Developing a vision for St Brandon (Carajos Cargados Shoals)

An area that needs to be protected for future generations to enjoy

an aerial view of st brandon P. Argo
an aerial view of st brandon, photo P. Argo

St Brandon is a group of more than 30 islets approximately 400 km north-east of Mauritius. The total area of the islets is approximately 500 hectares, which are spread over an area of 1,232 km2. Some of these islets are mere sandy cays. The main lagoon is approximately 300 km2 with a coral reef of 130 km in length. The largest island is Cocos Island (0.95 km²). Of the St Brandon islets, 13 are leased to a Mauritian fishing company, the Raphael Fishing Co. Ltd., whilst the rest are under the control of the Outer Island Development Corporation (OIDC), a government agency. Access by boat is limited, without an effective jetty and there is no permanent human settlement on St Brandon. The population consists of mainly fishermen temporarily based on the island and staff of the National Coast Guard and the Meteorological Services. Fishing for the Mauritian market is the main activity and there is no agricultural production in St Brandon.

The archipelago has a native wildlife assemblage that is unique within the Republic of Mauritius.  There are few signs of unnatural coastal erosion on any of the islets.  The marine life is relatively intact.  St Brandon has been proposed for a Marine Protected Area by the World Bank, has been identified as an ‘Important Bird Area’ in Africa by BirdLife International, as a Marine Important Bird Area under the Nairobi Convention, and a Key Biodiversity Area by the CEPF. However, the islands and the sea have all suffered from human-induced degrading activities e.g. over-fishing, poaching, marine debris accumulation, ships running aground on reef edges, and the invasion of plants and animals.  All islands are degraded to some extent, ranging from the fairly unaccessed North Island to the highly modified Raphael Island. Even the most degraded islets still support native plants, breeding seabirds and nesting turtles.

albatrsoo island sooty tern onychoprion fuscatys colony N. Cole
albatrsoo island sooty tern onychoprion fuscatys colony, photo N. Cole

Nevertheless, there is a need for careful management, responsible use, restoration and education to ensure that adverse effects of human activities are curbed and the archipelago’s resources can be increased (if not at the very least sustained) for the future generations. There are signs of decline in fishery stocks, known presence and impacts of invasive alien plants and animals, evidence for seabird and turtle poaching which can be reversed. and measures taken to reduce the accumulation of marine debris. There is potential to develop responsible tourism on some of the islets, where visitor facilities need to be developed or improved. It is recognised that there is no scope for mass tourism and the remoteness of the islands, costs and exposure to cyclones place limits to the scale of tourism development. On the positive side, this implies that St Brandon can be developed along a genuine ecotourism model. This will allow funds to be generated to be used for marine and terrestrial biodiversity conservation. St Brandon can become an exceptional natural resource for the Republic of Mauritius, where conservation, scientific research, eco-tourism and fisheries can be sustainably promoted. A vision is being developed that sets out the identified actions needed to develop and implement an integrated long-term plan for the archipelago, working within partnerships with government ministries, specialist organisations, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to implement these plans. St Brandon’s regional and international significance will gain greater international importance through this Vision.

Dr. Vikash TATAYAH, Conservation Director

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation