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“The birds are the only survivors of this extraordinary and cruel era, when the sky and the earth belonged to no one, when the islands were free and dangerous like the ships of the pirates. Today, the birds live in exile. They have been driven away from the shores, and were compelled to take refuge on the islets within the coral belt, swept by the waves of the ocean.” (Voyage to Rodrigues - J.M.G. Le Clézio)

Welcome to Ile aux Cocos! Located at 4 km to the west of Rodrigues, emerging from the lagoon, this strip of sand is a nature reserve where thousands of sea birds have sought shelter. Principally, we can observe four species: sooty terns and white terns as well as two other species of noddies.

Ile aux Cocos is undergoing a growing craze. It has become the main tourist attraction of Rodrigues. To reach the island, it is necessary to sail the 4 km that separate it from the main island in a pirogue. The voyage sometimes turns into an adventure when the tide is low. At certain places, corals and rocks are just above the surface of the water, while at others, you need to steer clear of a sandbank to avoid being stranded. The lagoon is so shallow that the last kilometer will be covered on foot, in a few centimeters of water. This leaves ample time to the visitor to admire the island in its integrality.

The brown noddy dived on us, and, as if it was hanging down from the sky, flapped its wings above our heads. It is clearly out of question to let strangers get too close to its nest. Visibly angry, it continued to interpose itself and by the sound of its sharp cries, it seemed like an invitation for us to clear off. A weird welcome, indeed! Everywhere, hundreds of birds swarmed up in a deafening cacophony; others were perched in groups of tens on the branches of the trees. This had the characteristic of an atmosphere that inevitably evoked Hitchcock’s “Birds”!

Despite this strange environment, it feels nice to roam this piece of land, which is one and a half kilometer long and 250 metres wide. A small path travels through the center of the island and allows us to discover the different species of birds. The most elegant one is without any doubt the white tern (Gygis Alba), which is quite rare in Rodrigues. It is nicknamed “the Virgin Bird” due to its immaculately white colour. The noddy, nicknamed “mandarin”, is found in greater numbers than the other species. Two species, not easily discernible, live together: the brown noddy (Anous stolidus) and the lesser noddy (Anous tenuirostris). Calm and pacific when it was resting on the beach, the noddy turned out to be a fierce guardian of its brood when we got too close to its nest. Some of the species are migratory birds, like the sooty terns, which the people of Rodrigues have nicknamed “yéyé” due to their thundering cheeping; they come and stay on the island during the summer. At this particular period, up to 4500 birds can be seen on the island.

Normally, the nests are carefully perched on the trees, but it does happens that at times some can be found on the ground itself, hence making it easier to observe the eggs or the fledglings. It goes without saying that this needs not be touched! Covered with coconut trees, casuarina trees and a great variety of prickly shrubs, the island is bordered by a long fine sandy beach. About ten birds are lounging there peacefully, quite indifferent to the persons admiring them. Here, the bird is indeed the king! So much the better!

Ranked as a nature reserve, visits on this islet are strictly controlled by the State and necessitate proper authorization (the tour-operators are already in charge of this process). Intelligently preserved, the whole island cannot be visited; one third of its surface is inaccessible to the public. The neighbouring island (île aux Sables), which provides shelter to thousands of birds, is completely shut off to the public. In addition, fishing in the islets’ surroundings is not authorized so as to preserve the food resources of the occupants that are fond of squids and small fishes. Two guardians, staying permanently on the island, share between themselves the task of keeping an eye over the island. Thanks to these controls, the island remains a reproduction site for the species: a proof of a successful cohabitation between the birds and the tourists!

Text and Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra




 
Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos

Picture of Rodrigues Island - Ile aux Cocos
       
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