Réunion, France

Name | History | Revolutionary revolts | Modern history | Politics | Geopolitics | Administrative divisions | Foreign relations | Defence | Geography | Geology and relief | Beaches | Flora | Wildlife | Marine biodiversity | Coral reef | Management | Gardening and Bourbon roses | Threats to the environment | Major metropolitan areas

🇫🇷 Réunion is an island in the Indian Ocean that is an overseas department and region of France. It is located approximately 550 km east of the island of Madagascar and 175 km south-west of the island of Mauritius. Capital: 🇫🇷 Saint-Denis. Réunion was uninhabited until French immigrants and colonial subjects settled the island in the 17th century. Its tropical climate led to the development of a plantation economy focused primarily on sugar; slaves from East Africa were imported as fieldworkers, followed by Malays, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indians as indentured laborers. Today, the greatest proportion of the population is of mixed descent, while the predominant language is Réunion Creole, though French remains the sole official language.

Since 1946, Réunion has been governed as a French region and thus has a similar status to its counterparts in Metropolitan France. Consequently, it is one of the outermost regions of the European Union and part of the eurozone; it is, along with the French overseas department of Mayotte, one of the two eurozone areas in the Southern Hemisphere. Owing to its strategic location, France maintains a large military presence.

Name France took possession of the island in the 17th century, naming it Bourbon, after the dynasty that then ruled France. To break with this name, which was too attached to the Ancien Régime, the National Convention decided on 23 March 1793 to rename the territory Réunion Island. ("Réunion", in French, usually means "meeting" or "assembly" rather than "reunion". This name was presumably chosen in homage to the meeting of the fédérés of Marseilles and the Paris National Guards that preceded the insurrection of 10 August 1792. No document establishes this and the use of the word "meeting" could have been purely symbolic.)

The island changed its name again in the 19th century: in 1806, under the First Empire, General Decaen named it Île Bonaparte (after Napoleon), and in 1810 it became Île Bourbon again. It was eventually renamed Réunion after the fall of the July monarchy by a decree of the provisional government on 7 March 1848.

In accordance with the original spelling and the classical spelling and typographical rules, "la Réunion" was written with a lower case in the article, but during the end of the 20th century, the spelling "La Réunion" with a capital letter was developed in many writings to emphasize the integration of the article in the name. This last spelling corresponds to the recommendations of the Commission nationale de toponymie and appears in the current Constitution of the French Republic in articles 72-3 and 73.

History The island has been inhabited since the 17th century, when people from France and Madagascar settled there. Slavery was abolished on 20 December 1848 (a date celebrated yearly on the island), when the Second Republic abolished slavery in the French colonies. However, indentured workers continued to be brought to Réunion from South India, among other places. The island became an overseas department of France in 1946.

Not much is known of Réunion's history prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Arab traders were familiar with it by the name Dina Morgabin, "Western Island" (likely Arabic: دنية/دبية مغربي Daniyah/Dībah Maghribīy). The island is possibly featured on a map from 1153 AD by Al Sharif el-Edrisi. The island might also have been visited by Swahili or Austronesian (ancient Indonesian–Malaysian) sailors on their journey to the west from the Malay Archipelago to Madagascar.

The first European discovery of the area was made around 1507 by Portuguese explorer Diogo Fernandes Pereira, but the specifics are unclear. The uninhabited island might have been first sighted by the expedition led by Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, who gave his name to the island group around Réunion, the Mascarenes. Réunion itself was dubbed Santa Apolónia after a favourite saint, which suggests that the date of the Portuguese discovery could have been 9 February, her feast day. Diogo Lopes de Sequeira is said to have landed on the islands of Réunion and Rodrigues in 1509.

By the early 1600s, nominal Portuguese rule had left Santa Apolónia virtually untouched. The island was then occupied by France and administered from Port Louis, Mauritius. Although the first French claims date from 1638, when François Cauche  and Salomon Goubert visited in June 1638, the island was officially claimed by Jacques Pronis  of France in 1642, when he deported a dozen French mutineers to the island from Madagascar. The convicts were returned to France several years later, and in 1649, the island was named Île Bourbon after the French royal House of Bourbon. Colonisation started in 1665, when the French East India Company sent the first settlers.

Revolutionary revolts On 19 March 1793, during the French Revolution, the island's name was changed to "Réunion Island" in homage to the meeting of the Federates of Marseille and the National Guards of Paris, during the march on the Tuileries Palace on 10 August 1792, and to erase the name of the Bourbon dynasty.

The abolition of slavery voted by the National Convention on 4 February 1794, was rejected by Réunion, as well as by Île de France (Mauritius). A delegation accompanied by military forces, charged with imposing the liberation of slaves, arrived on the island of Bourbon on 18 June 1796, only to be immediately expelled without mercy. There followed a period of unrest and challenges to the power of the metropolis, which no longer had any authority over the two islands. The First Consul of the Republic, Napoleon Bonaparte, maintained slavery there, which was never abolished in practice, with the law of 20 May 1802. On 26 September 1806, the island took the name of Bonaparte and found itself in the front line of the Franco-British conflict for the control of the Indian Ocean.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the island was invaded by British forces and its governor, General Sainte-Suzanne, was forced to capitulate on 9 July 1810. The island then came under British rule and was returned to the French under the Treaty of Paris of 1814.

Following climatic catastrophes of 1806-1807 (cyclones, floods), coffee cultivation declined rapidly and was replaced by sugar cane, whose demand in France increased, due to France's recent loss of Saint-Domingue, and soon of the Île-de-France (Mauritius). Because of its growth cycle, sugarcane is not affected by cyclones. In 1841, Edmond Albius' discovery of hand-pollination of vanilla flowers enabled the island to soon become the world's leading vanilla producer. The cultivation of geranium, whose essence is widely used in perfumery, also took off.

From 1838 to 1841, Rear Admiral Anne Chrétien Louis de Hell was governor of the island. A profound change of society and mentality linked to the events of the last ten years led the governor to present three emancipation projects to the Colonial Council.

On 20 December 1848, Joseph Napoléon Sébastien Sarda Garriga finally proclaimed the abolition of slavery (20 December was a holiday in Réunion). Louis Henri Hubert Delisle became its first Creole governor on 8 August 1852, and remained in this position until 8 January 1858. Europe increasingly turned to sugar beet to meet its sugar needs. Despite the development policy of the local authorities and the recourse to compromise, the economic crisis became evident from the 1870s onwards. Subsequently, the opening of the Suez Canal caused a shift in commercial traffic away from the island. However, this economic depression did not prevent the modernization of the island, with the development of the road network, the creation of the railroad and the construction of the artificial harbor of the Pointe des Galets. These major construction projects offered a welcome alternative for agricultural workers.

Modern history From the 17th to the 19th centuries, French colonisation, supplemented by importing Africans, Chinese and Indians as workers, contributed to ethnic diversity in the population. From 1690, most of the non-Europeans on the island were enslaved. The colony abolished slavery on 20 December 1848. Afterwards, many of the foreign workers came as indentured workers. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 reduced the importance of the island as a stopover on the East Indies trade route.

During the Second World War, Réunion was under the authority of the Vichy regime until 30 November 1942, when Free French forces took over the island with the destroyer Léopard.

Réunion became a département d'outre-mer (overseas département) of France on 19 March 1946. INSEE assigned to Réunion the department code 974, and the region code 04 when regional councils were created in 1982 in France, including in existing overseas departments which also became overseas regions.

Over about two decades in the late 20th century (1963–1982), 1,630 children from Réunion were relocated to rural areas of metropolitan France, particularly to Creuse, ostensibly for education and work opportunities. That program was led by influential Gaullist politician Michel Debré, who was an MP for Réunion at the time. Many of these children were abused or disadvantaged by the families with whom they were placed. Known as the Children of Creuse, they and their fate came to light in 2002 when one of them, Jean-Jacques Martial, filed suit against the French state for kidnapping and deportation of a minor. Other similar lawsuits were filed over the following years, but all were dismissed by French courts and finally by the European Court of Human Rights in 2011.

In 2005 and 2006, Réunion was hit by a crippling epidemic of chikungunya, a disease spread by mosquitoes. According to the BBC News, 255,000 people on Réunion had contracted the disease as of 26 April 2006. The neighbouring islands of Mauritius and Madagascar also suffered epidemics of this disease during the same year. A few cases also appeared in mainland France, carried by people travelling by airline. The French government of Dominique de Villepin sent an emergency aid package worth €36 million and deployed about 500 troops in an effort to eradicate mosquitoes on the island.

Politics Réunion sends seven deputies to the French National Assembly and three senators to the Senate. Réunion is an Overseas department and region of France (known in French as a Département et Région d'Outre-Mer, DROM) governed by Article 73 of the Constitution of France, under which the laws and regulations are applicable as of right, as in metropolitan France.

Thus, Réunion has a regional council and a departmental council. These territorial entities have the same general powers as the departments and regions of metropolitan France, albeit with some adaptations. Article 73 of the Constitution provides for the possibility of replacing the region and the department by a single territorial entity, but, unlike French Guiana or Martinique, there are currently no plans to do so. Unlike the other DROMs, the Constitution explicitly excludes Réunion from the possibility of receiving authorization from Parliament to set certain rules itself, either by law or by the national executive. The State is represented in Réunion by a prefect. The territory is divided into four districts (Saint-Benoît, Saint-Denis, Saint-Paul and Saint-Pierre). Réunion has 24 municipalities organized into 5 agglomeration communities. From the point of view of the European Union, Réunion is considered an "outermost region.”

Geopolitics The positioning of Réunion Island has given it a more or less important strategic role depending on the period. Already at the time of the India Route or Route des Indes, Réunion was a French possession located between Cape Town and the Indian trading posts, although far from the Mozambique Channel. Île de Bourbon (its name under the Ancien Régime) was not, however, the preferred position for trade and military. Governor Labourdonnais claimed that Île de France (Mauritius) was a land of opportunity, thanks to its topography and the presence of two natural harbours. He intended Île de Bourbon to be a depot or an emergency base for Île de France.

The opening of the Suez Canal diverted much of the maritime traffic from the southern Indian Ocean and reduced the strategic importance of the island. This decline is confirmed by the importance given to Madagascar, which was later colonized.

Today, the island, the seat of a defense and security zone, is the headquarters of the French Armed Forces of the Southern Indian Ocean Zone (FAZSOI), which brings together French Army units stationed in La Réunion and Mayotte. Réunion is also a base for the so-called Frenchelon signal intelligence system, whose infrastructure includes a mobile listening and automatic search unit. Saint-Pierre is also the headquarters of the mostly uninhabited French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, TAAF). Because of France's possession of Réunion, France is a member of the Indian Ocean Commission, which also includes the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Administrative divisions Administratively, Réunion is divided into 24 communes (municipalities) grouped into four arrondissements. It is also subdivided into 25 cantons, meaningful only for electoral purposes at the departmental or regional level. It is a French overseas department, hence a French overseas region. The low number of communes, compared with French metropolitan departments of similar size and population, is unique: most of its communes encompass several localities, sometimes separated by significant distances.

The communes voluntarily grouped themselves into five groups for cooperating in some domains, apart from the four arrondissements to which they belong for purposes of national laws and executive regulation. After some changes in their composition, name and status, all of them operate with the status of agglomeration communities, and apply their own local taxation (in addition to national, regional, departmental, and municipal taxes) and have an autonomous budget decided by the assembly representing all member communes. This budget is also partly funded by the state, the region, the department, and the European Union for some development and investment programs. Every commune in Réunion is now a member of such an intercommunality, with its own taxation, to which member communes have delegated their authority in various areas.

Foreign relations Although diplomacy, military, and French government matters are handled by Paris, Réunion is a member of La Francophonie, the Indian Ocean Commission, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Universal Postal Union, the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa, and the World Federation of Trade Unions in its own right.

Defence The French Armed Forces are responsible for the defence of the department. These forces also contribute to the defence of other French territories in the region, including Mayotte and the French Southern and Antarctic Lands. A total of some 2,000 French troops are deployed in the region, mostly in Réunion centred on the 2nd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment. Two CASA CN 235 aircraft, forming air detachment 181 and drawn from the 50th Air Transport squadron, provide a modest air transport and surveillance capability. In 2022, the French Air Force demonstrated a capacity to reinforce the territory by deploying two Rafale fighter aircraft, supported by an A330 MRTT Phénix tanker, from France to Réunion for a regional exercise.

The French naval presence includes two Floréal-class frigates, Floréal and Nivôse, the icebreaker L'Astrolabe, the patrol and support ship Champlain and the coast guard vessel Le Malin. The naval aviation element includes Eurocopter AS565 Panther helicopters from Flottille 36F able to embark on the Floréal-class frigates as required. By 2025, Le Malin is to be replaced by Auguste Techer, a vessel of the new Félix Éboué class of patrol vessels. The French Navy will further reinforce its offshore patrol capabilities in the region by deploying a second vessel of the class (Félix Éboué) to Réunion by late 2025/early 2026.

About 800 National Gendarmerie, including one mobile squadron and one high mountain platoon, are also stationed in Réunion. The Maritime Gendarmerie operates the patrol boat Verdon in the territory (though she was reported forward deployed in Mayotte as of 2022).

Geography The island is 63 km (39 mi) long; 45 km (28 mi) wide; and covers 2,512 km² (970 sq mi). It is above a hotspot in the Earth's crust. The Piton de la Fournaise, a shield volcano on the eastern end of Réunion Island, rises more than 2,631 m (8,632 ft) above sea level and is sometimes called a sister to Hawaiian volcanoes because of the similarity of climate and volcanic nature. It has erupted more than 100 times since 1640, and is under constant monitoring, most recently erupting on 2 July 2023. During another eruption in April 2007, the lava flow was estimated at 3,000,000 m3 (3,900,000 cu yd) per day. The hotspot that fuels Piton de la Fournaise also created the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues.

The Piton des Neiges volcano, the highest point on the island at 3,070 m (10,070 ft) above sea level, is north-west of the Piton de la Fournaise. Collapsed calderas and canyons are south west of the mountain. While the Piton de la Fournaise is one of Earth's most active volcanoes, the Piton des Neiges is dormant. Its name is French for "peak of snows", but snowfall on the summit of the mountain is rare. The slopes of both volcanoes are heavily forested. Cultivated land and cities like the capital city of Saint-Denis are concentrated on the surrounding coastal lowlands. Offshore, part of the west coast is characterised by a coral reef system. Réunion also has three calderas: the Cirque de Salazie, the Cirque de Cilaos and the Cirque de Mafate. The last is accessible only on foot or by helicopter.

Geology and relief Réunion Island is a volcanic island born some three million years ago with the emergence of the Piton des Neiges volcano. It has an altitude of 3,070.5 m (10,074 ft), the highest peak in the Mascarene Islands and the Indian Ocean. The eastern part of the island is constituted by the Piton de la Fournaise, a much more recent volcano (500,000 years old) which is considered one of the most active on the planet. The emerged part of the island represents only a small percentage (about 3%) of the underwater mountain that forms it.

In addition to volcanism, the relief of the island is very uneven due to active erosion. The centre shelters three vast cirques dug by erosion (Salazie, Mafate and Cilaos) and the slopes of the island are furrowed by numerous rivers digging gullies, estimated at least 600, generally deep and whose torrents cut the sides of the mountains up to several hundreds of meters deep.

The ancient massif of the Piton des Neiges is separated from the massif of La Fournaise by a gap formed by the plaine des Palmistes and the plaine des Cafres, a passageway between the east and the south of the island. Apart from the plains, the coastal areas are generally the flattest regions, especially in the north and west of the island. The coastline of the wild south is however steeper.

Between the coastal fringe and the Hauts, there is a steep transitional zone whose gradient varies considerably before arriving at the ridge lines setting the cirques or the Enclos, the caldera of the Piton de la Fournaise.

Beaches Réunion hosts many tropical and unique beaches. They are often equipped with barbecues, amenities, and parking spaces. Hermitage Beach is the most extensive and best-preserved lagoon in Réunion Island and a popular snorkelling location. It is a white sand beach lined with casuarina trees under which the locals often organise picnics. La Plage des Brisants is a well-known surfing spot, with many athletic and leisurely activities taking place. Each November, a film festival is also organised in La Plage des Brisants. Movies are projected on a large screen in front of a crowd. Beaches at Boucan Canot are surrounded by a stretch of restaurants that particularly cater to tourists. L'Étang-Salé on the west coast is a particularly unique beach as it is covered in black sand consisting of tiny fragments of basalt. This occurs when lava contacts water, it cools rapidly and shatters into the sand and fragmented debris of various size. Much of the debris is small enough to be considered sand. Grand Anse is a tropical white-sand beach lined with coconut trees in the south of Réunion, with a rock pool built for swimmers, a pétanque playground, and a picnic area. Le Vieux Port in Saint Philippe is a green-sand beach consisting of tiny olivine crystals, formed by the 2007 lava flow, making it one of the youngest beaches on Earth.

Flora The tropical and insular flora of Réunion Island is characterized by its diversity, a very high rate of endemism and a very specific structure. The flora of Réunion presents a great diversity of natural environments and species (up to 40 tree species/ha, compared to a temperate forest which has an average of 5/ha). This diversity is even more remarkable, but fragile, as it differs according to the environment (coastal, low, medium and high mountain).

Réunion has a very high rate of endemic species, with more than 850 native plants (of natural origin and present before the arrival of humans), of which 232 are endemic to the island of Réunion (only present on the island), as well as numerous species endemic to the Mascarene archipelago. Finally, the flora of Réunion is distinguished from that of equatorial tropical forests by the low height and density of the canopy, probably due to adaptation to cyclones, and by a very specific vegetation, in particular a strong presence of epiphytic plants (growing on other plants), such as orchids, bromeliads and cacti, but also ferns, lichens and mosses.

Wildlife Like its prodigious floral diversity, Réunion is home to a variety of birds such as the white-tailed tropicbird (French: paille en queue). Many of these birds species are endemic to the island, such as the Réunion harrier and Réunion cuckooshrike. Its largest land animal is the panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis. Much of the west coast is ringed by coral reef which harbours, among other animals, sea urchins, conger eels, and parrot fish. Sea turtles and dolphins also inhabit the coastal waters. Humpback whales migrate north to the island from the Antarctic waters annually during the Southern Hemisphere winter (June–September) to breed and feed, and can be routinely observed from the shores of Réunion during this season. At least 19 species formerly endemic to Réunion have become extinct following human colonisation. For example, the Réunion giant tortoise became extinct after being slaughtered in vast numbers by sailors and settlers of the island.

Marine biodiversity Despite the small area of coral reefs, the marine biodiversity of Réunion Island is comparable to that of other islands in the area, which has earned the Mascarene archipelago its inclusion among the top ten global biodiversity "hotspots". Réunion's coral reefs, both flat and barrier, are dominated mainly by fast-growing branching coral species of the genus Acropora (family Acroporidae), which provide shelter and food for many tropical species.

Recent scientific research in Réunion Island indicates that there are more than 190 species of corals, more than 1,300 species of mollusks, more than 500 species of crustaceans, more than 130 species of echinoderms and more than 1,000 species of fish.

Réunion's deeper waters are home to dolphins, killer whales, humpback whales, blue sharks and a variety of shark species, including whale sharks, coral sharks, bull sharks, tiger sharks, blacktip sharks and great white sharks. Several species of sea turtles live and breed here.

Between 2010 and 2017, 23 shark attacks occurred in the waters of Réunion, of which nine were fatal. In July 2013, the Prefect of Réunion Michel Lalande announced a ban on swimming, surfing, and bodyboarding off more than half of the coast. Lalande also said 45 bull sharks and 45 tiger sharks would be culled, in addition to the 20 already killed as part of scientific research into the illness ciguatera.

Migrations of humpback whales contributed to a boom of whale watching industries on Réunion, and watching rules have been governed by the OMAR (Observatoire Marin de la Réunion) and Globice (Groupe local d'observation et d'identification des cétacés).

Coral reef Because the island is relatively young (3 million years old), the coral formations (8,000 years old) are not well developed and occupy a small area compared to older islands, mostly in the form of fringing reefs.

These formations define shallow "lagoons" (rather "reef depressions"), the largest of which is no more than 200 m (660 ft) wide and about 1–2 m (3.3–6.6 ft) deep. These lagoons, which form a discontinuous reef belt 25 km (16 mi) long (i.e. 12% of the island's coastline) with a total area of 12 km² (4.6 sq mi), are located on the west and south-west coast of the island. The most important are those of L'Ermitage (St-Gilles), St-Leu, L'Étang-Salé and St-Pierre.

Management Since 2010, Réunion is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers about 40% of the island's area and coincides with the central zone of the Réunion National Park. The island is part of the Mascarene forests terrestrial ecoregion.

Gardening and Bourbon roses The first members of the "Bourbon" group of garden roses originated on this island (then still Île Bourbon, hence the name) from a spontaneous hybridisation between Damask roses and Rosa chinensis, which had been brought there by the colonists. The first Bourbon roses were discovered on the island in 1817.

Threats to the environment Among coastal ecosystems, coral reefs are among the richest in biodiversity, but they are also the most fragile.

Nearly one-third of fish species were already considered threatened or vulnerable in 2009, with coral degradation in many places. The causes of this state of affairs are pollution, overfishing and poaching, as well as anthropogenic pressure, especially linked to the densification of urbanization in coastal areas and the discharge of sewage.

15 species living on Réunion were included in the Red List published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Major metropolitan areas The most populous metropolitan area is Saint-Denis, which covers 6 communes (Saint-Denis, Sainte-Marie, La Possession, Sainte-Suzanne, Saint-André, and Bras-Panon) in the north of the island.

Paris Time 
Paris Time
Image: Adobe Stock Luciano Mortula-LGM #133584241

The Réunion island has a population of over 858,450 people. For the location of Réunion see: Saint-Denis.

To set up a UBI Lab for Réunion see: https://www.ubilabnetwork.org Twitter: https://twitter.com/UBILabNetwork

Twin Towns - Sister Cities Réunion has links with:

🇫🇷 Metz, France 🇲🇺 Port Louis, Mauritius 🇲🇦 Tangier, Morocco 🇨🇳 Tianjin, China
Text Atribution: Wikipedia Text under CC-BY-SA license

Antipodal to Réunion is: -124.468,21.133

Locations Near: Réunion 55.5324,-21.1331

🇫🇷 Le Tampon 55.515,-21.278 d: 16.2  

🇫🇷 Saint-Benoît 55.713,-21.034 d: 21.7  

🇫🇷 Saint-Pierre 55.478,-21.342 d: 23.9  

🇫🇷 Saint-Denis 55.457,-20.867 d: 30.6  

🇫🇷 Saint-Paul 55.279,-21 d: 30.2  

🇫🇷 Saint-Paul 55.27,-21.01 d: 30.5  

🇲🇺 Vacoas-Phoenix 57.493,-20.3 d: 223.9  

🇲🇺 Quatre Bornes 57.479,-20.266 d: 224.3  

🇲🇺 Beau-Bassin Rose-Hill 57.467,-20.233 d: 224.7  

🇲🇺 Beau Bassin-Rose Hill 57.471,-20.235 d: 225  

Antipodal to: Réunion -124.468,21.133

🇲🇽 San Quintín -115.933,30.55 d: 18664.9  

🇲🇽 Ensenada -116.6,31.85 d: 18590.4  

🇲🇽 Ciudad Constitución -111.68,25.048 d: 18637.3  

🇲🇽 Rosarito -117.05,32.333 d: 18569.2  

🇲🇽 Rosarito Beach -117.05,32.333 d: 18569.2  

🇲🇽 Tijuana -117.018,32.533 d: 18548.9  

🇺🇸 Chula Vista -117.084,32.64 d: 18542  

🇺🇸 San Diego -117.15,32.7 d: 18539.5  

🇺🇸 La Mesa -117.023,32.766 d: 18527.1  

🇲🇽 Tecate -116.633,32.567 d: 18526.2  

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