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Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island by Adeline Danthon

    Table of contents
    1. 1. Managerial Challenges
    2. 2. References

    A few thousand kilometers away from metropolitan France, the oversea departement of Réunion Island was awarded the title of Natural World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2010 [1]. Now 40% of the whole island is recognized as a natural treasure that needs to be preserved [2]. The volcanic island is mostly known for its impressive landscape and the diversity of its flora and fauna, thus boasting an amazing ecosystem [2]. Its rainforest is home to 230 unique plant species [3]. The fact that 30% of the spaces on the island stayed absolutely untouched even after its discovery is also remarkable [1].

    In terms of mountainous areas, what makes the specificity of La Réunion Island is its two volcanoes, the Piton des Neige (towering at 3 070 meters [3]) and the still very active Piton de la Fournaise [2] which latest eruption was in December 2010 [4]. The Island also boasts a very distinctive type of relief called “cirque” (which is the French word for “circus”) or more commonly called caldera. The three cirques of La Réunion are thus massive volcanic features that look like natural amphitheaters. Also recognized as a characteristic relief of the island are the “remparts” which can be described as very steep natural walls made of rock [2].

    The General Concil of the departement of La Réunion owns 80% of the World Heritage property [5]. The UNESCO site is managed by the public organization of La Réunion National Park which duty is to protect and highlight the specificities of the area, to welcome visitors and give information about the site, and to work with all the stakeholders of the island in order to ensure that the development of the territory does not damage the fragile ecosystem [6].

    Managerial Challenges

    The public establishment of the National Park in order to manage the natural area occurred only two years before the distinction of the island as a Natural World Heritage site [7]. As such, the park still requires some managerial actions in order for its organization to be effective in the preservation of the area. To do so, the park will need important financial resources as well as a long-term plan for its staff. Working together will all the stakeholders of the island as well as the local communities is also a requirement that the staff of the National Park will have to fulfill [2].

    The site also encountered threats due to the introduction of some invasive alien plant species on its territory. These might change or damage the ecosystem of the park and need constant monitoring and control. This is especially challenging considering that introduction of these species can be made outside of the delimited perimeter of the park and result in a propagation within its limits [7].

    Most of the protected area is covered in forest, making fire management another issue that needs to be addressed. Parts of the property were already destroyed in fires in 2010 and 2011, threatening more than 30 endemic species as well as the site’s  affiliation as a World Heritage site [8]. The island will have to develop a system of fire prevention, which is made challenging by the fact that it might introduce new invasive alien species or damage the zone by trying to facilitate accesses and thus increasing the frequentation [7].

    Another issue of the World Heritage site of La Réunion is its increasing number of visitors. Even though, as mentioned by the Tourism Board [8], the UNESCO label brings new opportunities for the island to promote itself and acquire an international recognition, the numerous tourists that travel to discover this natural heritage site might damage the ecosystem and the biodiversity of this fragile landscape [7].

    Finally, the recognition of the island as a World Heritage site leads to the cancelation of a geothermal project that was supposed to take place in the protected perimeter [7].


    [1] Île de la Réunion - Site Officiel du Tourisme, 2009. Île de la Réunion: pitons, cirques et remparts classés au Patrimoine mondial [Online] Available at [Accessed November 8]

    [2] UNESCO, 2013. Pitons, cirques and remparts of Réunion Island [Online] Available at [Accessed November 7]

    [3] France 24, 07/08/2010. La Réunion fait son entrée au patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco [Online] Available at [Accessed November 8]

    [4] Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, 2013. La Réunion [Online] Available at [Accessed on November 8]

    [5] General Concil of La Réunion, 2013. La Réunion au patrimoine mondial de l'UNESCO [Online] Available at [Accessed November 8]

    [6] La Réunion National Park, 2013. Présentation [Online] Available at,99.html [Accessed November 8]

    [7] UNESCO, 2013. State of Concervation - Pitons, cirques and remparts of Réunion Island [Online] Available at [Accessed November 9] 

    [8] Le Nouvel Observateur, 31/10/2011. Incendie: La Réunion espère sauver son label de l'Unesco [Online] Available at [Accessed November 9]

    [9] Stéphane Bonneau for AFP, 2010. Unesco: la Réunion entre au patrimoine mondial de l'Unesco [Video Online] Available at [Accessed November 9]

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    Comments (5)

    Viewing 5 of 5 comments: view all
    How do you think a balance could be achieved in limiting a number of visitors to the site, but still trying to gain a valuable monetary support for the site? It is a real problem to limit something that is supposed to bring money. At the same time the problems with the fires is a real one, is there a debate on the national level concerning this issue? The France is responsible for protection of this site for the sake of people in the entire world, do you think they are managing well so far?
    Thank you so much,
    Posted 15:45, 12 Nov 2013
    I really like the description of the specific feature of RĂ©union. You make clear that the ecosystem is very special and therefore worth to be protected. In contrast to your article about Lyon, I think that the managerial issues are clear and to the point. I visited the island as a teenager, I guess in 2000 or 2001. What I remember is that at some points the Island was really packed with tourists. So I guess that finding a balance between conservation and tourism income is really a challenge for that island.
    Posted 17:55, 13 Nov 2013
    I was interested with the case of the geothermal project. Do you think for the regional economy, does it benefit more to keep it from the project? Or is there somehow a way to keep the project alive and at the same time manage retain its status as WHS?
    Posted 21:02, 17 Nov 2013
    Thank you for your feedback.

    Albina - As for now, there are not really discutions in order to reduce the number of tourists on the island. I think it would be better to try and give more information of the visitors about the environment, the park and its issues. Tourism is the main source of income for the island, and I think it is difficult for them to have a restriction policy. As for the fires, it is indeed a national problem that we find in other places in the country (such as Corsica for example, as Fanny mentioned). The major problem in the case of RĂ©union island is that most of the solutions to prevent fires to start might also damage the natural assets of the WH site. These issues were mentioned by the UNESCO this year (2013), and they gave until 2015 to RĂ©union to find way to solved these problems and send a report about these. So I guess they are now working actively to find solutions.

    Ingmar - Whoa, it's great that you were able to visit the island. I didn't know it was a popular destination for German people as wall, I thought it was mainly French people visiting. And yes, just like many other WH sites, RĂ©union island has to deal with this issue of conservation VS attracting visitors.

    Fahmi - It was officially announced by the Regional Council of RĂ©union island that the project would be cancelled back in 2010. The UNESCO requests that the project is abandonned as it is not compatible with the preservation of the local environment. It is also prohibited in the charter created by the National Park. As such, I don't think it's possible for the island to have both the geothermal project and their certification as a WH site.
    Posted 14:23, 18 Nov 2013
    Thank you guys for a fruitfull discussion! Best, Albina
    Posted 15:42, 21 Nov 2013
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