From No-Man’s-Land to a Congested Paradise: An Environmental History of Mauritius

  • Ferenc L. Toth
Conference paper


The fascinating social, political, and economic history of Mauritius has been told by many (e.g., Barnwell and Toussaint, 1949; Bissoondoyal, 1963; Man-nick, 1979; Addison and Hazareesingh, 1984). This chapter takes a different perspective. It attempts to describe and explain sudden changes and long-term evolutionary processes that, over the centuries, shaped natural resources and various ecological systems of the island resulting in what contemporary inhabitants and visitors experience. The environmental history of Mauritius is by no means less fascinating than its social history. Human intervention, in many cases inadvertently, profoundly transferred the landscape, fauna, and flora over the centuries. The balance between direct, local causes behind these interventions and remote and often indirect driving forces has changed over time, but this chapter shows the overall dominance of the latter group. Even in the position of full political sovereignty, the remote economic, political, and increasingly environmental processes and forces tend to shape local structures. This is the main reason behind our confidence that the island’s environmental history has useful lessons for the future of Mauritius and perhaps many other small islands.


Sugar Production Sugar Industry Environmental History Sugar Factory Common Property Resource 
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  1. [1]
    It is worth noting that the first, modern stock exchange in Amsterdam was largely based on shares of trading companies (Kostolany, 1987). Besides thé standard prompt deals, the Amsterdam Stock Exchange handled options and forward deals, compensation courses, and report and deport deals. Because of dangers and uncertainties involved in the long sailing trips across the Indian Ocean and on the Atlantic, real and, in many cases, manufactured news about the fate of the ships provided on excellent base for speculations on the stock exchange.Google Scholar
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    In addition to the strong ”pull“ factor in Mauritius, severe ”push“ forces were at work in India as well, such as a series of famines in the early 18th century.Google Scholar
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    The prospect for a boom of the sugar industry was already in the air in the 1830s. When Charles Darwin visited Mauritius in 1836 he was impressed with the landscape and the mixed population of various races. He noted in his diary: ”the country on this side of the island appears pretty well cultivated, the whole being divided into fields & studded with farmhouses. I am, however, assured that of the whole land not more than half is yet in a productive state; if such is the case & considering the present great export of sugar, at some future period this island when thickly peopled, will be of great value“ (Darwin, 1934).Google Scholar
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    Meier (1959) suggested that fast population growth could lead to martial law or even to establishing concentration camps as a way of handling the large number of unemployed people.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1994

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  • Ferenc L. Toth

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