The President of the Republic, Mr Prithvirajsing Roopun, and the Director (Mauritius) of the Flora of the Mascarenes Project, Dr Jean Claude Autrey, launched, yesterday at the Mauritius Sugarcane Industry Research Institute (MSIRI) in Réduit, the final volumes 29 and 30 on Orchids with regards to the Flora of the Mascarenes Project.
The Vice President of the Republic, Mr Marie Cyril Eddy Boissézon; the Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, Mrs Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun; the Ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Mauritius and to the Republic of Seychelles, Mr Vincent Degert; the Ambassador of France to Mauritius, Mrs Florence Caussé-Tissier; the British High Commissioner in Mauritius, Mrs Charlotte Pierre; the Director of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Mrs Valérie Verdier, and other eminent personalities were also present. Lady Sarojini Jugnauth also attended the launching ceremony as a special guest.
In his address, President Roopun commended the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the project. He highlighted that this complex scientific exercise aimed at producing a comprehensive up-to-date inventory of the flora of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion Islands consisted of different phases and engaged the collaboration of different scientific competencies. “Today, the hard work and dedication of the team have resulted in a remarkable achievement that will have a lasting impact on the scientific community and the world at large. We need to ensure that these precious resources are conserved for generations to come”, he said.
Speaking about the unique and diverse flora of Mauritius, Rodrigues, and Reunion islands, President Roopun recalled that it counts among the most threatened worldwide. Hence the need to conserve the native biodiversity resources of the islands by knowing how many species there are, how to recognise them, understand their ecology, and what threatens their existence.
As regards the last two volumes of the Flora of the Mascarenes project, he stated that Orchids have the largest number of native species in the Mascarenes. Some 90 native orchid species have been recorded in Mauritius with around 80% being unique to the southwest Indian Ocean islands and some 20 species are today considered extinct or may survive undetected, he underlined.
President Roopun also stressed the importance of preserving the fauna of Mauritius alongside our unique flora. According to him, the fauna of Mauritius is also a treasure that must be protected and conserved. He added that one of the most important conservation efforts in Mauritius is the protection of the island’s native bird species such as the Mauritius kestrel, the Pink pigeon, and the Mauritius parakeet which were once on the brink of extinction.
For her part, the Director of the IRD, Mrs Valérie Verdier, said that the volumes of the Flora of the Mascarenes Project represent a unique global heritage collection and serves as a unique source of documentation of plant species. The last two volumes, she stated, represent a source of interest at the medicinal, scientific and the endemic levels.
As for the Dr Jean Claude Autrey, he said that the flora of the Mascarene Islands is very rich and diverse adding that it includes a considerable number of endemic species of high scientific and economic value.
Lauding the dedication, hard work, determination and ambition of the authors of booklets and the successive Directors over the decades, Dr Autrey said that they have carried out the work out of pure passion without receiving any remuneration for their considerable efforts and dedication to the cause of nature conservation of the planet.
According to him, the project constitutes a unique source of documentation on the taxonomy, geographical distribution and frequency of plant species present in Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion Island. Essential for decision-makers and technicians in charge of the conservation of the plant heritage of the Indian Ocean islands, the booklets are also intended for researchers and professional and amateur naturalists concerned by this highly endemic flora, he added.
He recalled that Mauritius has the richest flora in endemic species, at least twice as rich as those of Reunion Island. But as far as Orchids are concerned, the endemic species are much more numerous in Reunion Island than in Mauritius, he said.
The Flora of the Mascarenes Project
Initiated in 1970, the project is soon coming to an end. This project was undertaken when it was realised that books on the description of plants from Mauritius dated back to 1877, from Rodrigues 1879 and Reunion Island 1895. The need to undertake a new inventory of all plants existing in the Mascarenes was therefore felt. Thus, scientists from institutions in France, United Kingdom and Mauritius came together to meet this challenge.
The institutions concerned were the IRD, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle; the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and the MSIRI. The first volumes were produced in 1976 and by 2018, 28 volumes had been completed.
The Flora of the Mascarene Islands is made up of more that 70% endemic species which are of particular interest on scientific grounds. More than 225 plant families have been described encompassing thousands of species.
Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants with an estimated 28,000 species in almost 800 genera. They are distributed in all continents except for Antartica but are most numerous in the humid tropics and subtropics. In the Mascarenes, the family is represented by some 166 species in 40 genera, with 88 recognised species in Mauritius, 153 in Reunion Island and eight in Rodrigues. Orchids grow in a wide variety of habitats and 40% of the species are mainly terrestrial in habit and 60% are epiphytes.