Ile Aux Aigrettes was the very first place I visited when I landed in Mauritius, and by that I mean it was literally the first place I visited. After a slight delay on the flight from Dubai, I arrived in the country after sunset looking slightly dishevelled. I was met by a member of staff from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation who informed me that he was going to drop me off on Ile Aux Aigrettes that night, and sure enough he loaded my luggage into the back of his car and drove me to a small harbour where another man was waiting. Together, we hauled my massive case onto his tiny boat and set sail across the bay by moonlight.
Thankfully, the sea was fairly calm as we struggled to avoid the rocks sitting just below the waters surface in the darkness. A short while later we arrived at the little island jetty and I was greeted by a small group of people who kindly helped me with my bags up to the field station. It turned out there had been a powercut on the island, so the chances of me finding my shampoo and a fresh set of clothes in the dark was looking very unlikely. As such I settled down to getting to know my new colleagues by candlelight. Quite the adventure on the first day out of the 6 month research trip.
Once morning had arrived I finally had the chance to explore Ile Aux Aigrettes, and it wasn’t long before I found my very first giant tortoise. The Aldabra giant tortoises were brought over to Mauritius to fill the essential role of seed disperses and grazers, which was originally performed by the now extinct native giant tortoises. This tortoises in particular was choosing not to carry out its important role at this moment in time, as it was having a snooze under a tree.
I was fascinated by this wonderful little island and it wasn’t long before I learned more about its fascinating history. After European settlers arrived in Mauritius (originally the Dutch) it wasn’t long before many areas of the country were cleared of native vegetation and Ile Aux Aigrettes was no exception. Invasive predators were also introduced to the island which destroyed most of the native reptile populations. After acting as a military base during the Second World War, Ile Aux Aigrettes eventually came under control of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation in an attempt to restore the populations of native flora and fauna.
Today, the island gives us an idea of how the coasts of Mauritius would have looked before the arrival of people over 400 years ago. Sadly, during this period some of those species have gone completely extinct, one of these being the dodo! But hopefully Ile Aux Aigrettes stands as a reminder for the need to protect these wild places and to not repeat the mistakes made by humans in the past.B