The Comoro archipelago lies at the entrance to the Mozambique Channel, approximately 300 miles north of the tip of Madagascar and about the same distance from the East African coast. The Comoros comprises four islands: Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Nzwani (Anjouan), Mwali (Moheli) and Mayotte, as well as numerous coral reefs and uninhabited islets. The islands are occasionally referred to as ‘The Islands of the Moon’ as the result of a misinterpretation of an Arabic label on a 12th century Indian Ocean map. They are also known as the ‘Perfumed Isles’, due to their culture of ylang-ylang.
The archipelago is of volcanic origin and arose from the seabed of the Indian Ocean over many eons, leaving each island with its own distinct characteristics due to their differing ages. Mayotte is made up of eroded mountains and meandering streams, Grande Comore (the youngest of the islands) has a massive, active volcano that dominates two thirds of the islands, while Moheli and Anjouan have wooded mountains without any recent volcanic activity and rivers flowing into the sea. The mountainous islands also have diverse microecologies and several species of animals that are unique to the Comoros.
The first inhabitants of the Comoros are thought to have been African, Southeast Asian and Oceania settlers. Development of the islands began between the 9th and 10th centuries, with trade routes emerging between the 11th and 15th centuries. In the late 1800s the islands were annexed by France and governed by the French colonial governor general of Madagascar.
Politically, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli are now part of the Federal and Islamic Republic of the Comoros, having declared their independence from France in 1975. Mayotte chose to remain French as a Collectivité Territoriale (overseas territory), which allows the Mahorais (inhabitants of Mayotte) to enjoy a legal minimum wage of six times the average wage of the independent Comoros, as well as surfaced roads and a programme to control malaria.
The island of Mayotte is sea horse-shaped and is the oldest and most southerly of the Comoros. It is split into Grande Terre, the large central island, and the tiny islet of Pamandzi (also known as Petit Terre). Pamandzi is connected to the island by a 1.2 mile causeway and a ferry runs from the administrative centre of Mamoudzoue on Grande Terre to the rocky outcrop of Dzaoudzi, a commune on Pamandzi.
The commune of Dzaoudzi is made up of the twin towns of Dzaoudzi and Labattoir. Mayotte’s only airport, Dzaoudzi-Pamandzi International Airport, is located in Dzaoudzi and is the primary gateway to the island, offering scheduled flights to 14 destinations including France.
The Dziani Dzaha crater lake, the ’emerald jewel’ of Petit Terre, is situated to the north of the island on the road to Badamiers. The lake has been described as a gem by Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) scientists seeking to understand Earth’s early life. It may also have implications for the existence of significant deep carbon ‘bioenergy factories’ in Earth’s history. Recent findings of DCO scientist, Magali Ader, have reported pH levels greater than 9, high levels of salinity and high levels of inorganic carbon streaming up in the crater, fuelling high biomass production. It is thought to be caused by the underlying Serpentinization (process whereby rock is changed with the addition of water into the crystal structure of the minerals found within the rock) of the upper mantle peridotites.
A footpath encircles the crater, providing visitors with the opportunity to wander around the lake that has water twice as salty as the Indian Ocean and volcanic gasses that can be seen bubbling through the water. While hiking around the lake (approximately 1.5 hours), one can also admire the views of the Dzaoudzi rock, the former fortified capital, Grande Terre and the turquoise waters of the great north-eastern coral reef. The walk around the lake is flat but there is very little shade and the path is very narrow at points (it is not advisable to walk down to the lake).
A short drive from the crater lake is Plage des Badamiers, on the shores of the lagoon of Pamandzl (or Vasière des Badamiers). The coastal currents have created a detrital cordon beyond which a mud-pool has been formed progressively. This biotope contains three successive habitats: a rocky area formed by the remains of a fringing reef, a mangrove swamp and a mud-pool, which is sometimes uncovered and sometimes submerged. The three habitats are an important refuge for waders, herons and hundreds of terns during the migration or wintering periods. In the warm rock pools brittle starfish, sea snails and tiny klipfish can be seen.
CRUISE: Silversea‘s Silver Cloud from Mombasa to Cape Town
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