural friction and dialogue.
The dodo birds were long extinct, prey to the hunger of the sailors and other invasive species introduced by them.
Mauritius became an independent state on 12 March 1968
Today, Mauritius is a multi-cultural, multi-religious republic within the Commonwealth with a population of 1.2 million.
While English is the official language of parliament, traffic regulations, and school administration, it is spoken by only 3% of the population.
French is the native language of Franco-Mauritians and is used by the mass media.
Eighty percent of the newspapers are written in French, which also dominates the advertising field. Mauritian Creole, or MC, is the national language and is spoken by the majority of Mauritians. Nearly the entire population knows and uses MC for communication.
Having no mineral resources, the population of this beautiful paradise lives mainly on sugar, textile and tourism.
Mauritius has been spared from the damage caused on the environment by industrialisation in many other parts of the world and remains a multicultural melting pot in a tropical, healthy ecosystem.
But all that is starting to change: traffic, energy, pollution
Given the serious traffic problem of the island, caused by the large number of road users, the government embarked in the 2012 the Metro Express project.
The first phase of the project is expected to end this year, in 2019, and the second phase in 2021.
Then there is the issue of energy production.
Five years ago, when the National Energy Commission published its report, the figures were worrisome: almost 80% of Mauritius’s energy production comes from fossil fuels, while 20% constitutes renewable energy.
In 2008, when the government launched the Maurice Ile Durable project, its goal was to reach 65% of renewable energy by 2028.
Since then, that objective has been revised downwards to 35% by 2027.
But in reality, the nation-island has stagnated at 20% renewable energy in the last two decades.
“Fossil fuels are not renewable, and this means that there are fewer and fewer of them and the less there is, the more they cost and the more we depend on them,” explains Michel Chiffonne an activist in Port Louis.
Coal power plants are one of the primary contributors to CO2 air pollution, a factor which directly contributes to global warming.
Operating power plants would not only directly damage the environment of the island but it would increase rates of disease (due to gaseous emissions), affect marine, wildlife and pollute freshwater streams, further depleting lagoons and the Mauritian heritage.
Sadly, bad news don´t stop there.
The huge number of visitors expected every year (over two million) also raise major concerns for an island of just 1.3 million permanent residents.
With ever-increasing tourism, over-fishing and intensive sugar cane farming, there is a real danger that the pristine beaches, marine parks and precious coral reefs may disappear altogether.
So, if you plan on visiting Mauritius as a Nomad@50, please do so responsibly.
Because us, visitors, have the same obligation than the local to ensure that the regrettable extinction of the dodo bird doesn’t get repeated and the Mauritian ecosystem is protected from further degradation caused by humans.
Don’t you think?