The marine nature reserve
However, the ecosystem, which harbours more than 3,500 marine species, started to suffer in the late 1970s. This was due to climate change but also the negative impact of human activity on this fragile balance. This is what lead to the 2007 creation of the Marine nature reserve which spans 40km of the coast (including 20km of coral reef) from Cap La Houssaye to Saint-Paul, and Roche aux Oiseaux to Étang Salé.
Its 35km² surface area is divided between the overall perimeter, the enhanced conservation zones (45% of the surface area) and the integral conservation zones (5%). Rules have been introduced to regulate watersports (jet skiing, canoeing, etc.), fishing, diving and so on. In the integral conservation areas, no human activity is permitted to allow for repopulation of the coral reefs as quickly as possible. These rules are posted on noticeboards on the beaches.
There is even a marked route through the waters of the wonderful Ermitage lagoon, with buoys indicating "discovery stations". You can explore this underwater path free-of-charge with a guide. Visitors in their snorkelling gear are stunned by the beauty and diversity of the bed of the lagoon, a real-life aquarium! This educational ecotourism initiative saw the Réunion marine nature reserve win the IFRECOR Palm award in the "Education and Awareness-Raising" category. IFRECOR is the French Initiative for Coral Reefs, the organisation responsible for promoting the conservation of coral reefs in French overseas territories.