La Réunion

The volcanic island of La Réunion (2512 km2) is a French overseas department located in the warm indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. It is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Piton de La Fournaise, a Unesco World Heritage site since 2010.

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The cycle of basaltic rock creation and destruction is very evident on La Réunion, which starts when new lava beds are formed by volcanic activity. Over time the lava fields are colonized by plants, the roots breaking up the rocks and together with rain, wind and sunshine starting the process of erosion. This cycle constantly modifies the landscape, creating and taking away niches for species to colonize.

This pronounced and iconic topography, which reaches up to 3,070 meters above sea level, therefore supports a variety of ecosystems with very high biodiversity. From the summit regions with sub-alpine shrubland and lush forests along their slopes, the land drops to coastal lowlands, where cultivated land and urban areas are found. Marine habitats include coral reefs, rocky coasts and soft bottom sediments are found around the island.

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The arrival of humans on the island 350 years ago led to the massive extinction of local biodiversity and the introduction of non-native species, which continue to transform native habitats. Over the last three decades, La Réunion has experienced rapid land-use changes intensification of human activities, fuelled by population growth and economic development.

Today about half of the 230 native (endemic) species are endangered. To protect them and the ecosystems in which they live, La Réunion National Park covers about 42 percent of the island, concentrated in the mountainous interior. Most of the fringing coral reefs located along the western and southern coasts are protected within the Réserve Naturelle Nationale Marine de La Réunion.

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