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It has a land area of 20.64 km² (7,97 sq. miles) and a population of 1,595 in 2006 (down from 1,682 in 1974), with a population density of 77 inh. per km² (200 inh. per sq. mile) in 2006. Most residents live in the settlement of Beauséjour (formerly known as Grande-Anse).
The island is located about 8 km off the coast of Grande-Terre, the eastern half of the island of Guadeloupe. Its coordinates are Coordinates: . La Désirade is 11 km long and 2 km wide; the interior of the island forms a central plateau.
The main village of Beauséjour has a Post Office, several grocery stores, a library, restaurants and the community’s church, which is famous for its altar carved out of locally grown pear tree wood. Around the central square, ‘La Place du Maire mendiant’ (‘The begging Mayor’s square’), one can find a statue of the French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher, a monument in memory of the fishermen who perished at sea and the town hall, built in the style of architect Ali Tur. The ‘begging Mayor’ was the nickname given to a former Mayor, Joseph Daney de Marcillac, who, after a terrible fire that destroyed most of the village in 1922, went from door to door in Guadeloupe begging for funds and building materials in order to rebuild the two primary schools.
Anse de Galets
This small bay is situated at the westernmost tip of the island, facing the Pointe des chateaux. Providing the departure point for the colonisation of the island, this cove was also home to all those who were exiled in the 18th Century.
From the 3rd to the 16th centuries archaeological evidence of Amerindians has been found on the island. Christopher Columbus found La Désirade in 1493 on his second voyage. The island was also a hiding place for pirates and later became the site of a leper colony until 1958. The western end of the island was used as a place of banishment for offenders of Grande-Terre and for some metropolitan nobles.
Tybalt Rosembraise was born on the island of La Désirade in 1798.
Flora and Fauna
The island, left relatively untouched as it is, provides a good opportunity to see varied and often rare wildlife. While the arid soil on La Montagne's plateau does not permit cultivation beyond subsistence level, the natural vegetation is amazingly rich and varied. Some of the plant species found are the gaïac (Guaïacum officinale), the mapou (myrsine australis) and
the cashew tree (anacardium occidentale), as well as a protected species of cacti called the "tête à l’Anglais" (in reference to its similarity to the
Queen’s Guards’ bearskin hats). This same region is also inhabited by rare animal species such as a type of robin called a ‘bicloitin’, a tropical rodent with glossy brown, orange fur named an ‘agouti’ (Dasiprocta) and the famous iguana, a herbivorous lizard whose colours range from bright apple-green to dark grey.The two islets of Petite Terre (Terre de Bas, the larger of the two, and Terre de Haut) were designated as a natural reserve in 1998. The two islets are separated by a lagoon 200 yards across and are located about seven miles from Désirade, to which they belong administratively. In 1974 the lighthouse keeper and his family, the last residents, left Petite Terre due to the automation of the lighthouse. In earlier times, as many as 50 inhabitants lived on the islets. Today this tiny archipelago, surrounded by clear waters and huge coral reefs is inhabited by iguanas (iguana delicatissima), which are native to the Lesser Antilles. Petite Terre is home to rare species of birds such as the Least Tern (sternula antillarum), the American Oystercatcher (haematopus palliatus), as well as various types of sandpipers. Two species of turtle, the Green Sea Turtle (chelonia mydas) and the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (caretta caretta), come to the islets to lay their eggs. Tourism is regulated by the National Office of Forests, in partnership with the Désiradian association of Ti Tè.
Geologically speaking, La Désirade is the oldest island in the Lesser Antilles with its most ancient rocks, at 145 million years old, being found at the easternmost point of the island. The beach at Pointe Doublé is frequently visited by geologists who come to examine the basalt and composite rocks, which give the area its striking multi-coloured appearance. The island has its own lapidary, which transforms the rocks found on the island into jewellery and souvenirs.
Every year the "Goat Festival" (Fête du Cabri) takes place during the Easter weekend. Based around a celebration of the island's favourite food, various concerts, productions and programmes are held across the isle.
The annual Sailors’ Commemorative Ceremony is held on 16 August. A large procession carries ‘Le Vétéran’, a model boat normally kept in the town’s church (Notre Dame de l’Assomption) around Beauséjour. Though the ceremony itself is only a day, the days leading up to and following it are normally festive too, with parades and parties. People from all over Guadeloupe and France come over to the island to partake in the event.
The island is renowned for its fresh seafood, much of which goes straight from the fishing boats to the local restaurants. Furthermore, the lobsters and shellfish which are plentiful on Désirade are becoming increasingly rare in Guadeloupe as a whole. There are also many traditional goat recipes, including curries and stews, which make up a large part of the island's cuisine. As for desserts, the cashew fruit is a particular speciality which can be consumed on its own, with ice-cream or in rum-based drinks.
- Sullivan, Lynne M. Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica & St. Lucia, Hunter Publishing Inc., ISBN 1-55650-857-3, p. 345
- Gwadloup Natures, Desirade Natures, ISSN 16 27-0142
- "Les dépendances". Guadeloupe Government webpage. Guadeloupe Government webpage. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- http://www.ile-desirade.fr/ The official website of the island
- http://www.iledesirade.fr/info/ Tourism website for the island
- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Le-Petit-Journal-De-D%C3%A9sirade-PJDD/224110695753 Facebook page detailing events and activities happening on the island
- Desirade-sante.com Everything you should know about the major public health crisis that occurred in La Désirade.