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Scattered Islands of the Indian Ocean
Les îles Éparses


The Scattered Islands, Les îles Éparses, are a group of four islands, an atol and a mostly submerged reef, scattered about the Indian Ocean around Madagascar. They are part of the overseas territory of France, administrated as part of TAAF since 21 Feb 2007.

The nearby sovereign states of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles all contest the French claim on these tiny little islands so the French maintain a presence in the area. The islands are all nature preserves but the real prize is the exclusive economic zones that extend out a couple hundred miles into the ocean around each of these islands. An EEZ gives the governing authority exclusive rights to resources in that zone; things such as fishing and oil exploration, which are far more valuable than anything on the islands themselves.

Bassas da India is an uninhabited atoll with no vegetation and the reef Banc du Geyser is more of a shipping hazard than anything else. But the islands of Juan de Nova, Tromelin, Europa and the Glorieuses all have airstrips and manned research and/or military bases. The islands are essentially guarded from unauthorized access and the waters around them are monitored for illegal activities. Each of the four islands has a designated postmaster, each with their own hand stamps. There are routine year-round flights to and from the islands, bringing in personnel and supplies, so getting mail there and back isn't a problem. Even the Marion Duffrense makes the occasional rotation through the islands.

To get mail down to the islands, use the following address:

    Monsieur le Vaguemestre
    ISLAND
    District des Îles Éparses
    TAAF
    via la Réunion
    Indian Ocean
    

Replace the ISLAND in the address with the name of the island you want to reach: Glorieuses, Europa, Tromelin or Juan de Nova. Use TAAF stamps on your mail for return postage, which can be purchased through LaPoste. Since the inclusion of the islands into TAAF, a few stamps are produced each year to commemorate island history and events.

Îles Glorieuses

The main island in the Glorioso Island group is Grande Glorieuse. About 10km north east is Île du Lys and between the two are a number of small rocky outcroppings. The French formally claimed the islands in 1892. Since then, little has happened here. Some coconut cultivation and phosphate mining but nothing significant.

Grande Glorieuse is about 3 square km and rises 14m above seal level. There is a good amount of vegetation on the island. There has been a weather station here since the 1950's but it is fully automated now. The island is also home to a small group of military personnel from the DLEM - the Mayotte Foreign Legion - who maintain French sovereign rights over the islands.

Ile du Lys rises 15m above sea level and is a mere 600m across. Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies call this little island home. Although nothing more than a sandy hill with sparse vegetation, it is an important breeding ground for sea turtles and migratory birds. The island has been a nature reserve since 1975.

Île Juan de Nova

Juan de Nova is a little smaller than the Glorieuses in terms of total area but the island has seen more human activity than any of the other islands, due mainly to the presence of large guano and phosphate deposits, and coconut groves.

During the early to mid 20th century, phosphate mining began on the island and in 1952 a company owned by the Patureau brothers took over production. They hired workers from the nearby islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles and built up infrastructure: housing facilities, workshops, warehouses, a power plant and a rail system, for getting phosphate to the shore for shipping. One of the more prominent structures built on the island was a two story "mansion" known as Patureau house, where Hector Patureau resided during his time on the island.

Working conditions on the island were less than ideal. Very high quotas were placed on each worker and punishment for disobedience was severe, hence probably explains the prison and cemetery on the island. A revolt in 1968 resulted in government intervention. But by that time, phosphate prices had dropped and mining on the islands was no longer profitable. The French government compensated Patreau and took over the island facilities which have sat idle every since.

In 2010, the Juan de Nova airstrip was renamed the "Goulette-Marchesseau-Bourgeois" airstrip to commemorate the men who flew the first plane to land on the island in 1929. Three men: Captain Marcel Goulette along with pilot Rene Marchesseau and mechanic Jean Michel Bourgeois, had recently completed the first flight from Paris to Reunion and had just started their return trip when they ran into trouble over the Mozambique Channel. Fortunately they spotted the island of Juan de Nova and were able to land, even though the island lacked a airstrip. Marchesseau and Goulette managed to leave the island via steamer to go and locate parts while mechanic Bourgeois remained on the island to watch over the plane and clear an airstrip. A couple of months later, Marchesseau and Goulette returned, the plane was repaired and they were again on their way back to Paris.

Île Europa

At 28 km2, Europa is the largest of the Scattered Islands. It's very popular with the sea turtles and sea birds. But for humans, the island lacks any real commercial value. There are no fresh water sources on the island. Fishing in the islands large economic exclusive zone is strictly limited by the French government. And apparently the mosquitoes are unbearable. For these reason, human settlement and exploitation of the island never really took hold here.

The island does have a weather station but it was automated in the 1980's so no need for civilians living on the island. But like Juan de Nova and Glorieuses, Europa does have hold some minor significance so the French maintain a military presence here, specifically the 2e RPMI (régiment de parachutistes d'infanterie de marine), to promote their sorveign right over the island.

Île Tromelin

The island of Tromelin is nothing more than 200 acres of sand and scrub brush, surrounded by coral reefs. Much like Îles Glorieuses, it is an important sea bird sanctuary.

There is a weather station on the island: Station Serge Frolow. And unlike stations on the other islands, this one is not automated. It was built in the 1950's and named after the first meteorologist to study local weather patterns. The island's location makes it an ideal early warning station for cyclones approaching Madagascar from the east.

In 1761, a French ship carrying slaves ship wrecked on the then uninhabited island of Tromelin. The surviving crew of the ship constructed a make-shift boat and left the island, claiming they would return with help for those they left behind. They never returned and it would be another 15 years before help arrived. Of the 60 people stranded on the island, only 7 survived. During those years they constructed shelters and survived on sea birds and turtles. Bernard Boudin de Tromelin was the French captain who rescued the remaining survivors from the island and it is for him that the island was named.

In more recent history, there has been much archaeological activity on the island, as researchers attempt to learn more about this early colony that was able to survive on the island for so long with so little.





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