Iles Purpuraires – A Haven for Wildlife

Essaouira has always been a magnet for tourists who travel to Morocco, as it is known for its magnificent history, art and as a city where many poets and writers found their inspiration. Just off the coast, and visible from the city, lies a small group of islands known as Iles Purpuraires. Not only do these islands add mystery and intrigue to the city, but it they protect Essaouira from the sometimes turbulent ocean.

The Iles Purpuraires got their name from the purple dye that was harvested from the murex mollusk that thrives in the oceans that surround the islands. It was during the Roman and the Phoenician times that the dyes were made on the islands, making them a small industrial zone. Artifacts and items that were used in the making of the dye were discovered on the islands in the 1950’s. The biggest of the Iles Purpuraires, is Ile de Mogador. Here are the deserted remembrances of a fort and its rusted cannons, a prison and a mosque.

Access to the islands is prohibited and the only inhabitants of the islands are the breeding bird populations and an appointed conservationist, who keeps an eye on the Eleanora falcon population. The falcons migrate to Madagascar, but use the islands as their yearly breeding grounds. Many of the nesting birds can be seen from the shores of Essaouira through binoculars, such as waders, egrets, gulls, hawks and other migratory birds. They come to these islands as they are safe from human interference and development, and the government of Morocco wants to keep it that way. Boat trips are available from the port, that will take visitors closely past and around the islands, but being allowed onto the islands requires special permission.

As the islands rest quietly in the restless seas, their beauty and history have become an attraction in their own right. Even though no-one is allowed on the islands, they create an air of mystique and wonder. Sitting on the shores of Essaouira in late afternoon, or looking through a telescope from the jetty in the city’s port, the splendor of this secluded and protected wildlife sanctuary comes to life right in front of the eyes of the beholder.