National Geographic : 1967 Oct
Chinese, African, French, and English-jam this sugar-cane island, one-third the size of Delaware. Under the Union Jack since Britain won it from Napoleon in 1810, Mauritius stands now on the threshold of independence. "To feed so many people-and always they increase-we must look more to the ocean," said voluble and friendly Jean de Boucherville Baissac, Fisheries Officer of Mauritius. "For the Indian Ocean Expedition, we measure tides and make weather reports for this region-mon Dieu, the cyclones that come here sometimes! But the hunt for possi ble new fisheries is most important to us." Reunion Lifts Peaks of Snow and Smoke Southwest of Mauritius by 110 miles lies La Reunion, an overseas department of the French Republic. Its Piton des Neiges-Peak of Snows-rises to 10,069 feet, highest point in the wide expanse of the Indian Ocean. Air France put Bob and me down at Re union's airfield, a hotel named La Bourdon nais put us up, and a French colonel of gen darmerie flew us by Alouette helicopter over the island. Swooping along stark volcanic cliffs and gorges, we learned-to our nerve ends-that Reunion is an even younger is land geologically than Mauritius. Its peaks rake the sky with sharper tines; one, La Fournaise-The Furnace-still occasionally erupts. We flew almost into its smoking crater. "We are close enough, no, for you to see our up-and-down island?" rasped the colonel's voice in our earphones. We nodded vigor ously, and in unison. Mauritius and Reunion both are volcanic outcroppings, the tips of great towers of basalt thrown out over the ages through cracks or fissures in the ocean floor. Another upheaval from earth's interior, incredibly larger, splits the entire Indian Ocean basin; it constitutes the single most significant feature charted by the IIOE. This is part of the world-wide Mid-Oceanic Ridge, an enormous range of undersea moun tains and valleys running down the middle of this ocean basin, as it does in the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific. Up to 1,500 miles wide, towering 10,000 feet and more, yet with its peaks still covered by 3,000 to 6,000 feet of water, the Mid-Oceanic Ridge is now regarded as the longest continuous feature of the earth's solid face. In lifeboat drill on the high seas, crewmen pull for the Bruun. The name of the 243-foot-long ship honors a Danish marine biologist who helped organize the world's oceanographers in a study of an entire ocean. During the expedition, 40 scientific vessels cruised a million miles, and research was carried out in shore stations from South Africa to Thailand and Australia.