Part 2: Indian Ocean and Pacific Islands
Reunion’s park is actually the ninth largest French national park and covers 40% of the island, including 23 communes and containing more than 300 endemic plant species, original wildlife and an active volcano.
Since 2007, a National Marine Nature Reserve covering 35 km2 preserves 80% of the island’s coral reefs.
Fifteen communes have also joined together in a network, under the trade mark Villages Créoles®. The network’s aim is to take part in the development of people and territories, and contribute to protecting the environment, natural resources and biodiversity of the island. In 2007, it won a Responsible Tourism Trophy in the cultural and heritage category.
In 2010, the “Pitons, Cirques and Remparts” on Reunion Island even became a natural UNESCO world heritage site.
In terms of accommodation, refuges and hiking lodges in the remote and rustic Mafate cirque are an ideal place to be totally immersed in nature. The ‘Baobab et Palmiers’ eco-lodge is a must for lovers of ecotourism. It offers four bungalows around an authentic Creole house, a swimming pool and stunning views over the ocean.
Ecotourism is also becoming an important element for Mayotte island (next to Reunion), whose waters are the crossing point for cetaceans and dolphins. Special “safaris” are run to observe the whales. All through the year one can also observe and swim with the dolphins in the Mayotte lagoon, as well as observing protected marine species, such as the sea turtles, which lay their eggs on the beaches of the Saziley reserve. The captivating Mayotte is the most southern of the Comoros group of islands. Modestly sized, it is a magnificent setting for scuba diving and hiking, perfect for discovering the endemic fauna.
Since 2008, the lagoon of New Caledonia has been included on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage list, along with six New Caledonian sites, amongst which the barrier reef and the mangrove swamp.
Almost 3,300 plant species have been recorded, three-quarters of which are endemic.
In French Polynesia, Fakarava and six other atolls around the Tuamotu islands have been listed by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve since 2006.
Fakarava is a coral ring 60km long by 25km wide, famous for its crystal-clear water. This reserve covers 270,000 hectares of land and sea.
Turtles and coral are subject to a unique form of protection. The Turtle Protection Centre, as well as the Turtle’s Clinic based in Moorea, have been taking in and treating sick or injured turtles before releasing them back in to their natural habitat.
The coral nursery was created by the management of the Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort & Spa and is an undersea laboratory whose aim is to protect and care for the endangered coral so that it can flourish in a protected environment. In 2001, artificial concrete reefs were built underwater to serve as a base for the coral colonies, as well as to slow down the effects of the seabed currents.
Another particularity of the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa is that it’s the first hotel in Polynesia to use seawater air conditioning for all of its cooling requirements. It produces no greenhouse gasses and saves 90% of electricity normally used for air conditioning.
The four Intercontinental hotels in Polynesia and the three hotels in the South Pacific Management Group have each been given the Green Globe Benchmark Bronze 2009 international certification, rewarding their commitments towards the development of ecotourism and their initiatives in sustainable development.
So, you have now probably understood why those French Overseas destinations are so special and worth a visit. Not only the classic clichés of white sandy beaches, great hotels and a wide range of accommodation and leisure, but most of all, a common commitment, protecting the natural heritage and avoiding any mass tourism for only profit.