Saint Brandon, also known as the Cargados Carajos Shoals, is an Indian Ocean archipelago, situated on the Mascarene Plateau, about 430 kilometres northeast of Mauritius consisting of a number of sand banks, shoals and islets. The archipelago is low-lying and is prone to substantial submersion in severe weather. Economic activities in the region consist of ecotourism, leisure and commercial fishing on the very extensive shallow bank covering approximately 2300 km² around the islands. The atoll may have been discovered in the 7th century by Arabian sailors and it was named in 1506 by Portuguese sailors who put ashore for provisioning on their way to India. Subsequently the Dutch, the French and the English Colonial powers operated control over the territory until 1968.
Politically, Saint Brandon is now part of the territory of Mauritius and is grouped within the Outer Islands of Mauritius along with Agaléga, Tromelin and the Chagos Archipelago. The Outer Islands are defined as “all the islands comprised in the State of Mauritius other than the Islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues”. They are administered from Port Louis by the Outer Island Development Corporation (OIDC), which is responsible for their management and development. Under a judgment by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on 30 July 2008, 13 of the outer islands (namely: La Baleine, Cocos, Petit Fous, Avocaire, Ile aux Fous, Ile du Gouvernement, Grand Mapou, Petit Mapou, Raphaël, Verronge, Ile aux Bois, Ile Boisées known as South Island and Baleine Rocks) were deemed to have been a permanent grant to the Raphaël Fishing Co. Ltd. Since 1928, these islets have been under the management of the Raphaël Fishing Co. Ltd. The Company was very active in collecting birds’ manure, especially during the Second World War. Later, apart from the salt fish production, it started fish freezing in 1960, with the FV La Perle ll and since then all frozen fish on the Mauritian market is commonly known as “Poisson La Perle”.
The reef, of an area of 190 km², measures more than 50 kilometres from north to south, and is 5 kilometres wide, cut by 3 passes. Raphaël and South Islands, both managed by the Raphaël Fishing Co. Ltd, have a small transient population, mostly fishermen. On Raphaël Island you can find a meteorological station, whereas on both Raphaël and South Islands, officers of the National Coast Guards are present. The islands are rich in marine flora and fauna, but on some islands the latter have been severely affected by the uncontrolled presence of rats and rabbits. A self-imposed conservation plan has been in force for many years and the Raphaël Fishing Co. Ltd is managing it to the best of its capacity. To be fully effective a global action for the whole archipelago should be brought in, involving all the parties concerned, including the Government, the International and the local NGOs’.
Apart from the commercial fishing activities and the production of some salted fish, there is potential to develop responsible tourism on some of the islets as a source of revenue for the Raphaël Fishing Co. Ltd. It is recognised that there is no scope for mass tourism and the remoteness of the archipelago, costs and exposure to cyclones, place limits to the scale of tourism development. On the positive side, this implies that Saint Brandon can be developed along a genuine ecotourism model. This will allow funds to be generated to be used for marine and terrestrial biodiversity conservation, in line with the essence of ecotourism. The Raphaël Fishing Co. Ltd has engaged itself, since some years, into the development of leisure activities in Saint Brandon, through the facilities offered by the fishing camps on Raphaël and South Islands. Fly fishing on the flats, catch and release sport fishing, snorkelling or diving expeditions, windsurf or kitesurf trips, photos safari, scientific research programmes ... all these are niche market products which are being put in place.