Marine Life

The marine life of Mauritius has suffered from man's arrival although it is an additional attraction for visitors. It is easy to visit coral gardens in depths of seven to 20 metres and the range of fish to be seen is amazing.

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The appeal of the reef is enhanced by the variety of the coral, which is among the most beautiful in the world. Because of the sunlight, which filters through sea of the right salinity and temperature, the coral thrives better in the waters of Mauritius than elsewhere. There are notable coral gardens at the southern corners of Mauritius, off Morne Brabant and Blue Bay. Underwater walks are organised from Grand Bay.

The Mauritius Scuba Diving Association now considers shell collecting unacceptable. It has been so rapacious since the l960s that a limit was imposed on the number of shells a visitor could take from the island. To meet the demand, shells are imported from the Philippines to be sold to tourists who want something pretty as a souvenir, not a genuine rare shell. The rarest and most valuable shells in the world, such as the several varieties of conus, Lambis violacea and Cyproc onyx-nymphal, have been found off Mauritius.

There is an extensive collection of shells at the Mauritius Institute Museum. A model of the rare cone Conus milneedwardsi can be seen among the exhibits. This was brought up in a fisherman's basket net from a depth of 40 fathoms, off the coast of Black River. Also exhibited is a giant clam Tridacna gigas, the largest lamellibranch ever evolved.

Cone and cowrie shells can be deadly if of the Conus eulieus, geographicus, marmoreus, ratttus, textile or tulipa species. Poison injected from their sharp ends can bring death within 15 minutes, with no known antidote. There have been 105 species recorded.

Starfish are common and the crown of thorns (star achantester) is destructive to coral. An excellent specimen of the very rare Acanthocidaris curvatispninis, which is known only in Mauritius, is on display at the Institute Museum. The collection of echinoderms there also contain a remarkable specimen of Chondrocidaris gigantea, exhibited in a special showcase as it is considered to be the most beautiful sea urchin in the world.

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