Mauritius

Official name: Republic of Mauritius

Area: 1,860 square kilometers (718 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Black River Peak (828 meters/2,717 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: 4 P.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 61 kilometers (38 miles) from north to south; 47 kilometers (29 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 177 kilometers (110 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)

1 LOCATION AND SIZE

The African island nation of Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. With a total area of about 1,860 square kilometers (718 square miles), the country is about eleven times the size of Washington, D.C. Mauritius is divided into nine districts and three dependencies.

2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES

Rodrigues Island, and the island groups of Agalega Islands and Cargados Carajos Shoals (also called the St. Brandon group), are all dependencies of Mauritius. They also are located in the Indian Ocean, north and east of Mauritius.

3 CLIMATE

Mauritius has a maritime climate with temperatures that vary by altitude. At sea level temperatures range from 18°C to 30°C (64° to 86°F); at an elevation of 460 meters (1,500 feet), they range from 13°C to 26°C (55° to 79°F). Because it is in the tropics, Mauritius's climate is mostly humid, with prevailing southeast winds. The warmest months are October through April (summer) and the coolest are June through September (winter).

Due to the tradewinds, the central plateau and windward slopes experience heavy rains from October to March. These areas have an annual average rainfall of more than 500 centimeters (200 inches). On the coast, yearly rainfall averages about 100 centimeters (40 inches). From April to September, daily showers occur; between December and April, occasional tropical cyclones strike Mauritius.

4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS

Mauritius is a picturesque island nation, with rugged volcanic features and a large fertile plain. The compact main island is the worn and eroded base of an extinct volcano. It stands on a mostly undersea feature called the Mascarene Plateau (a ridge that for much of its length now lies underwater in the Indian Ocean and runs from north to south). The Mascarene Plateau was once a land bridge between Asia and Africa. The island's surface consists of a broad plateau that begins on the southern coastline, with elevations of approximately 670 meters (2,200 feet), and then slopes toward a northern coastal plain. Several low mountain groups and isolated peaks rise above the level of the plateau, forming a more rugged landscape. A coral reef nearly encircles the island. Mauritius sits on the African Tectonic Plate, but not near enough to any plate boundaries or fault lines to experience any major earthquakes or tectonic activity.

5 OCEANS AND SEAS

Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Indian Ocean surrounds Mauritius and its dependencies. Third-largest of the five oceans of the world, the Indian Ocean extends north to south from Asia to Antarctica and east to west from Africa to Australia.

A large coral reef entirely surrounds Mauritius, except for a few small breaks along the coast. A large break in the reef occurs on the southern coast between Souillac and Le Bouchon, and a smaller gap occurs on the western coast at Flic-en-Flac.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Grand River Bay lies just south of the Port Louis Harbor. Just north of the harbor is Tom-beau Bay. Grand Bay, located near the city of the same name, is situated in the far northwest shore. Tamarin Bay, by the city of Tamarin north of the Black River, is a popular spot for surfers. These, as well as many other small inlets along the Mauritius coast, boast beautiful coral sand beaches.

Islands and Archipelagos

The inhabited Rodrigues Island lies about 560 kilometers (350 miles) to the northeast of Mauritius. It has an area of about 110 square kilometers (42.5 square miles) and a population of about 34,000. Another dependency, Agalega, lies 1,122 kilometers (697 miles) north of Mauritius and consists of two islands: North Island and South Island. Agalega has a combined area of 70 square kilometers (27 square miles).

Coral atolls surround Mauritius, including the Cargados Carajos Shoals (St. Brandon Group). Nature preserves protect the natural habitat on neighboring Round Island (Île Ronde) and Serpents Island (Île aux Serpents), among others.

Coastal Features

A few long stretches of white sand beaches line the country on the north and east. A lagoon exists at Flic-en-Flac on the midwestern coast, south of Port Louis.

6 INLAND LAKES

Grand Bassin and Bassin Blanc, both of which lie in craters of extinct volcanoes, are two of the country's natural lakes. Grand Bassin, about 6 kilometers (4 miles) southeast of Mare aux Vacoas in the southwest, is believed to be sacred by Hindus. Several reservoirs are also located on the island, including La Nicolière in the north, Piton du Milieu in the central area, and Mare aux Vacoas, the largest reservoir, in the south.

7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS

Numerous rivers flow through Mauritius. The Grand River South East is the country's longest river, at 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length. It is located in the central-eastern region. The other main rivers are Black River (Rivière Noire), Post River (Rivière du Poste), Grand River North West, and Rempert River. Several waterfalls exist; the highest are the Tamarin Falls in the west at 293 meters (961 feet) in height.

8 DESERTS

There are no desert regions in Mauritius.

9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN

The coastal plains cover about 46 percent of the country, and most of these are located in the north. Nearly 50 percent of the land is arable, but only about 10 percent of the economic output comes from agriculture. Sugarcane is a primary crop.

10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES

The entire island of Mauritius is of volcanic origin, having risen from the sea floor roughly ten million years ago. Three mountain ranges border the central plateau of Mauritius: Moka to the northwest, Grand Port to the east, and Black River to the southwest. The highest peak on the island, Black River Peak (Piton de la Rivière Noire), is in the southwest region of the country, in the Black River Mountain Range.

11 CANYONS AND CAVES

Caverne Patate, located in the southwest corner of the island of Rodrigues, is a series of coral rock and limestone caves popular with tourists that stretches for about 795 meters (2608 feet). The mainland of Mauritius contains several lava caves (often called cellars); many of them are unexplored, however.

Canyons serve as the center point for the Black River Gorges National Park, created in 1994 as the nation's first national conservation area.

12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS

From elevations of approximately 670 meters (2,200 feet) near the southern coastline, a broad central plateau slopes toward a northern coastal plain. The country's mountain ranges surround the plateau.

13 MAN-MADE FEATURES

There are ten man-made reservoirs in Mauritius. Earthfill dams created these reservoirs to retain fresh water for drinking and irrigation. Some of the dams also provide hydroelectric power.

DID YOU KNOW?

Mauritius's designation as a tropical island is based on its location between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The Tropic of Cancer is the parallel of latitude located at 23°30' north of the equator. The Tropic of Capricorn is located at the parallel of latitude that is 23°30' south of the equator. These imaginary lines mark the boundaries of an area in which the sun will appear to be directly overhead—or at a 90°-angle to the earth—at twelve o'clock noon. North or south of these lines, the angle of the sun at noon appears to be less than 90°. The lines were named after the constellations that the sun moves through during the winter and summer solstices (Capricorn on December 21 or 22 and Cancer on June 21 or 22).

14 FURTHER READING

Books

Mauritius, Réunion, & Seychelles . New York: Langenscheidt Publishers, 2000.

NgCheong-Lum, Roseline. Culture Shock! Mauritius . Singapore: Time Books International, 1997.

Selvon, Sydney. Historical Dictionary of Mauritius . 2nd ed. Meutchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

Periodicals

McCarry, John. "Mauritius: Island of Quiet Success." National Geographic , April 1993, 110-132.

Web Sites

"Geography & Climate." Government of Mauritius. http://ncb.intnet.mu/govt/geograph.htm (accessed April 24, 2003).

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