Mayotte’s flora and forests – a threatened heritage
19 June 2013 | Article
Green and abundant. When visiting Mayotte you feel the ambiance of a "green island". Yet much of its forest is degraded due to very early human occupation of the island (end of the 8th century). The reduction in natural and secondary forest coverage between 1987 and 2002 concerned more than 12,000 hectares of land, according to estimations. This reduction still continues today at a pace ranging from 50 to 100 hectares per year, as urban and agricultural pressures increase and control measures are lacking.
Only 5% of the original natural vegetation exists. This has been preserved thanks to the topographic features of the areas (sloping forests, crests and summits) which have limited agricultural and forest exploitation of land flora (mangroves), and thanks to local beliefs (Ziyaras : holy lands inhabited by the Djinns people). The natural land forests cover a surface of 1,123 hectares which is 3% of the total emerged lands in Mayotte, in addition to 666 hectares of mangroves. Tropical forests are considered as the first host of biodiversity worldwide, both for ecosystems and species.
The vast forests of Mayotte host five types of vegetation: 355 hectares of dry forests and underbrush mainly on the small islets (such as the national nature reserve of Mbouzi), the summits and peak domes; 83 hectares of mesophile forest divided into two entities at west and south of the island; 685 hectares of wet forests above 300 metres of altitude; 45 hectares of xero submontane forest above 450 metres existing only at the summit of Month Choungi; and between 10,000 and 15,000 hectares of secondary forest mainly hosting exotic species.
The large wealth of Mayotte’s flora is shown by the high number of native species versus its land surface (Mayotte: 171 native species/100 km2, Maurice: 37/100km2; La Reunion: 34/100km2). According to 2011 data, there are 1,317 species of which 767 are native and 550 are exotic. Between 2001 and 2011, 267 taxons were discovered which is more than 60% of species identified in 10 years, among which the Malagasy Baobab – the second recorded species of baobab on the island after the African Baobab! Among the species, 48 are strictly endemic to the island.
Mayotte’s flora in not evenly distributed on the island – more than 50% is found in only 10% of the total territory. The existing flora is therefore not very representative of the actual natural heritage which the island could have and what remains is highly threatened with extinction.
Mayotte has a strong responsibility to protect its heritage at the regional level, considering the situation of natural areas in the neighbouring islands, as well as at the national level as an overseas department, and at the European level as outermost region.
- Barthelat F., Viscardi G. (2011), Flore menace de l’île de Mayotte: importance patrimoniale et enjeux de conservation. Rev. Ecol. (Terre Vie), supplément 11, 2012.
- Boullet V. et al (2005), Mayotte biodiversité et évaluation patrimoniale, Contribution à la mise en œuvre des ZNIEFF, CBNM, juillet 2005, 324 p.