Topographic map of Mayotte, the "seahorse island".
Mayotte (French: Mayotte, pronounced [majɔt]; Shimaore: Maore, IPA: [maˈore]; Malagasy: Mahori) is an overseas department and region of France officially named the Department of Mayotte (French: Département de Mayotte). It consists of a main island, Grande-Terre (or Maore), a smaller island, Petite-Terre (or Pamanzi), and several islets around these two. Mayotte is part of the Comoros archipelago, located in the northern Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Southeast Africa, between northwestern Madagascar and northeastern Mozambique. The department status of Mayotte is recent and the region remains, by a significant margin, the poorest in France. Mayotte is nevertheless much more prosperous than the other countries of the Mozambique Channel, making it a major destination for illegal immigration.
Mayotte's area is 374 square kilometres (144 sq mi) and, with its 270,372 people according to January 2019 official estimates, is very densely populated at 723 per km2 (1,872 per sq mi). The biggest city and prefecture is Mamoudzou on Grande-Terre. However, the Dzaoudzi–Pamandzi International Airport is located on the neighbouring island of Petite-Terre. The territory is also known as Maore, the native name of its main island, especially by advocates of its inclusion in the Union of the Comoros.
Although, as a department, Mayotte is now an integral part of France, the majority of the inhabitants do not speak French as a first language, but a majority of the people 14 years and older report in the census that they can speak French (with varying levels of fluency). The language of the majority is Shimaore, a Sabaki language closely related to the varieties in the neighbouring Comoros islands. The second most widely spoken native language is Kibushi, a Malagasy language, of which there are two varieties, Kibushi Kisakalava, most closely related to the Sakalava dialect of Malagasy, and Kibushi Kiantalaotra. Both have been influenced by Shimaore. The vast majority of the population is Muslim.
The island was populated from neighbouring East Africa with later arrival of Arabs, who brought Islam. A sultanate was established in 1500.In the 19th century, Mayotte was conquered by Andriantsoly, former king of Iboina on Madagascar, and later by the neighbouring islands Mohéli and then Anjouan before being purchased by France in 1841. The people of Mayotte voted to remain politically a part of France in the 1974 referendum on the independence of the Comoros. Mayotte became an overseas department on 31 March 2011 and became an outermost region of the European Union on 1 January 2014, following a 2009 referendum with an overwhelming result in favour of the department status.
The new department is facing enormous problems and challenges: in 2019, with an annual population growth of 3.8%, half the population is less than 17 years old, unemployment reaches 35% and 84% of the inhabitants live below the official poverty line. In addition, as a result of massive illegal immigration from neighboring islands, 48% of the population are foreign nationals.
The term Mayotte (or Maore) may refer to all of the department's islands, of which the largest is known as Maore (French: Grande-Terre) and includes Maore's surrounding islands, most notably Pamanzi (French: Petite-Terre), or only to the largest island. The name is believed to come from Mawuti, contraction of the Arabic جزيرة الموت Jazīrat al-Mawt – meaning "island of death" (maybe due to the dangerous reefs circling the island) and corrupted to Mayotta in Portuguese, later turned into French. However, the local name is Mahore, and the arabic etymology is doubtful.
The main island, Grande-Terre (or Maore), geologically the oldest of the Comoro Islands, is 39 kilometres (24 mi) long and 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide, and its highest point is Mount Benara, at 660 metres (2,165 ft) above sea level. Because of the volcanic rock, the soil is relatively rich in some areas. A coral reef encircling much of the island ensures protection for ships and a habitat for fish. Dzaoudzi was the capital of Mayotte (and earlier the capital of all the colonial Comoros) until 1977, when the capital relocated at Mamoudzou on the main island of Grande-Terre. It is situated on Petite-Terre (or Pamanzi), which at 10 square kilometres (4 sq mi) is the largest of several islets adjacent to Maore.
The area of the lagoon behind the reef is approximately 1,500 square kilometres (580 sq mi), reaching a maximum depth of about 80m. It is described as "the largest barrier-reef-lagoon complex within the southwestern Indian Ocean".