Tromelin Island

Photo: franek2 (Tromelin) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: franek2 (Tromelin) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
From Cargados Carajos to Réunion to Rodrigues, the news keeps mentioning islands in the Indian Ocean about which you’ve never heard. In large part, this is due to the coverage surrounding the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March 2014. As debris has washed ashore, the investigation has taken turns in new directions. While your thoughts keep drifting back to the islands themselves.

Tromelin Island (Île Tromelin) is one of those mysterious islands. Aside from it being a French Overseas Territory located nearly 300 miles east of Madagascar, the newspapers have provided few details. So you started digging.

The low, flat island was discovered by the French in 1722. In 1761, a French ship full of Malagasy slaves wrecked in the surrounding coral reef; the slaves were abandoned on the island for years. Both France and Mauritius claimed the uninhabited island in the years that followed. Though it’s technically still French, the two countries agreed to co-manage Tromelin Island in 2010.

Today, the 200-acre island still looks like a large sandbank. The French built an airstrip and a weather station on the island in 1954. The airstrip, which is almost as long as the island itself, is a simple dirt path. The weather station, on the northwest corner of the island, warns of approaching cyclones. The rest of the island is full of small shrubs called octopus bush. Plus it’s surrounded by sparkling white sand, a vibrant coral reef, and bright blue water.

But the most important part of Tromelin Island is the nesting sites. The more than 250 pairs of masked boobies and almost 200 pairs of red-footed boobies are among the healthiest populations of sulids in the Indian Ocean. Greater and lesser frigatebirds roost on the island. The birds feast on red-clawed hermit crabs. While giant sea turtles lay their eggs deep in the white sand. Now that you’ve discovered Tromelin Island, you’re even more curious about the other islands around it.

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