The French overseas department of Mayotte is located in the biogeographical area of the Comoros Archipelago, at the heart of the Mozambique Channel and close to Madagascar. Mayotte hosts a variety of land and marine tropical ecosystems which are of major ecological value, despite significant landscape changes due to the exploitation of first sugar cane and later rice. For its limited territory, Mayotte’s natural landscape hosts a vast array of rare biodiversity. Landscapes range from tropical forests located on summits and ridges, wetlands amid alluvial plains, bays covered in mangroves, coasts outlined by coral reefs and surrounded by marine flora.
Mayotte, a volcanic island more than 8 million years old, shares its flora with Madagascar and, at a regional level, it is considered as 1 of the 34 world’s biodiversity hotspots. Due to the subsidence of the island that gradually took place over the past 500,000 years, a large coral reef and lagoon surrounding the island emerged. These are exceptional for their size (1,000 km2) and for the rich biodiversity they host (more than 760 marine fishes of which 17 are threatened according to IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM, 581 marine arthropod species, more than 450 cnidaria and 24 marine mammals).
In the most forested areas, the terrestrial fauna consists of several endemic and threatened species. It is important to note that Mayotte has recently been recognized as one of the 218 world’s endemic bird areas (more than 130 species recorded of which 2 are endemic, the Mayotte Sunbird and the Mayotte Drongo, one endangered species according to the IUCN Red List and the Malagasy Pond Heron). The Brown Lemur and the Fruit Bat are among the symbols of Mayotte’s fauna and are today protected by international conventions. Reptiles (20 known species of which 7 are endemic) and terrestrial molluscs (98 known species of which 49 are endemic to Mayotte and the Comoros) are also indicators of the significant diversity and uniqueness of the island.
The terrestrial and marine biodiversity of Mayotte deserves special attention not only for its uniqueness but also for the high fragmentation of its natural relict habitats. Although the importance of the island’s marine heritage has been recognized with the creation of a Nature Marine Park, there remains plenty of work to conserve and enhance the natural wealth of Mayotte. A BEST project is currently aiming at developing new protected areas.