Location: Southern Africa, island in the Indian Ocean, east
Geographic coordinates: 20 17 S, 57 33 E
Map references: World
total: 1,860 sq km
land: 1,850 sq km
water: 10 sq km
note: includes Agalega Islands, Cargados Carajos Shoals (Saint
Brandon), and Rodrigues
Area - comparative: almost 11 times the size of Washington,
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 177 km
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: tropical, modified by southeast trade winds; warm,
dry winter (May to November); hot, wet, humid summer (November to
Terrain: small coastal plain rising to discontinuous mountains
encircling central plateau
lowest point: Indian Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mont Piton 828 m
Natural resources: arable land, fish
arable land: 49%
permanent crops: 3%
permanent pastures: 3%
forests and woodland: 22%
other: 23% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 170 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: cyclones (November to April); almost completely
surrounded by reefs that may pose maritime hazards
Environment - current issues: water pollution
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes,
Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone
Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
The island of Mauritius, located in the Indian Ocean approximately
855 kms off the east coast of Madagascar, Africa being the nearest
continent, with Mombasa some 1800 kms away. The country includes
Rodrigues, Agalega and Cargados Carajos (St Brandon) islands. A
volcanic island about 10 million years old, it is only 1865 square
kilometres in area.
Despite being a small island, Mauritius' climate and landscape vary
widely from region to region. It's hot and humid tropical climate
is present in most areas for most of the year. The average temperature
is 23°C (73°F). Summer lasts from December to April when there are
occasional heavy tropical rains. It is also the cyclone season with
the risk of storms highest between January and April. Winter, from
May to November, is balmy and warm in coastal regions not exposed
to the south-east trade winds. In the windswept regions and central
highlands the winter months are cooler with light rain. The east
coast can be quite cool in winter due to strong winds.
Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Its chief
island, also called Mauritius, lies about 800 kilometres east of
Madagascar and about 4,000 kilometres southwest of India.
Overpopulation is one of the country's problems. Sugar-cane fields
cover about half of the island. Bare, black volcanic peaks tower
over the sugarcane fields. Sugar is the island's chief product.
The Dutch claimed Mauritius in 1598. Later, France and then Great
Britain (now known as the United Kingdom) ruled the island. Mauritius
gained its independence in 1968. It remained a member of the Commonwealth
of Nations. Port Louis, a city of about 138,000 people, is the capital
and leading port.
Discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, Mauritius was subsequently
held by the Dutch, French, and British before independence was attained
A stable democracy with regular free elections and a positive human
rights record, the country has attracted considerable foreign investment
and has earned one of Africa's highest per capita incomes. Recent
protests over standards of living in the Creole community have slowed
Formal Name: Republic of Mauritius.
Short Name: Mauritius.
Term for Citizens: Mauritian(s).
Capital: Port Louis.
Date of Independence: March 12, 1968 (from Britain).
Size: Approximately 1,865 square kilometers.
Topography: Includes Rodrigues Island, some 600
kilometers east and some uninhabited coralline islands; Mauritius
and Rodrigues part of volcanic chain of Mascarene Islands. Mauritius
part of broken ring of mountain ranges (about 18 percent) encircling
central tableland (about 25 percent), with low-lying coastal plains
(about 46 percent) and coral reefs offshore. Numerous rivers and
Climate: Below about 400-meter level humid, subtropical
climate. Above that level more temperate. Two seasons: hot and wet
summer, November through April, including cyclones December through
March; cool and dry winter, May through October. Overall average
200 centimeters of rain annually.
Data as of August 1994
The island of Mauritius lies about 800 kilometers east of Madagascar
between longitudes 57 18' and 57 49' east, and latitudes 19 59'
and 20 32' south. Pearl-shaped, it is sixty-one kilometers long
and forty-six kilometers wide at the extremes and has a total land
area of some 1,865 square kilometers--about the size of Rhode Island.
Mauritian territory also incorporates the island of Rodrigues, some
600 kilometers to the east, which is 119 square kilometers in area.
Two tiny dependencies to the north of Mauritius, the Agalega Islands
and the Cargados Carajos Shoals (also known as the St. Brandon Rocks),
are unpopulated (see fig. 5).
Nonetheless, their location permits the nation's exclusive economic
Glossary) to cover about 1.2 million square kilometers of the Indian
Ocean. Just off the Mauritian coast lie some twenty uninhabited
islands. Mauritius and France both claim sovereignty over Tromelin,
small islands that lie 483 kilometers to the northwest. Mauritius
sought to regain sovereignty, lost just before independence in 1968,
over the Chagos Archipelago (1,931 kilometers to the northeast),
which includes the Diego Garcia atoll.
Mauritius and Rodrigues are part of the Mascarene Islands, a chain
of volcanic islands that include Reunion, the nation's nearest neighbor
at 145 kilometers to the southwest and governed as an overseas territory
(département) of France. The islands are perched on submarine
ridges, including the Mascarene Plateau that runs for some 3,000
kilometers in an arc bowed outward from the African mainland, and
the Rodrigues Fracture Zone that ripples eastward and connects this
underwater plateau with the massive Mid-Indian Ridge.
Mauritius is relatively young geologically, having been created
by volcanic activity some 12 million years ago. There has been no
active volcano on the island for more than 100,000 years. The island
consists of a broken ring of mountain ranges, some 600 to 800 meters
above sea level, encircling a central tableland that slopes from
a level of 300 meters in the north to 600 meters in the southwest.
The mountains are surrounded by low-lying, sometimes hilly, coastal
plains, except in the southwest where the drop-off is precipitous.
The mountains are steepest toward the center of the island and are
probably the tips of the eroded original shield volcano. The sea
has built up a ring of coral reefs around most of the 160 kilometers
of coastline, which form many shallow lagoons, white coral sand
beaches, and dunes. Two of the best harbors are Port Louis and Mahebourg.
Politically, the island is divided into eight administrative divisions
called districts and one municipality where the capital, Port Louis,
Lowland plains and gently undulating slopes cover about 46 percent
of the total land area. Low-lying plains make up most of the Pamplemousses,
Rivière du Rempart, and Flacq districts; southern Grand Port District;
the heavily populated northwestern section of Plaines Wilhems District
from Beau Bassin to Quatre Bornes and to the sea; and smaller areas
around Chemin Grenier. These areas are planted with sugarcane and
mixed vegetable crops. The districts of Port Louis and Black River
and the more hilly interior plains leading up to the tableland support
tea, rice, and sugarcane cultivation and include areas of savanna
and scrub forest.
The central tableland covers about a quarter of the island. A large
plateau spans most of the districts of Moka, eastern Plaines Wilhems,
and western Grand Port, where mostly sugarcane and vegetables are
harvested, except around Curepipe and Vacoas, where tea is grown.
The southern part of the tableland--in the districts of Black River,
Savanne, and southern Plaines Wilhems-- is much smaller and heavily
dissected with a diverse topography. It contains tea and forest
plantations, including reserves of indigenous trees.
Mountains cover about 18 percent of the terrain. The MokaLong Mountain
Range is situated in the northwest near Port Louis, and its highest
peak is Pieter Both (823 meters). The Rivière Noire Mountains and
Savanne Mountains are in the west and southwest, where Mont Piton
of the Petite Rivière Noire (828 meters) is the highest point on
the island. The mountains are broken into four ridges that produce
deep valleys, gorges, and waterfalls. The Grand Port Range lies
in the east, and to its north are the isolated Mont Blanche (520
meters) and Fayences Mountain (425 meters).
Rivers and streams dot the island; many of them are formed in the
crevices between land created by new and old lava flows. Drainage
radiates from the central tableland to the sea, and many rivers
are steeply graded with rapids and falls. Torrential flows are common
during storms and cyclones. Marshes and ponds lie in the tableland
and on the coastal plain, but the country has only two natural lakes,
both crater lakes. The largest of several manmade reservoirs is
the Mare aux Vacoas.
Rodrigues Island was formed earlier than Mauritius, but in a similar
fashion. It sits lengthwise on an east-west axis, along which runs
a spine-like mountain range some 600 meters above sea level. The
north-south spurs of these mountains cut deep crevices into the
The other dependencies of Mauritius are coralline rather than volcanic
islands. The two Agalega islands are connected by a sandbar and
covered with coconut palms. The Cargados Carajos Shoals are a group
of more than twenty islands, none more than one square kilometer
in area, which are primarily fishing stations.
Data as of August 1994
Mauritius has two kinds of climate. Below the 400-meter level on
most of the windward (southeastern) side of the island and below
450 meters on the leeward side, a humid, subtropical climate prevails.
Above these altitudes, the climate is more temperate, but there
is no sharp break, and variations in exposure, altitude, and distance
from the sea produce a wide range of patterns. The island has two
seasons. The hot and wet summer lasts from November through April.
February is the warmest month with temperatures averaging 27°
C in the lowlands and 22° C on the plateau. Cyclone season runs
from December through March, and the storms, which come from the
northeast, have caused much destruction on the island over the years.
For example, Cyclone Hollanda hit Mauritius February 10, 1994, leaving
1,400 persons homeless, and damaging 60 percent of the electrical
system and 50 percent of the telephone network, as well as destroying
between 20 and 30 percent of the sugarcane plantation. The overall
cost of this cyclone was estimated at US$81 million.
Winter, lasting from May through October, is cool and dry, influenced
by the steady southeasterly trade winds. July is the coolest month
and has average temperatures of 22° C in the lowlands and 16°
C in the plateau. Rainfall is abundant, ranging from 90 centimeters
per year in the western lowlands to 500 centimeters in the tableland--an
average of 200 centimeters per year overall. Nonetheless, the high
rate of evaporation and uneven distribution necessitate irrigation.
Humidity is frequently above 80 percent.
Mauritius has fertile soil that supports a variety of vegetation.
All but 1 percent of the native hardwood forests that once covered
most of the island have been cut down, threatening the survival
of several bird species. Sugarcane is now the dominant crop, covering
half the arable land, but other cash and food crops are grown as
well. Coral reefs and marine life off the northwest coast have been
hurt by pollution, mainly from large hotels. To prevent the destruction
caused by rapid and poorly planned development and in response to
foreign criticism for its lack of environmental protection, the
government established the Ministry of the Environment in 1990.
In July 1991, the legislature passed the Environmental Protection
Act, which requires an environmental impact assessment for all new
projects. The ministry has also established standards for existing
industry, followed by inspections. Steps are being taken to induce
the construction industry to shift from the use of coral sand (in
the early 1990s the building trade used 600,000 tons of coral sand
annually) to basaltic sand. Marine parks are being zoned to protect
coral and marine life, and a sewerage master plan is being developed
to prevent the discharge of untreated sewage into the ocean. Solid
waste management is upgrading the handling of waste, and the principle
of "the polluter must pay" is being introduced.
Data as of August 1994