Le Morne, Mauritius

Le Morne, Mauritius
Coral and moorish idols in the lagoon in front of Le Morne
Le Morne village
A local fisherman on a boat in the lagoon

The Le Morne Brabant Peninsula is situated on the south west corner of Mauritius. The area is highlighted by a single standing basaltic rock with a summit 556 meters above sea level. This natural monument is one of the most impressive sights in Mauritius. The mountain covers an area of more than 12 hectares and the plateau at its top is protected by steep slopes and vertical cliffs, so it can be reached by foot only through a narrow and perilous passage. Runaway slaves, also known as maroons escaped to relative safety at the top of the mountain where they took shelter in overhanging caves. In 2008 UNESCO inscribed the area a World Heritage Site as a powerful symbol of the resistance to slavery.

The mountain is not only important for its cultural heritage but also for its terrestrial and marine biodiversity. The peninsula is surrounded by a lagoon and in one of the passes through the reef one can sometimes see large numbers of sharks, which is an increasingly rare sight in the Western Indian Ocean. The peninsula is connected to the undeveloped Petit Morne Mountain Range and the Black River Gorges National Park though a biodiversity corridor of unsurpassed scenery. A network of ecotourism trials can be developed to boost the local economy through what is considered one of the last “wild” areas in Mauritius. On the flipside, immense pressure from hotel and resort development, if not contained effectively, can steer the area in a different direction altogether.

The village of Le Morne on the beach just south of the Le Morne peninsula faces the small island of Ilot Fourneau in the expansive lagoon with the backdrop of the mountain of Le Morne. The Le Morne village has approximately 1700 inhabitants whose livelihoods mainly depend on low income jobs from the tourism establishments, and fishing. The lagoon is a traditional fishing ground that has been used by the people living in the area for many generations. In the Le Morne village there are today 150 fishers (only 63 officially registered, both men and women). But almost everyone has a connection to the sea and uses its resources in one way or another.

The village is economically depressed and one of the poorest in Mauritius. A range of environmental problems loom, including pollution of the lagoon system, diminishing marine resources and simply lack of livelihood or space for the village to develop as it is squashed in between the shore and vast private lands. The community relies heavily on marine resources from the lagoon, which is shared with other villages, resulting in overfishing. Fortunately the Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund embraced the demonstration site concept and has embarked on a Local Economic Development (LED) planning process with the village.