“The Rock That Gives Life”

Back in August we posted some pictures of the blessing of the rocks being used in a new reef restoration project. It has been months in the planning but we are very excited to confirm that everything is now ready for construction. On Friday 21st of October the site of the first artificial reef in the Bay of Ranobe will be blessed during a huge day of events in Ifaty village and on the beach. The community event will even be attended by the Minister of Fisheries and the Mayor of the Belalanda region.

So first a bit of background on the project. The bay’s 32 km reef forms one of the largest coral reef systems in the world. However, the majority of coral reef habitats within the bay have been heavily degraded over the last decade due to bleaching, sedimentation, and overfishing. The majority of reefs have now been overgrown with algae and are mainly composed of dead coral rubble. This ecological degradation is in turn compromising marine resource availability for local fishermen. It is therefore imperative to implement a sustainable and widespread reef restoration programme in order to prevent total collapse of this valuable ecosystem and to reverse declining fishery catches for local subsistence communities.

Our earlier attempts to protect coral reefs in the bay comprised the establishment of two marine reserves (2007–2008). While the prohibition of fishing in the reserves has resulted in an increase in fish populations and the maintenance of coral cover at these sites, the establishment of additional marine reserves has not been feasible. This is because the continued degradation of reef sites in the bay has limited the availability of productive fishing reefs for local fishermen. Therefore, in order to address the social and economic needs of the local fishing communities, alternative fishing grounds must first be provided before the few remaining viable reefs can be protected from fishing.

Our new artificial reef project plans to install simple, relatively low-cost and replicable artificial reef structures on degraded reef sites to increase fish and invertebrate populations in order to improve fisheries productivity, reverse declining catches and redirect fishing pressure off over-exploited fragile coral reefs in the lagoon interior. We also intend to speed up the regeneration of corals reefs at these sites by transplanting coral fragments from our nurseries on to the artificial structures as part of our coral gardening project.

Back in March, we sourced low-cost limestone boulders from a local quarry in Ifaty village (providing direct financial benefits to Ifaty village quarry workers) to trial a simple artificial reef method. Limestone is ideal for artificial reef work as it mimic natural reef systems and is the perfect material to encourage reef organism settlement. Arrangement of these boulders into artificial reef bommies (a reef outcrop) will create structurally complex habitats in areas devoid of coral reefs to encourage colonisation of algal and invertebrates (including coral), which will in turn attract fish. In the long-term, we aim to install a network of these bommies across the bay in order to restore coral reef habitat and create alternative fishing sites.

We purposefully choose a simple structural design and low cost local materials for these artificial reefs so that local communities can maintain and replicate these structures in the future without external assistance or intervention. This project is being executed as a joint effort with Directeur Régional des Ressources Halieutiques et de la Pêche, Région Atsimo Andrefana – DRRHP (Ministry of Marine Resources and Fisheries), IOT, COPEFRITO, FRDA, Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines (University of Toliara), and importantly FI.MI.HA.RA (regional fishermen’s association), representing all 13 villages in the bay (> 20,000 people), in order to promote community ownership and project sustainability.

For the initial pilot scheme, we decided to start our efforts near the Rose Garden marine reserve, where years of protection have increased fish populations over a relatively limited reef area. Therefore, by placing a network of interconnecting artificial reef bommies in a region close to the reserve, we hope this will encourage a species spillover effect, and provide a corridor of new substrate to be inhabited (connecting other intermittent bommies and seagrass beds in the vicinity), regenerating marine life in areas of degraded reef. This in turn will provide alternative fishing sites so that the fishermen can directly benefit from Rose Garden’s high productivity, whilst allowing the marine reserve to continue to flourish in the absence of fishing pressure. In addition, we hope that this artificial reef site will be further protected by FI.MI.HA.RA with the implementation of open/closed fishing season rotations under a sustainable fisheries management plan.

The science team conducted survey dives and manta tows at various areas in the search for a suitable site, and in early August a site was agreed and mapping survey dives took place to map the area. They also carried out a considerable amount of artificial reef literature research. Armed with this knowledge and approximately 21 tons of limestone and five concrete tubes, design began on the bommies with prototypes being built on the beach and various different designs tested. The bommies had to be secure so that they wouldn’t collapse in strong currents but they also had to provide lots of interesting hiding places for marine life. The concrete tubes are going to provide habitats for octopuses and lobster. The science team have also been busy researching and developing monitoring methods to evaluate the impacts of the artificial reef on marine life, fisheries, and reef regeneration over time.


Once the team had a good idea of where and what needed to be constructed, it was time to present the idea to the local community to obtain agreement and permission to bring the artificial reef project to life, since this is a community project that belongs to everyone in the area.

Monsieur Bruno Keza Souvenir, president of FI.MI.HA.RA, visited the site in late August. The matter was discussed with the members of FI.MI.HA.RA and the idea approved. The team was now ready to present the idea to people of Ifaty and this phase began with a meeting with the Olobe (village elders) of Ifaty at the end of August. The Olobe approved of the plan and we were honoured to be visited by the Olobe on 24th August when a traditional blessing with rum was carried out on the rocks on the beach.

Following the meeting with the Olobe a presentation was made in the village in mid September to discuss the idea with the community. The team discussed the difficulties faced by fishers in the bay and those present agreed but felt that there was nothing that could be done. This provided the perfect opportunity to introduce the Artificial Reef Project, as the team was able to confirm that there was definitely something we could try and they had been planning a solution for some time that would be implemented if the community wanted to proceed. Everyone agreed and the team awaited word of the start date from the residents of the village.

Preparation continued throughout the months of August and September. The protocol for survey methodology was agreed in mid August and the bommie position markers were put in the water. By the end of September building on land was finished and it was agreed that the final design would consist of two large bommies with three small bommies connecting them. At the end of September the first trial construction took place underwater. As the rocks had to be brought back to the surface, just 14 rocks were used. The dive was a success as the construction methodology was decided upon. On the 5th of October the markers were placed for permanent surveys and the first mimic survey took place the following day. Meanwhile the community agreed upon the 21st of October as the official start date for construction.

With just two weeks left to go before the big event everyone on camp and in the village is preparing. A day of traditional Vezo festivities is planned, with events taking place throughout the village including traditional Vezo dancing, songs from the Juniors, official speeches and traditional sporting events. The main attraction, however, will be the blessing of the site where the limestone rocks will hopefully become a vibrant reef providing an improved fishing ground for the area. The site has been named Vato Mahavelo meaning the rock that gives life and we are all optimistic that this will be the case.

If you would like to be part of the construction and maintenance of Vato Mahavelo get yourself signed up as a ReefDoctor volunteer and come and join the team hard at work. Alternatively, another great way to help is by donating to the project to help fund monitoring and bommie implementation expansion across the bay; fundraising details will be provided later this week. Thank You!!

Report by RD Comms Team Ivana Rubino & Viv Stein-Rostaing

Category: Blog · Tags:

Seagrass Mapping and Surveying

The science team has been working on a very big mapping project since January and we thought we’d give you a little insight into what’s been going on. Izzy Sweeting, intern from January to July 2016, spent a lot of time creating an accurate satellite map of the bay. Izzy passed the project onto volunteers that followed and mapping work continues. It’s estimated that this project will take approximately 1 year to complete.

Once completed this will be hugely beneficial as it can be used visually to complement fisheries data and aid in surveying sites in the bay. Currently, the focus is on being able to accurately survey sea grass coverage in the area. Sea grass beds provide essential shelter, and act as critical feeding and nursery grounds, for a diverse community of marine life, from tiny invertebrates to large fish, crustaceans, and turtles. There are nine species of sea grass in the Bay of Ranobe. Sea grass meadows are often composed of a number of different co-existing species. The variety of grasses increases the biodiversity of meadows, which in turn provides a habitat for a more diverse range of other animal and plant species. By protecting the onshore areas where sea grass grows the juvenile fish and other animals that make their home there have a chance to reach sexual maturity.

Sea grass meadows also provide key sites for blue carbon storage. Blue carbon is the carbon captured and stored by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. Unlike terrestrial systems that reach soil equilibrium within a matter of decades, depositions of carbon dioxide in coastal ecosystems can continue for millennia. Sea grass meadows occupy less than 0.02% of the world’s oceans but they are responsible for 10% of the blue carbon buried annually in the ocean.

Since January the ReefDoctor sea grass survey team has been carrying out weekly surveys where they record total percentage of sea grass coverage, percentage of individual species coverage and canopy height. Surveys are carried out on foot during low tide and with dive gear where suitably deep. The team uses quadrants of 1 m x 1 m to record the data at points throughout the bay. Once complete the map will contain approximately 80 points where data can be assessed every 2 months and compared with previous data to assess the health of these important sea grass meadows.

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

Category: Blog · Tags:

Coral Transplantation Project Update

Our coral reef restoration programme in the Bay of Ranobe, SW Madagascar aims to enhance coral cover and diversity, assisting the natural recovery process of degraded reefs, through a combination of coral gardening, direct coral transplantation, and artificial reefs.

Earlier in the year we reported on the success of our trial coral transplantation project at the Rose Garden marine reserve. In August 2015, on a patch of reef devoid of live coral cover, we installed a network of artificial reef structures and populated them with corals of opportunity (loose fragments salvaged from the seabed that would otherwise die).  Despite extremely promising results after the first 6 months of the project (high coral survival, growth, self-attachment and natural coral recruitment), mass coral bleaching earlier this year sadly resulted in the loss of approximately 50% of these transplanted corals. However, transplantation of new fragments to these structures is continuing in order to get the restoration process back on track.

In February 2016 we started developing the coral transplantation project further and the team looked for another suitable site to expand the scope of our restoration efforts. We had three main objectives for this next stage of the project. Firstly, similar to the first site, transplantation would be carried out to increase coral cover and diversity, and to restore that section of the reef. Secondly, we wanted to see if corals react differently to transplantation depending on the species.  Finally, we wanted to find out if the high levels of sedimentation at Rose Garden (due to its relatively low profile) affect transplanted corals salvaged from other areas of the bay that have relatively lower levels of sedimentation.

The team selected a sloped site on the eastern side of Rose Garden, measuring approximately 7 m wide x 3.5 m deep from the top of the main section of the reef down to the sandy bottom surrounding the reef.  The same artificial reef structures (rebar frames) that were used at the first transplantation site were installed, upon which new corals of opportunity could be attached.  We also repurposed an old metal solar oven. The solar oven was stripped of paint and given ‘legs’ and a ‘head’ turning it into a turtle shaped structure. The idea being to act as a point of interest for tourists visiting the reef to promote awareness of this form of conservation.  In March, a total of 35 framed structures and the turtle were installed over the course of four dives. Two loads of limestone were also sunk at the site to stabilize the structures and to provide nooks and crannies for fish and invertebrates to hide in and swim through.

In order to monitor the survival and growth of the fragments it was necessary to implement a monitoring system that could guarantee repeatability and be easy enough for divers of all levels to operate, so that future volunteers and interns can continue the monitoring process. The team decided that a photographic method of recording growth was the best solution. They are currently working on refining this method and a camera rig to find the ideal set up.

We then waited until temperatures cooled down in June and July to populate the structures with corals of opportunity. To date, 25 fragments (Acropora, Seriatopora, Pocillipora and Porites spp.) have been transplanted from Coral Garden, a dive site south west of Rose Garden and close to the lagoon pass. A further 26 (Acropora and Pociliopora spp.) fragments have been transplanted from Ambatafia, a site also south west of Rose Garden but closer to the pass. Despite conducting coral transplantation in the cool season, unfortunately, at present, all fragments show signs of stress or bleaching, although Porities spp. are faring better. This stress may have been caused by the actual transplantation process and we are hopeful that the fragments will recover in time.

The project is still very much in the early stages and the team is currently assessing their transportation methods in an effort to reduce stress on the corals. Transplantation, cleaning and monitoring dives are undertaken weekly and we hope to be able to bring you some good news about the corals’ recovery from bleaching and their growth in our next update. Stay tuned!

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

Category: Blog · Tags:

Delivery of Fishing Permits: an Integral Step Towards Sustainable Management

On Friday the 9th of September the Malagasy Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources launched a licensing management system for the subsistence fishery of the southwest Region. ReefDoctor was honoured to be chosen as implementing partners for the Bay of Ranobe, and together, ReefDoctor and the Ministry of Fisheries registered fishermen and their boats from the village of Ifaty. Surrounding villages from the Bay of Ranobe will receive their licenses in the coming weeks. This licensing system will provide the first reliable baseline data for the number of fishermen reliant on the marine resources of the region, which is vital to guide future management of the fishery, and provide a platform from which marginalised communities can address the health and productivity of the sea.

The event was attended by the National and Regional ministries of Marine Resources and Fisheries, the Chef de Region RABE Jules, the mayor of the commune JULE Badeake, and representatives from each of the 13 communities in the Belalanda commune. The president and members of the local fishermen association FI.MI.HA.RA and turtle protection association FI.MPA.MI.FA provided support and materials to assist ReefDoctor in hosting this event.

Also in attendance were L’Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Fonds Régional de Développement Agricole (FRDA), mangrove conservation NGO Honko, and L’Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines (IH.SM, University of Toliara).  Mangily Dive School, Atimo Dive Centre and Hotel de la Plage, key actors in the management of the local marine reserves, also supported the event.  With the Ifaty women’s group entertaining the crowds with song and dance, the licensing system was launched with much fanfare, and it was a pleasure for ReefDoctor to contribute to the success of the day.  These permits will form an integral part in the growing movement towards more sustainable fisheries in the region.

The Regional Fisheries Director for Atsimo Andrefana, RAHERINASOLO Emilson, with representatives from the National Ministry for Fisheries also took the opportunity to announce a transfer of management of the two fishery landing buildings within the Bay of Ranobe.  The landings in Ifaty and Andrevo, formerly under the management of the Ministry of Fisheries will now be managed by ReefDoctor and integrated into the Darwin Initiative funded community aquaculture project.  These landings will provide aquaculture farmers an opportunity to process, store and sell their products in a clean and weatherproof environment, free of contaminants which may reduce the price of seaweed and sea cucumbers.  These buildings will become focal points for aquaculture activities within each community, provide a place for training, meetings, and lighting for nightly sea cucumber activities. ReefDoctor is thankful to the Ministry of Marine Resources and Fisheries for their continued support of the growing aquaculture industry in the Bay of Ranobe.

Report by Head of Aquaculture Cale Golding, photos by RD volunteer Sébastien Boudry

Category: Blog · Tags:

Ifaty’s First Public Library: Project Update

As you may remember, we held a MPA relay race fundraiser for Ifaty’s first public library back in April. Since then we have been hard at work on the project, surveying the property to build on, developing sketches and blueprints for the structure, and sourcing books and additional donors to match our funding.

You may wonder, as I did, why we need more funding for the project. After all, the £1000+ raised is a considerable amount of money, and you would expect it to go very far in one of the poorest countries in the world. And in that sense, it does. According to our estimations, we will be able to build the entire structure of the library using these funds – and there are few places you can make this big of an impact with this sum. The money will provide for cement, used to make the foundation and the building’s walls; sheets of tin, for the roof; building tools such as nails, hammers, and re-bar; and the cost of labour itself. This means that we are already at full budget with just the structure itself; the money does not cover bookshelves, chairs, tables, books, or anything else that we will need to fill the library itself. However, limited funding can also give rise to innovative solutions.

Enter one of ReefDoctor’s recent interns: Mislav Žugaj, who has taken on a strong role in this project. With his background in graphic design, Mislav has provided invaluable help in regards to structural design and location mapping. His university friends and connections have also stepped up to support us, with architect Ana Lisonek creating the blueprints you see below.  Ana has experience in creating dynamic solutions that are tailored to fit local situations, and had some ingenious ideas for reducing building costs. One example of using our location and the materials available to our advantage comes in the form of the ocean-facing doors. These doors will be made of termite and pest-resistant wood, which is much cheaper than concrete and will thus reduce structural expenses, saving money to be appropriated for other aspects of the library.  Furthermore, these doors take care of the lighting problem; when opened, they will allow the ever-present Madagascan sunlight to illuminate the inside of the building for the entire day, ideally eliminating the need for electrical light. Utilizing the local landscape and climate to create solutions in response to limited funding and materials is just one example of what we can achieve when we put our minds to it!

Both adults and children will utilize the library, and we plan on incorporating it into our education programme so that kids will see the library as both a learning space and a fun place. This is where ReefDoctor’s old museum comes into play; formerly a marine museum, the structure fell into disrepair after cyclone damage and due to lack of funds hasn’t been utilized since.

We plan to restore the museum and create a reading space that will also look out onto the ocean, with activity areas where kids can draw, read, write, and make art. After all, the importance of making learning fun and interactive for the children cannot be understated; here in Madagascar, most ‘learning’ in the public primary school (which provides education for 800+ children in only three classrooms) is simply copying what is written on the blackboard.  This library will occupy a vital niche in Ifaty, providing the village with more opportunities for all community members to enhance their literacy and ultimately, their contribution to society.

The 8th of September 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day, for which the slogan is: “Reading the Past, Writing the Future” (UNESCO 2016). This slogan is particularly relevant to Madagascar, as it calls upon the government to devote resources to education and literacy improvement as a way to write a more sustainable future. It also envisions a productive and sustainable society that can be created by the next generation of educated and literate Malagasy citizens. As author Daniel Akparobore succinctly states, “The ability of the individual to contribute to the development of country lies in his ability to read and write. There cannot be meaningful development in modern society where [the] majority of the populace is illiterate.” Sustainable development and literacy go hand in hand, and ReefDoctor is excited to debut a new forum in which innovative ideas concerning the future of the Bay of Ranobe can flourish as access to information is improved.

Article by RD Community Project Coordinator Katie Riley

Category: Blog · Tags: