Protect Earth. Restore Land. Engage People.

On Friday 17 June we were invited by YSO Madagascar (Young reSearchers Organisation) to attend their fifth birthday celebrations. We’ve had the opportunity to work with the YSO on a few different projects recently including coral bleaching surveys, so we were very happy to be included in the celebrations. The YSO’s fifth birthday happened to coincide with World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought which has been commemorated every year since 1994 when the United Nations implemented the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Both of these occasions meant that last Friday’s celebrations were important to a lot of people.

So, what does an organisation of researchers, conservationists and scientists do to celebrate their birthday on World Day to Combat Desertification and why is it important? They plant trees, of course! The slogan for World Day to Combat Desertification this year is – Protect Earth, Restore Land, Engage People. And that’s exactly what the YSO aimed to achieve on their birthday with the help of the local community and a number of local NGOs. Early on Friday morning a taxi brousse brought our interns, volunteers and staff to the Songeritelo sand dune. The sand dune provides protection to the mangrove forests in Ambondrolava, where NGO Honko Conservation and Management and VOI Mamelo Honko are based, and in Ambotsike. However due to deforestation the motile dune system requires stabilization to preserve the barrier it provides. As the ReefDoctor team climbed out of the taxi brousse we could see that work was well underway.  A line was forming in front of us through the field and to the edge of the water, made up of people from the nearby village of Songeritelo, YSO members, NGO Honko Conservation and Management and VOI Mamelo Honko, NGO Hunger Hilfe and GIZ –Page environmental magazine.  We quickly joined the human chain and began passing Causina equisetifolia saplings, known in French as Filao, from the roadside down into the muddy banks where they were ferried across a stretch of water by pirogue. Once we had passed about 400 trees across, we all waded over and met the pirogues on the other side to unload all the trees and take them to the planting site.

After being welcomed to the planting day by a representative of the Mayor of Belalanda, the members of the local community and YSO, we were given a tutorial on how to plant the trees by Faustinato Behivoke, a member of YSO, and we got to work. Filao are salt tolerant trees found in sand dunes and form an important part of sand dune vegetation. They can be found growing naturally along the coast of the bay and provide, among other things, fuel for fires, dye for tanning and of course, stabilizing vegetation for sandy soil. It was tiring work but with so many people involved the majority of the planting was done in a few hours, after which we were treated to lunch.

‘Today, the land is considered a vital link in solving many other development challenges’ Faustinato explained to who brought the event to national attention. Every member of the community benefits in some way from protecting the land or, in this case, sand dune whether it is from having access to managed resources like wood, having a food supply when juvenile animals survive under the protection that the mangroves provide or protecting land from coastal erosion.  The activities of the 17th of June brought people from many different parts of the community together to protect a natural resource that can contribute greatly to the overall objectives of sustainable development.

Report by RD Comms Officer, Ivana Rubino

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The Future is Bright Green

Near the middle of Toliara sits the Notre Dame de Nazareth School. From the outside it looks like many of the private schools in Toliara. High walls surround the yards and two storey cement school buildings. Vendors wait at stalls full of sweets and snacks outside the imposing iron gates as children in blue uniforms walk in and out in groups. But inside there is a lush little green oasis of nature with lots of ecologically sound ideas bubbling up, thanks to Eco-schools. Eco-schools is a global initiative that encourages socially responsible learning in primary and secondary schools.  The initiative began in 1992 and projects are now established in 49,000 schools in 62 countries. 15 million students worldwide are involved in Eco-schools and learning about a sustainable future ( Notre Dame de Nazareth School joined Eco-schools in 2015 and set up Club Vintsy to run its Eco-schools projects and curriculum. The club, named after a local species of bird, is made up of girls and boys aged between 10 and 16 years old.  We got to visit Notre Dame de Nazareth on Saturday 4th June along with NGO Honko and some of their Juniors when we were invited by Club Vinsty to hear about these ideas and see some of their projects.

The first thing that strikes you when you walk through the gates of Notre Dame de Nazareth School is the plants. They’re planted in pots in rows outside the canteen, planted in beds outside almost every building and planted in plastic bottles cut, linked and attached to the bars of classroom windows. Much of the planting has been done by Club Vintsy.  The second thing you notice is the enthusiasm all the club members have for the Eco-schools projects.  Throughout the morning everyone spoke confidently about their projects. You could hear the enthusiasm in their voices and see how proud they were to show us their work. Every club member was engaged and also spoke knowledgeably about Malagasy culture and environmental and sanitation issues.  They really knew their stuff and were very eager to show us what they’ve done.

Firstly, the club showed us how they make briquettes for fuel.  Two of the older girls explained the process to the group in Malagasy and excellent English, and dealt expertly with questions from the group while they mixed the ingredients.   The briquettes, made from a small amount of charcoal, water, clay, sawdust and zebu manure, provide an alternative to burning traditional charcoal, which is the only fuel source available to the majority of people in Madagascar for cooking. The production of charcoal for cooking fires has contributed significantly to deforestation throughout the country. The briquettes made by the young people at Club Vintsy contain approximately a quarter of the usual amount of charcoal needed and can be shaped in a press or by hand.  They are a simple and practical step in addressing charcoal use throughout the country, as the other ingredients required are freely available or are inexpensive to buy.  

The charcoal briquettes are easy to make and everyone had a chance to have a go.  After the demonstration, the briquettes were left in the sun to dry while the members of Club Vintsy took us to their ‘tip taps’ to wash our hands.  Tip taps are made from reused water bottles with a hole in the lid and tied to a frame with a piece of rope wound around a nail. To ‘turn on the tap’ you just tip the bottle. A small amount of water comes from the hole in the lid. Tip taps provide an inexpensive, water saving solution to hand sanitation that can be used in schools or homes. There was also a soap dish, made from a water bottle cut in half, attached to the frame. ‘Do you think eco-school is good?’ Science and Education Officer Apolline Mercier asked club member, Estella, as they washed their hands. ‘Yes,’ Estella smiled. ‘Why?” Apo asked. “It makes life better’ she replied.

Once everyone’s hands were clean it was time to get them dirty again in the school’s tree nursery. Some of the younger club members demonstrated and explained how to fill small plastic bags with soil and plant saplings that they had grown on site. We asked what they do with the saplings and some of the older girls took us outside to have a look at the planting on the pavements surrounding the school. The club has planted saplings in protective frames along the entire block surrounding the school. They are really going to brighten up the street, and provide a filter for air pollutants when they have grown. On the way back we dropped into a classroom where a class of 10–11 year olds beamed as they showed us their Eco-schools award. Back at the tree nursery, the club had lovely gifts of Moringa saplings for us to take home.

The group then made its way to the school’s vegetable garden where we saw the tip taps being used to water the plants and were shown what vegetables were growing. On the way we also got to see waste collection points made from cooking oil containers that have been cut, with a separate bottle for compostable waste beside it. The compost is used as fertilizer for the vegetables that the club sells to the market in Toliara. We asked where the money goes, fully expecting to hear that it is put back into the club, but were surprised and touched to hear that the club gives any money made from selling vegetables to the many street children in Toliara.  At this point the club explained the ethos of the school. Notre Dame de Nazareth was originally a catholic girls school but in recent years the school has started admitting boys. Our guides also told us that, although the school is still a catholic school, children from any religion can attend. Prayers are said every day at the school and every child’s religion is accommodated. And that is very much the impression you get from the school, that everyone is welcome and we were made to feel very welcome during our visit.

Eco- schools projects are amazing.  There are so many good ideas at this school. If the young people of Club Vintsy are anything to go by, the projects do encourage socially responsible learning, and teach socially responsible habits. They help people to engage with nature and make it a part of everyday life, make it a consideration in everyday life.  15 million young people throughout the world are interacting with their environment through Eco-schools projects and learning that everything in our ecosystem is connected including the people.  They are taking this knowledge and these habits with them into adulthood where, hopefully, they can make the future bright and very very green.

 By RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

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Staff Interview: Vijay Jivan

People from all around the world come to Madagascar to volunteer for Reef Doctor and other NGOs and to work alongside Malagasy people to help improve lives and assist in conservation projects. Reef Doctor benefits greatly from the skills, experience and enthusiasm of international staff and volunteers. However, the hope is that, in the future, Reef Doctor will be staffed almost entirely by Malagasy nationals and more specifically, people from the community of the Bay of Ranobe, in order to increase project sustainability. Indeed, many positions at Reef Doctor are currently held by Malagasy staff. We would like to introduce you to one of them here.

Vijay Jivan is an invaluable member of the Reef Doctor team. As a Community Aquaculture Technician & Socioeconomic Officer, he coordinates the installation of seaweed and sea cucumber aquaculture systems, monitors aquaculture productivity, organises community meetings and conducts poverty surveys. He also participates in turtle tagging for the Reef Doctor Fano project. He is actively contributing to conservation and sustainable development in Madagascar, and intends to continue this in the future. We hope you enjoy this short interview.


Name: Vijay Jivan

Age: 29

Job Title: Community Aquaculture Technician & Socioeconomic Officer

Qualifications: Masters 1 in Science specializing in Geology

How long have you been working for Reef Doctor?: 2 years

How did you find out about the job?:
At University. I had just finished my Masters 1 and part of my Masters 2. I saw an advertisement in the University of Toliara looking for a person to carry out socio- economic surveys. I sent in my CV because I felt I was ready for a new experience and more experience. It’s better to have a lot of experience than a lot of qualifications. Reef Doctor contacted me, and we set up an interview. I got the job and started work in May 2014.

What is it like working for Reef Doctor?:
It’s hard work……but I enjoy working with the community. I like working at Reef Doctor. I like that I get the opportunity to have different experiences like diving. I learned to swim and scuba dive at Reef Doctor. I also enjoy learning all the fish species in the bay.

What is the best part about working at Reef Doctor?:
I like teaching people and sharing my experience with them. Reef Doctor is good for the Bay of Ranobe. I like working with the community and sharing my knowledge and experience to build on their future.

How does your family feel about you working at Reef Doctor?:
All of my family likes it. My aunt and uncle want me to get my doctorate in the future.

How do you feel about NGOs working in Madagascar?:
I think NGOs do beneficial work in the community. Reef Doctor has good ideas. I think Reef Doctor is a gift from God for the community. It helps people survive. Reef Doctor brings change to the lives of people we work with. For example people here had nothing as fishermen. Now they earn money as farmers. The government is trying to deal with poverty and the Reef Doctor model is helping.

Where do you see your career going in the future?:
In the future I need to change many things based on my experience I have now. I need to keep improving my knowledge. I would like to show the government that we can work with NGOs and support them. I like working in the field, I see what it’s like. [In the future] I see myself in a government position [dealing with] policy and politics.

Interview by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

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Women’s Rugby in Ifaty

In this article, Reef Doctor intern Katie Riley provides an insightful account of women’s rugby in Ifaty and what it represents for local women.

“For the past month I have joined the Ifaty women’s rugby team as they have practiced for a sevens friendly against the women’s team from Tulear. Before I came to Reef Doctor, I was very excited to learn that rugby – especially women’s rugby – had a presence in Madagascar; however, I did not realize what an understatement that is. Rugby is Madagascar’s national sport, and has built a fanatic following among the Malagasy people; even our daily practices regularly drew a crowd from the village. This environment is markedly different than where I learned how to play rugby, in St Andrews, Scotland, where our league games would draw crowds of about 10 people (and we even won the league one year!). However, general enthusiasm, for women’s sports as well as men’s, is only one of the many differences I noticed. On that note, here’s a bit on rugby, Gasy style.

The women’s team was created in 2010 after the local coach (of everything – football, swimming, running, Men’s rugby, etc.), Elias, took a course on coaching rugby for women. Elias thinks that one of the major problems in Ifaty is that the women don’t have any hobbies, nothing to do all day (outside of their regular work of taking care of the home). He started the team as a way to keep the Ifaty women out of sex tourism by providing them with a positive activity. The sport caught on. Today, Elias and Bernard André coach two teams in Ifaty: one for adults, and one for girls. The adult team consists of about 24 women with an average age of 25; while on the kids’ side there are 30+ girls with an average age of 12. While the main goal is still keeping the kids away from prostitution, the team’s growth has provided the girls the chance to dream of a better future. Some women from Ifaty have already been recruited for the national team, which has created a sense of determination and pride among girls who previously didn’t have many people to look up to.

The Ifaty team plays on the local football field, which consists of sand, little rocks, bigger rocks, rock substrate underneath a centimeter of sand, and the occasional spike or ten. Practice starts when Coach Elias makes his way to the field, blowing his whistle incessantly throughout the village. The girls come in whatever they own: jean shorts, dresses, skirts, bathing suits, often with necklaces, earrings, and very long nails. Many of the things we take for granted in the West simply aren’t present here: there is a distinct lack of water, first aid, nail clippers, mouth guards, shoes, sports bras, and game kit. During games, the Ifaty team wears the jerseys of the men’s football team; if they want to wear shoes, they must borrow them from another team or go without. However, what they lack in kit, they make up for with determination. As far as how the game is played, when these girls hit the pitch, it is with no holds barred. There is no such thing as “touch” here; it’s full contact all the time. This tradition is telling of rugby’s history in Madagascar; the game is especially popular in the Tanàna Ambany (low villages) of Antananarivo (Tana), the location of the capital’s poorest inhabitants, as well as the highest rates of illiteracy and idleness. Although rugby in Madagascar is played by the upper class as well, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu emphasized how especially important the sport is for the lower classes, which lack education and therefore job prospects (source: Razafison, 2010, Africa Review). In fact, many of the country’s rugby stars come from these low villages, and are then catapulted into the national spotlight. In many aspects, Ifaty’s situation is similar to the low villages of Tana, which is why it is so important to make sure the sport is able to thrive here.

Support for rugby in Southwest Madagascar is not extremely common, but that is changing. Last Saturday (June 4th) the Ifaty teams went to Tulear to participate in the first ever all-female rugby tournament on the Sapphire Coast, organized by the French NGO Terres en Melees. It is the first time Terres en Melees has come to the Southwest, after organizing similar events in northern regions of Madagascar. The goal of the event was to raise awareness for the environment and the primary education system itself. Thus, in addition to organizing the rugby, Terres en Melees conducted a week-long training session of over 30 primary school teachers in alternative teaching and learning strategies. Approximately 320 girls from all over the Southwest region, including Salary Bay, Desakoa, Ifaty, Satrokala, as well as many girls from primary schools in Tulear, attended the tournament – even a local orphanage brought a team! The girls were split up into groups of 9-10 when they arrived, and all the adults present were given a team to coach throughout the day. (With this experience behind me, I can say that it is not easy to coach a team of Gasy girls with a limited comprehension of the language and no French skills.) The day itself was a blast, and all the girls got to make new friends and encounter different playing styles. In the afternoon, the women’s teams from Ifaty and Tulear played a match before the tournament finals. It was an excellent game, and both teams really left it all on the pitch. Although it was an extremely close game, the final score saw a 10-5 win for Tulear, giving the Ifaty girls all the more reason to practice hard in the coming months as Regionals approach.

While many differences exist, the passion and pride involved in being a rugby player is the same worldwide. Which is especially impressive if you consider that here, rugby means running around in the blazing sun for 2 hours every day, without much drinking water, and having to go home with an empty stomach that might not get filled. Every day many girls come back, excited for another chance to run around and hit each other; but at the same time, many of the women are unable to do so. Coach Elias says the main issue is that the women are busy; they are taking care of their homes, doing laundry, cooking, and then leaving to play rugby and coming home starving afterwards, with not enough to eat. Anyone who has come from an intense practice of any sport knows the hungry feeling well, but it can be hard to imagine not being able to make that hunger go away. This prevents women from participating fully in the program, as they have bigger problems to worry about much of the time. We at Reef Doctor would like to give the women of Ifaty the opportunity to have a hobby, the chance to be able to exercise and play without worrying about having enough energy or food for the next day. Our goals are to provide the team with some food after practice, sports essentials like sports bras and shoes, and hopefully a team kit that the women can be proud to wear. Reef Doctor is committed to empowering women throughout the Bay of Ranobe, and the Ifaty women’s rugby team is a great place to start. Watch this space for a fundraising initiative and match updates!”

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Piroguier Course a Great Success

One thing there is a lot of in the Bay of Ranobe is pirogues. Pirogues are the traditional boats used by Malagasy people. They are used to for fishing and for transporting goods and people. If you ask any piroguier in any village in the bay for a lift to the next village they can take you for a very small and reasonable fee. In recent years a new market has opened up to piroguier. They have been bringing pirogues full of tourists to Rose Garden, which is one of the two local Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in the bay. As a result many of the hotels in the area have piroguier on staff to meet tourists needs and many other piroguier work independently from the beach. The majority of these people are professional piroguier and take people on trips, to Rose Garden, rather than fishing. It is illegal to fish at Rose Garden and the snorkeling there is beautiful as the reef is very shallow and at low tide the top of the reef can be as little as 1.3 meters below the surface, making it an excellent tourist attraction. For many reasons, Reef Doctor wanted to support this livelihood as much as possible.

In May and June 2015, the pilot Piroguier training course was rolled out by Reef Doctor to assist in training for piroguier in the Ifaty Mangily area. The course aimed to provide the piroguier with background knowledge on the MPA, Rose Garden, the species of fish and invertebrates that can be found there and how to respect the reef. They can then pass this knowledge onto tourists who visit the reef to snorkel so that they get more from the experience. It also aimed to make tourists fully aware of how to behave on the reef and how to treat all the wonderful treasures they find below the surface. The course was a great success and this year it was expanded to include some first aid training and more about conservation. Reef Doctor’s Education and Science Officer Apolline Mercier and intern Mathieu De Villiers developed and taught this year’s eight week course, which was taught in French and Malagasy with some English. The manager of Sur le plage Chez Cecile Hotel and Restaurant in Mangily very generously allowed us to use the restaurant to run the class every week, for which we are very grateful. Misaotra Betsika!!

The class of 2016 consisted of six piroguier – Pedro, Jo, Rouger, Felix, Baby and Rodolphe. Throughout the eight -week course Apo and Mathieu assisted by other members of our team (Noro, Tom and Emily) taught the group about what species of fish, invertebrates and corals can be seen at Rose Garden. The group also learned about informing tourists about dangers in the water such as stonefish and lionfish and dangers to the reef and animals such as touching things or taking shells. The pirogiuer also learned about the establishment of the MPA so they can give tourists the history of the area when they visit. A number of the local hotels in Mangily contributed to the running costs of the course and we were able to provide the piroguier with laminated cards showing everything that can be seen on the reef together with maps and information on conservation. We are very grateful for the support from Maroloko, Chez Cecile and Solidaire Hotels. Thank you all!

It was very educational and informative but it was also an awful lot of fun, especially the new first aid component. Anyone that has ever taken a first aid class knows that they can be hilarious and this one was no different. There was a pretty big crowd gathered around Chez Cecile when first aid training was taking place and there was a lot of laughing but the serious business of learning first aid was attended to and everyone did really well.

The week before last, the final exams took place and we are delighted to confirm that everyone passed with flying colours. We descended again last week on Chez Cecile to present the piroguier with their certificates and badges confirming their successful completion of the training.

Has the training made any difference? We can confirm that the answer is a resounding YES! The manager of Chez Cecile confirmed that tourists have been giving glowing reports of their snorkeling trips. They felt safe and well informed and saw the best parts of Rose Garden. Tourists have confirmed that everything was very professional and they loved learning about the MPA. The piroguier from last year and this year’s courses have done unbelievably well. Not all of them speak French fluently and some have a little English but all knew their stuff and worked very hard to get as much from the course as possible. We wish them all the best and are delighted Reef Doctor could play a part in their career progression.

Story by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

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