Mauritius 2016

Our two and a half week ‘field trip’ to Mauritius was organised by Nottingham Trent University.

My first long haul flight was trouble free.  Plenty of free food and drink on both plane journeys satisfied my appetite and we soon arrived at our accommodation near Blue Bay, right by the beach.  We had time to settle in, briefings, then our activities/work began the following day.

We visited the forests of the Black River Gorges for our first outing with the Mauritian Wildlife Trust.  We were shown how they monitor the endangered ‘Pink Pigeon’, how they manage the forest and how they trap unwanted animals such as stray cats brought in from abroad.  We were then paired up to go in search of some poisoned bait tubes to record their usage and replace them if needed.

 

Ile aux Aigrettes was the small island we visited for our second lot of work.  This is a picture perfect island.  Lovely blue sky and sea, lush green vegetation, and Giant Aldabra Tortoises freely roaming the island. Paradise

Of course it hasn’t always been paradise for the endemic wildlife and a number of species have been driven to extinction – the Dodo being one such creature.  We were here to help the Mauritian Wildlife fund monitor species that have been reintroduced to the island.  To begin with, our work involved the recording of the number of Giant African Snails within a given area – an area we marked out called a quadrat.  Our small hortic team then went to do our own baseline survey of flora on the island, familiarizing ourselves with endemic and exotic species and recording the numbers of each species in each of our quadrats.

The right hand photo shows us doing a bit of work, whilst filming it at the same time. Mauritius and its outlying islands were valuable assets during the Napoleonic wars due to their strategic position along trade routes, so were quite heavily fortified in places – as can be seen in the photo on the left.  When we’d finished our quadrats we went on a trek through the island and encountered some of these remains.  A tortoise had the same idea.

We visited Ile aux Aigrettes three times altogether and were also given the opportunity to take biometrics of Telfair Skinks and Mauritius Fodies, both of which have been reintroduced to the island.

I’ve never been a fan of hot weather or being in direct sunlight, but, whilst the weather was hot, it was perfectly bearable.  There was plenty of shade and a sunhat always helps. Some people got bitten quite badly by mozzies but I escaped relatively unharmed, even when I didn’t bother with mosquito repellant.  All in all, with a good positive mental attitude, the climate and environment out here was great.

Us hortics visited a Tea plantation where we saw the whole tea making process, from folk out picking leaves in the fields to the tea bags being boxed and prepared for shipping.

We made a trip to the Pamplemousse Botanic gardens one morning and were blessed with beautiful weather.  The lily pond was a highlight but there were many other rare, interesting  and exotic plants to see.

In the afternoon, we (hortics) visited the University of Mauritius where we were shown research projects being undertaken by the horticulture school there.  Below is a large selection of bugs that were on display.

 

There was the opportunity to go diving one day.  I’d never dived before, and I went with two other beginners to learn in a swimming pool for half an hour before taking to the deep sea.  We were under for 42 minutes.  We saw coral, flounders, trumpet fish, surgeon fish, butterfly fish and others.  I got quite disorientated at one point and was unable to tell which way was ‘up’.  This was really weird but kind of funny.  The dive and tuition cost around £50 but was an amazing experience and well worth every penny.

We were also given the opportunity to go snorkelling.  I bought a snorkel and goggle set for about £12 in one of the main supermarkets we used.  (No need to buy expensive ones in the UK).  Again, worth every penny.  We could go and snorkel any time in our free time, within reason.  There were tons of butterfly fish and other colourful species just a few meters out and at only a 1 meter depth.

We joined the animal students one day to take part in a marine survey.  I enjoyed these extra activities that weren’t horticulture related as I learnt a lot in relation to all Mauritian wildlife and conservation efforts on the islands, and it made for a much broader overall experience.

We spent a day visiting the outlying islands of Ile de Passe and Fouquet islet and were shown what else the Mauritian Wildlife Fund are doing to protect native wildlife.  We were the only visitors to the first island and we had to wade to the shore from the speed boat.

 

 

We visited a nursery and then stood on the back of a 4 x 4 pick-up whilst some mad French man drove us along a dusty, bumpy dirt track around their sugar plantation.  This was great!

We had two visits to the Ebony Forest where we took part in a bird survey and used some devices to try GPS tracking in the forest which was fun.  After a trek through the forest, nibbling on fruits along the way, we came to see some spectacular views.

 

Whale watching was amazing and a great last day experience.  We were privileged to see a large pod of sperm whales, a pod of dolphins and a flying fish.  To top it off, the weather was beautiful.  We then visited an aviary where we had the opportunity to have bats crawling on us.  You either love it or you don’t.

As can be seen from my photos, I wore long sleeved tops and bottoms – all lightweight material.  I’m not fussed about getting tanned so I much prefer dressing this way to avoid worrying about so much sun cream or getting scratched in dense vegetation etc, but each to their own.

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More photos of near where we stayed.  After our days work we had plenty of time to relax in the (tiny) swimming pool and then try out some of the local restaurants or stroll along the beach.  This is an expensive trip but it is jam-packed with so many great experiences and I’d do it all again.

ll

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