Satellite image of Europa Island in the Indian Ocean
Sep 2023

Satellite image of Europa Island, France

A remote wildlife preserve in the Indian Ocean

Meet Europa Island, a tiny atoll (28 sq. km) in the Mozambique Channel, which belongs to France as part of the “Scattered Islands in the Indian Ocean”. About halfway between Madagascar and the Southeastern Coast of Africa, this island consists of relatively flat and sandy terrain as well a saltwater mangrove lagoon. “L’├«le Europa” was uninhabited until 1820 and has welcome very few visitors since, due to its inaccessibility and inhospitability, but also to very strict rules to protect local wildlife.

Europa’s Wildlife paradise

Europa Island is indeed home to an abundant seabird population, counting among the largest in the Indian Ocean for red-footed boobies, sooty terns, great and lesser frigatebirds or red-tailed tropicbirds. A dozen species are nesting there, including endemic ones. It is also an environment of choice for many migratory birds, and one of the world’s largest nesting sites for green sea turtles. Hence the limited human presence, restricted to scientific research and environmental conservation activities.

The Europa Island dispute

Shortly before Madagascar regained its independance from France’s colonial occupation in 1960, the French government detached Europa Island to integrate it into its overseas d├ępartements and territories. The Republic of Madagascar has maintained its claim of sovereignty over the island, causing France to instal a permanent military presence since 1973. At stake : a strategic presence in the region, as well as control of the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone covering more than 127,000 sq. km.

Nimbo Earth Online with modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2023)