Fire & Earth

Isolated from other land masses, you have to wonder how Mauritius exists. Unlike continental islands, like nearby Madagascar or Long Island in the United States, oceanic islands form as a result of volcanic activity. Mauritius popped up in the Indian Ocean after a series of volcanic eruptions along what is known as the Réunion Hotspot.

Volcanic hotspots are unusually hot regions within the Earth’s mantle that occur on or near the boundaries of the tectonic plates. These plates shift along the Earth’s surface, and sometimes magna erupts through the ocean floor, creating active volcanos. Over time, land masses form and rise above the water. Chains of islands create a path that shows how plates have moved over millions of years.

Mauritius formed between seven to ten million years ago, followed by Réunion Island, which took shape within the last 2 million years. While Mauritius hasn’t had an active volcano in more than 100,000 years, Réunion is home to Piton de la Fournaise, one of the world’s most active volcanos.

An amazing result of the island’s fiery formation is the Seven Coloured Earths. Also called Chamarel, it is a series of multi-colored sand dunes found in southwestern Mauritius. The seven distinct colors are a result of mineral-rich earth. For example, iron-rich sand appears red in color, whereas aluminum-rich sand has a blue or purple hue.

Scientists believe that the different colors are a result of lava cooling at different temperatures over time. I was told that if I were to grab a handful of each color and mix them up, the different types of sand would eventually separate back into stripes. Wow!