I’m kayaking through the crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean with the powdered shores of Cousine Island behind me. Below the lightly rippling water I catch sight of colourful school of tropical fish, a few minutes earlier I had the fortune of spotting a mighty Hawksbill turtle gliding by, unperturbed at my presence. The tranquil sea air carries the chorus of bird song in my direction from the island’s lush vegetation. It’s hard to believe that just 24 years ago, this thriving echo system was battered, spoilt and ravaged for natural resources.
Before Cousine Island’s rehabilitation
In around 1818, the island was occupied by French pioneer, Pierre Hugon. Times being what they were, with the adventurous spirit clouding foresight into environmental protection, Hugo’s occupation on the island saw many of its natural resources gleaned. Firewood and lumber were excessively harvested from the islands indigenous trees. The shores around the island were fished to near depletion. Hawksbills and Green turtles were harvested since their eggs, shells and flesh became valuable either as an ornamental material or a delicacy. Sooty Tern eggs were collected in great numbers as a source of food, forcing these birds to find new nesting grounds. The problem was further worsened by the introduction of cash crops to the island which slowly destroyed its indigenous flora, endangering the local wild-life; while livestock and alien mammals such as cats were then introduced to the island, further endangering all of its native flora and fauna.
Things looked bad for the island, yet just when it seemed like this potential paradise would never recover from its occupational history, the island was purchased by Cousine Island Company Limited who employed a unique conservation based management structure in establishing a private resort on the island, from where funds could be raised to rehabilitate the island.
A full recovery in just 20 years
In doing this, by staying at any one of Cousine’s luxury Villas, guests automatically contribute to the island’s recovery. Profits accumulated through the hotel are directed back into the islands conservation. Outstanding efforts have been made in this regard with the eradication of alien plants, the removal of livestock and feral cats, the reintroduction of turtles and birds and mass plantings of indigenous trees. Hawksbill turtles were purchased or rescued and introduced to the island and now roam its shores freely and safely.
Guests are also given a chance to connect with nature in taking a hands on approach to its conservation by planting trees, tracking and recording the population of its wildlife, or taking great treks through the island’s granitic plains and lush vegetation to see for themselves, the results of Cousine’s largely successful conservation efforts.
The hard work of the resort staff and locals has certainly paid off over time. So many of the animals, birds and plants that call the island home could not be found there just a few decades ago, and now roam its plains freely. The waters are teaming with life that once abandoned this thriving sanctuary and the air is filled at dawn with the once dampened sound of bird-song. Making an exclusive island charter to this little slice of paradise a truly memorable experience.