Town: Saint-Louis and Étang Salé
Site description: The Gol Pond is a body of water parallel to the coast. Surrounded by woodlands and grasslands, it is just over 0.6 miles long and has a total surface area of about fifteen hectares. Another two bodies of water lie to the north, covering an additional surface area of 6 hectares, resulting from the gravel pits used during the construction of the nearby highway. The total surface area protected by the Conservatoire du littoral is 67 hectares.
Connection to the hydrographic network, hydrology and seasonality: This former bay, gradually isolated from the sea by an alluvial barrier ridge, the Gol Pond is now a brackish coastal lagoon. It gets its freshwater supply from the Gol gully, the Maniron gully and other seasonal streams. When the alluvial ridge is breached or submerged, following high swell or heavy rain for instance, the pond communicates with the Indian Ocean. The salt levels and depth therefore vary and depend on the type and quantity of freshwater and seawater flows.
Flora and fauna
The variations in salt levels and depth, as well as the fluctuations in flow rhythms, make for diverse natural habitats – both aquatic and on land – around the pond: the body of water, the gravel pits, the wet grassland, the dry grassland and the coastal forest.
The pond and gravel pits offer great diversity in terms of fish and large shellfish. Examples of these include bichiques (Sicyopterus laocephalus, also known as red-tailed goby) and marbled eels (Anguilla marmorata). However, the fauna is dominated by invasive species such as the red tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) or the managuense cichlid (Parachromis managuensis).
Out in the pond, invasive plants such as water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) and water hyacinths (Eichorina crassipes) sometimes get a little too comfortable. Along the banks, southern cattail (Typha domingensis) and umbrella sedge (Cyperus involucratus) – a cousin of the Egyptian papyrus plant – grow together in the gravel pits, and are sometimes home to common pond damsels (Ceriagrion glabrum), moorhen (Gallinula chloropus pyrrhorrhoa), Mascarene grass frogs (Ptychadena mascareniensis) and guttural toads (Bufo gutturalis).
Down by the water also lie the wet grasslands where brown rice grows (Setaria geminata); these have become rare plant formation on the island, only visible on lake shores.
A little higher up, the dry grassland welcomes moka cattle, often surrounded by common myna (Acridotheres tristis) – which is an invasive species that enjoys eating the insects attracted to the cattle.
The forest, that lines the grassland, is made up of tree species such as neem (Melia azedarach) or eucalyptus (Eucalyptus tereticornis), indigenous species such as sea hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus) which thrives in sandy ground around the pond, and invasive species such as rose pepper (Schinus terebenthifoliu) and sweet acacia (Acacia farnesiana).
Along the barrier ridge, bayhops (Ipomoea pes-caprae) and beach beans (Canavalia rosea) can withstand the salt, whereas coastal sheoak (Casuarina equisetifolia) was planted to protect the soil against erosion.
In total, 61 bird species – 32 of which are migratory – have been recorded on the Gol site. Species with great heritage value can be seen there, such as the moorhen (Gallinula chloropus pyrrhorrhoa), mascarene swallow (Phedina borbonica, an endemic species in Reunion), Reunion harrier (Circus maillardi), mascarene gray or mauritius gray white-eye (Zosterops borbonicus borbonicus) and the striated heron (Butorides striata). The site is also an essential reproduction area for this last species, as over 120 active nests were counted in just one season.
Protection et recognition
This site has been protected by the Conservatoire du littoral since 1985. It has also been classified as a Sensitive Natural Area in Reunion.
Issues, usage, production, and pressure
Just like a number of other natural areas in Reunion, the Gol Pond is regularly invaded by water hyacinths and lettuce. At certain times of the year, the entire surface of the pond and part of the gullies are completely covered, causing increased fish mortality. These invasive species require strong manual control and management.
As it drains a catchment area of about 42.5 square miles, the Gol wetland is a complex interlacing of ecosystems, subjected to a number of threats and various anthropic pressure. It is now “flanked” by two trade and industrial areas, a waste water treatment plant, various industrial installations such as a sugar refinery, a number of farms and a highway which blocks off any runoff water coming from upstream. For all these reasons, it has been a while now since people were able to swim in the Gol Pond. The site is nonetheless visited by schools, fishermen, hikers, and people having picnics.
Colonization of the southern part of Reunion started at the beginning of the 18th century, when coffee farming boomed. In 1719, the very first plot of land near the Étang du Gol pond was sold to the Desforge-Boucher family; in 1747, their son had a dressed stone castle built on the shoreline, where history has it “his French touch was combined with a luxurious Asian style, under lavish porticos”. The castle was abandoned when sugar cane farming started to develop. The only remnant is the prestigious driveway lined with coconut trees that led up to the residence.
With sugar cane plantations becoming more and more widespread through the Gol plains, the Gol sugar refinery was founded by Mr. De Kerveguen; this same refinery still stands today.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the body of water was frequently used by boats. Fishing was allowed on the pond: carp, mullet, freshwater prawns, freshwater Carangaise fish, etc. Southern cattail could also be gathered there: its rushes were used to make the famous “Gol chairs”, renowned across the entire island. They still make these chairs nowadays.
Discover the site
The pond is surrounded by sugar cane plantations, and is a beautiful place to relax, with both the mountains and sea in the background. Picnics and walks are both highly enjoyable there.