Western Indian Ocean – Marine World Heritage

This regional study was conducted in 2011-12 to assess the potential for marine World Heritage in the Western Indian Ocean. This was the first study to pilot the ecosystem approach to identifying potential marine World Heritage sites, at the regional level appropriate to most marine systems.

For formal information, visit the World Heritage Marine Programme website, and the project website at the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ, Belgium), and further information is given below.

The principal output from this work was a report, number 32 in the World Heritage technical series.

Full report (5 MB)

The report was summarized into a 4-page policy brief to highlight its relevance for regional decision-makers, which was produced in English and French.

Policy Brief (4 pages) – ENGLISH (10 MB) and in (FRENCH 12 MB)


See all CORDIO’s marine World Heritage resources in the bookshelf below.

Two principal features stand out as globally unique in the Western Indian Ocean – the Mozambique Channel and the Mascarene Plateau. They are both distinct elements of the geological history of the Indian Ocean basin, going back >150 million years for the Mozambique Channel, and 40 million years for the Mascarene Plateau. They fundamentally affect the currents that drive all marine ecosystems and species, on evolutionary and ecological scales. Due to the location of Madagascar and the Mascarene Plateau in the path of the South Equatorial Current, and of the Asian monsoon system with its opposing trade winds, the Western Indian Ocean experiences a highly energetic and seasonally variable western boundary current system found nowhere else on the planet. Because of the geographic size of both of these areas, they could be considered as serial trans-boundary sites containing multiple smaller-scale sites that are essential components of the whole.



The Mozambique Channel experiences a highly energetic and variable regime of meso-scale circular currents (eddies, approx. 100-300 km across) that cause water to flow in all directions – north, south, east and west – and fundamen- tally affect the diversity and productivity of marine ecoys- tems within the channel. The coral reefs in the northern channel are the most diverse in the Indian Ocean (save for those parts bordering Indonesia), and represent a second hotspot of tropical marine biodiversity globally. The open- water food webs in the channel are highly productive and dynamic, resulting in concentrations of fish, turtles, marine mammals and seabirds that are critical for the species themselves and are spectacular natural phenomena. They also support the coastal and national economic activities of the bordering countries, through sectors such as fisheries and tourism. The Mozambique Channel and East African coast are the prime habitat of the coelacanth, a ‘living fossil’ that illustrates the long term stability of this region.

The Mascarene Plateau, being more remote than the Mozambique Channel, and with emergent land and small islands only at its southern extreme, is less well-known, but with indications of unique oceanographic features and habi- tats, including the largest seagrass beds in the world, species endemism and significant aggregations of marine mammals and seabirds. Mauritius and the Seychelles have individual or joint jurisdiction over the waters and entire seabed of the plateau, though the waters over the Saya de Malha Bank are beyond national jurisdiction and in the High Seas.