Ile Ste Marie, or Nosy Boraha, is a narrow tropical island off the east coast of Madagascar. Its miles of sandy coves and beaches are shaded by coconut palms, its bays protected by coral reefs; the hills are green, the hotels are small and generally unobtrusive and it has a romantic pirate history. In addition, it offers some of the finest whale-watching in Madagascar (July – Sept) as well as some wreck diving.There is a lovely off-shore islet, Ile aux Nattes, and the uninhabited Ilots aux Sables. A myriad orchid species, including the magnificent Queen of Madagascar (Eulophiella roempleriana) abound and forests concealing waterfalls are inhabited by interesting small wildlife.
From 1685, Ile Ste Marie was the centre of piracy in the Indian Ocean. From the shelter of the island’s bays, pirates plundered ships returning from the Indies laden with riches. Legendary pirate kings included William Kidd, Thomas White, Thomas Tew, and David Williams, and remains of pirate vessels still lie on the bottom of the deep, off the Baie des Forbans. The pirates’ cemetery at Baie de Forbans, just south of Ambodifotatra, stands guard over their memory.
The island came under French rule in 1750 and vestiges of French colonial rule may be found in Ambodifotatra. The church, from 1837, is the oldest in Madagascar; the old fort is now occupied by the Malagasy army.
The channel between Ile Ste Marie and the Malagasy mainland is a whale-watching hotspot. Large groups of humpback whales (Megaptera) make their annual migration from the Antarctic to the sheltered waters around Ile Ste Marie where they calve, nurse their young and engage in their spectacular courtship rituals from early July to mid September.
Humpback whales remain endangered, despite the current ban on commercial hunting. The reputable hotels on Ile Ste Marie arrange whale watching excursions that both adhere to the regulations to avoiding stressing the whales and contribute to our understanding of these majestic marine mammals. Princesse Bora for example, has links with the Mayotte-based NGO 'MEGAPTERA', of which partners include IUCN, Nausicaa and Centre for Dolphin Studies. You will be invited to collect data about the behaviour, whale songs, diving length, location, etc. for the world data base.
Alternatively, you can just observe the awe-inspiring spectacle of a breaching humpback whale or a mother nursing her calf, and listen to their mysterious songs and the amazing sound of “flippering”, when a whale strikes its pectoral fins on the surface of the water.
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