Reunion Island Geographical Information
Réunion is an island in the Indian Ocean, lying about 800 km east of Madagascar in the southern hemisphere. It is largest of the Mascarene Island group made up of the islands of Mauritius and Rodriguez. Volcanic in origin, the island rose from the sea following an eruption and even now, a diagonal chain of volcanic peaks runs across the island. This chain separates a green humid eastern zone (Le Vent) from a dry, sheltered south and west (Sous le Vent). The terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous with fertile lowlands along the coast, where a majority of the people live. The east coast is humid, with verdant, tropical vegetation and wild, black volcanic beaches, whereas the west coast is generally dry, hot and sunny. The mountainous region has two main zones; the highest peak is the Piton des Neiges (3,069m ASL) and the Piton de la Fournaise is the world’s most volatile volcano. It most recently erupted in 1986, and again in 1992 and its frequent eruptions continue to build the island's coastline. The first volcano to appear was higher than the existing peaks, though it has disappeared over a period of time. Years of wind and rain have eroded the volcanic massifs into three cirques or amphitheatres, the Cirques of Cilaos, Salazie and Mafate.
Réunion was once covered by a thick tropical forest that has since been ruthlessly cleared to make place for the plantations of sugarcane, coffee, tobacco and tropical fruits. This, combined with the introduction of new species and new plant diseases brought in by the settlers led to the extinction of many of the native species of flora and fauna. The 20,000 hectares Bébourg-Bélouve forest is one of the last remaining primary forests. The endemic species include many cacti and succulents, ferns and tree ferns, native flowers and orchids as well as tamarind and wild fig trees. Species introduced by the Europeans includes sugarcane, coffee, tea, vanilla bean, geranium and vetivier and a whole range of tropical fruits.
The climate in Réunion is tropical, but temperature moderates with elevation. The weather is cool and dry from May to November, and hot and rainy from November to April. Precipitation levels vary greatly within the island, with the east being much wetter than the west. There is more than 6m of rain a year on some parts of the east and less than 1m a year on the west coast.