December Aquaculture Update

The end of 2016 brought mixed fortunes for the farmers involved in the Darwin Initiative-funded Alternative Livelihoods programme developed by Reef Doctor in partnership with DRRHP (Regional Director of Fisheries), COPEFRITO/IOT, and FRDA. Seaweed farmers brought modest harvests for sale with Ifaty selling 780 kg, Amboaboaky selling 101 kg, and Ambolomailake selling 787 kg.  In contrast, Madriano more than quadrupled their previous harvest, with 574 kg sold, and Betsibaroke was just 21 kg shy of a record harvest, selling an impressive 2559 kg. With sales every month there will be another chance to improve on these figures soon.

The seaweed farmers of Mangily, who have not sold seaweed since August due to an infection of epiphytic filamentous algae, received confirmation that they will be able to start farming activities again in January, with deliveries of healthy seaweed propagules from Reef Doctor’s seaweed nursery, to begin soon.

Sea cucumber figures in the village of Andrevo were as impressive as ever with 510 individuals sold. Farmers in Ambolomailaky also had a little extra for New Years celebrations (New Year celebrations are much more important than Christmas celebrations in Madagascar) with 922 individuals sold. Sea cucumber farming activity generated 6.68 million Ariary in December.

The total income generated by the Alternative Livelihoods programme in December was 9.56 million Ariary.  That’s the equivalent of 2,881 USD!

2016 ended on a positive note for everyone involved in the programme. 107 new households joined the programme in 2016 and the go ahead was given for the construction of a communal storage facility and drying table in the village of Betsibaroke. The magasin is currently under construction and will house dried seaweed between harvesting and sale, which will allow the farmers to store larger volumes of seaweed, and offer protection from rain which can damage the harvest.  We are confident this positive thread will carry on running through 2017!

Report by Cale Golding & Ivana Rubino

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Life as a Reef Doctor Intern: Week 9

Its Saoirse’s 9th week here interning at Reef Doctor, in her latest diary she fills us in on her progress, including her latest reef research training, participating in our new tree project, and taking on important Divemaster responsibilities.

“I’ve had a really good week filled with lots of different activities and jobs. We had a lot of early starts starts due to the tides; most mornings required waking up at 4.30/5am. The majority of the diving this week focused on coral cleaning, mapping the new artificial reef site as well as receiving expert fish and benthic point outs. At the beginning of my internship I had to learn the key indicator species present in the Bay of Ranobe. These species were chosen by Reef Doctor as their absence or presence are good indicators of how the marine environment is doing. However, as the other interns and I have now been here for 2 months we have started to learn about more species in order to be able to conduct expert surveys. It’s extremely interesting to learn about all the different species and their characteristics. It also makes diving more enjoyable and really shows you how complex and unique the marine life here actually is!

The other interns and I are starting to receive more responsibilities; we are now base managing which involves opening the dive shop, preparing the oxygen tanks and first aid kits as well as keeping the radio and dive phone on you at all times in case of an emergency. We have also started leading dives, which can be nerve racking at the beginning, especially if you have to find your way back to the boat in tricky conditions and on a dive site you don’t know very well! It is however a really good learning experience and has really increased my confidence as a diver. The main goal of leading dives is of course to practise being dive masters as well as to prepare ourselves for when the new interns arrive, whom we will then have to train. So even though some of the new responsibilities may be quite tricky at the beginning, I am overall really enjoying the new responsibilities and increased independence it gives us.

Furthermore, I have also become involved in a new project which is being led by Jackie and Katie called the Hazo (Tree) Project. Madagascar has a huge problem with deforestation; the human population is constantly increasing and people are using too much wood for cooking, construction purposes among other things. Consequently, the aim of this project is to provide the local community with an alternative and sustainable source of wood by establishing a tree nursery. It will educate villagers on the importance of protecting and restoring forests as well as providing them with a renewable resource. We are trying to use trees that will grow quickly but that will also be beneficial to the environment, for example important nitrogen fixers, or effective erosion controllers that will then help minimise pollution as well as attracting wildlife. It’s a great project that aims to confront one of Madagascar’s biggest environmental issues while at the same time trying to find solutions, which will benefit the locals as well as the environment.

And finally, it’s a week and a half until Christmas but it doesn’t feel very festive at all here. Not in a bad way, it’s just hard to think of Christmas when it’s 35 degrees outside! We are however planning to cook a big feast together so I will keep you updated on how that goes.

Hope you enjoyed the post!”

Saoirse Flood

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Reef Doctor Attends Forestry Policy Conference

During the week of December 5-10, 2016 Reef Doctor was invited to attend a conference in Toliara presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in conjunction with the environment ministry of Madagascar, to reanalyse sustainable management solutions for Malagasy forests.

Incredibly, it was not until 1997 that POLFOR “Forestry Policy” was established in Madagascar to combat devastating deforestation practices. Despite the Malagasy Governments best intentions, practices such as illegal harvesting of rosewood and other highly valuable wood, slash and burn agriculture, uncontrolled mining, as well as insurmountable charcoal production have led to a considerable depletion of forests across the country.

Nearly 20 years later, the environment sector has decided to take a participatory approach towards mitigating poor forestry management and brainstorming solutions for a sustainable future. Inviting NGO’s and organisations such as Blue Venture (BV), Committee for the Safeguarding of Integrity (CSI), VOI, Community of Base (COBA), DRI, Regional Department of Environment, Ecology and Forests (DREEF), DGF/TANA, and DRRHP, brought many great minds into the same room for an entire week to contribute to a new policy.

Little forestry funding has reached those trying to enforce regulations and code of conduct in Malagasy Forests. With as much as 70% of forestry funding thought to simply “go missing”, throughout the conference it remained clear that “Good Governance” practices need to be met going forward. Decentralisation of power from regional level to a localised level will allow Community Managed Forests (CMF’s) to have a greater responsibility for their resources. Therefore, workshops directed at how to communicate information between, superiors, peers, and communities were held to enforce some form of regulation towards sharing information, and ensuring that transparency and accountability is generated.

A large priority for many in attendance surrounded the idea of enforcing security in various regions to prevent illegal harvesting of forests. The Reef Doctor team present was adamant that the implementation of alternative livelihoods must take precedence. If further security measures are enforced upon communities dependent on the forests for their livelihood, it will merely push families deeper into poverty by taking away their only resource for an income. Unfortunately, this would harbour substantially more migration to the coast (which we already see happening), deeply affecting an already over-stressed ecosystem. Sadly, many who migrate to the coast tend to implement bad fishing practices such as beach seining.

While mining benefits the national economy, poor regulations are deteriorating the country’s forests. Charcoal production on a large scale in the way of tree plantations, would not only contribute to the national economy, but would provide a sustainable market for charcoal, thus depleting dependency on natural resources. Therefore, It is necessary to work alongside the Energy Sector and Mining Sector to establish corresponding policies, that work in conjunction with one another rather than open the door for misinterpretations.

Roughly 95% of the population across Madagascar is dependent on wood and charcoal as fuel to cook with. The amount of wood needed to sustain this has been rising alongside an expanding population. Therefore, reforestation projects are imperative to combat dependency on this resource. It was agreed upon by everyone that reforestation initiatives are of the upmost importance moving forward.

Our team at Reef Doctor will continue to work towards sustainable forestry management, and will push towards new policies that will protect what little indigenous forests are left. Tune in for more updates in the following months as new sustainable management solutions for Malagasy Forests progress from a panel of ideas into real action!

 Report by Hazo Project Leader Jackie Brunton 

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Towards Sustainable Forestry

It is forest conservation week here at Reef Doctor and we are very excited to unveil our new Hazo (‘tree’ in Malagasy) Project! The project was originally conceived as a solution to a problem that became evident from our marine-based sustainable livelihoods programmes. Our aquaculture programmes are reliant on wood as material used to build seaweed drying tables and posts for sea cucumber pens. Currently the only source for this wood is the unique Spiny Forest found solely in the arid south of Madagascar. As our aquaculture programmes continue to expand, further pressure is put on this extraordinary eco-region. Consequently, in partnership with Copefrito, our Hazo Project, geared towards sustainable forestry, was born!

The Spiny Forest is already being deforested at an alarming rate to satisfy local charcoal consumption and agriculture needs, which are set to significantly increase alongside population levels. Furthermore, with poverty levels expanding as crops fail, and fish stocks dwindle, a significant amount of the population are forced to scour the forests for wood to supply the charcoal production trade. Thus, it is important now more than ever to expand access to alternative livelihoods and poverty alleviation methods.

Our Hazo Project presents a holistic approach for decreasing local deforestation rates as well as increasing conservation efforts and biodiversity protection. Our objectives are two-fold; firstly, alleviate poverty with the establishment of an alternative livelihood in the form of a tree plantation, which provides a fast growing, sustainable and renewable resource that can be used primarily for construction and charcoal production. Secondly, to begin counteracting the effects of human degradation on the Spiny Forest by implementing a reforestation programme of indigenous tree species. We ultimately intend to expand our alternative livelihoods programme to benefit inland villages throughout the Bay of Ranobe, complementing our Darwin Initiative-funded marine-based sustainable livelihoods programmes.

We chose to pilot this project in the village of Tsivenoe, which is the closest inland village to the Reef Doctor site. Tsivenoe provides an excellent location to test this alternative livelihood programme because of the village’s proximity to our site, as well as the fact that it is a highly-impoverished community that already depends on the production of charcoal and farming activities for their income. The initial steps of this project were taken in early 2016. Following several meetings with the President of Tsivenoe and the households interested in the project, we were presented a 4.4-hectare site by the Mayor of Belalanda (the local commune) and the Minister of the Environment, Ecology, and Forests, and given approval for implementing the project. With the support of the community and government officials, we began to make arrangements for a tree nursery.

Our mangrove rehabilitation and conservation partners HONKO completed construction of a new nursery at the end of June, which can house over 4000 seedlings! We got planting right away with help from Honko’s Junior’s programme, as well as a group of high school students from St Peter’s College in Johannesburg, who were touring Madagascar as part of a World Challenge expedition. With all their help we quickly cultivated over 1500 seedlings of Moringa oliefera, Casuarina cunninghamiana, Acacia mangium, and Albizia lebbeck.  These are all fast growing, quality charcoal producing species. We experimented with different planting techniques including seed beds and plastic bags as well as different concentrations of substrate (made up of red sand, zebu waste compost, and organic waste compost from our kitchen). Some initial success with cultivating the seedlings prompted us to expand the project.

In mid-November we attended a Nursery Training day at HONKO, sponsored by German development and humanitarian aid NGO, Welthungerhilfe (WHH). WHH has a project in Toliara called Project PASSAT (Projet d’appui a l’Assainissement Solide et Securite Alimentaire) that focuses on sanitation, solid waste recycling and food security in this region. Reef Doctor volunteers and interns piled into a taxi brousse to head to HONKO for the Nursery Training day. It was a lively morning that took place in three languages (Malagasy, French, and English)! We gathered important education material to allow us to easily communicate the teachings of the nursery day to the communities we work with. This will empower the villagers of Tsivonoe by giving them the know-how to begin growing their own trees soon!

Furthermore, WHH also has a reforestation branch! They operate tree nurseries in Toliara and in northern villages throughout the Bay of Ranobe. They held an  ‘Open Day’ selling trees in November during which we ordered over 3000 seedlings from WHH Passat to establish Reef Doctor’s very own nursery on camp. This has been the biggest development of the project, as now we have two nurseries of seedlings that will hopefully be ready to transplant to Tsivonoe in the early months of 2017! We are constantly learning about the various challenges reforestation efforts face in an environment such as the Spiny Forest. We are tackling problems such as the arid heat of the sun, windy days, and over 15 different tree species with different water requirements. However, we hope that with such a plurality of species we will be able to see in real time what works and what does not.

One of our biggest goals for 2017 is a 70% survival rate for the first year. We will keep everyone updated with regular blog posts on how we are achieving this goal. We would like to thank everyone at Reef Doctor and abroad who has helped support us during this endeavour! Watch this space!

Report by Katie Riley, Community Project Coordinator.  

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Life as a ReefDoctor Intern

The 5th of December is International Volunteer day! We thought we would mark the occasion by posting the first in what will be a series of volunteer and intern blogs. In this blog, Saoirse Flood, who started volunteering for ReefDoctor in October, describes her experiences so far as a Research Assistant & Divemaster Intern.

My name is Saoirse Flood and I arrived in Madagascar seven weeks ago which Is still hard to believe – time has just flown by. I decided to become an Intern for ReefDoctor as I had just finished my masters in Environmental Science at Imperial College London and didn’t really know what to do next. I’m from Luxembourg and have spent the past five years studying abroad. I wanted to do something different, travel a bit and experience something new; I didn’t feel ready for a full time job yet. Plus I’d always been interested in conservation and diving so ReefDoctor just seemed to check all the boxes.

One thing that I find extremely refreshing about camp life is that every day is different. A typical week involves waking up at 5.30/6 am; you could be diving, cleaning coral, working on the artificial reef, mapping areas, conducting coral reef surveys or rowing out to help with seaweed aquaculture. The saoirseafternoons are filled with more dives or you could be learning marine science stuff, learning the local language or teaching English to local villagers. I am currently doing my PADI rescue course so I am learning all about CPR and other first aid measures. Then hopefully in a week or two I will start my Divemaster. You are kept quite busy but it’s a good busy. The evenings are then spent reading on the porch or going into Ifaty village for a nice cold beer and some local street food.

Life on camp is good. The conditions are basic but you quickly get used to everything. There’s a good group of people here too – of all ages and from all different backgrounds. Everybody is extremely motivated and passionate about their work. Madagascar is a beautiful country but it is still facing many issues such as poverty, a poor education system, deforestation and overfishing, to name but a few. Life here is a stark contrast to the life that I am used to at home as Ifaty is one of the poorest regions in Madagascar. I am convinced that the 6 months here will teach me a lot: it will deepen my knowledge of conservation issues, provide me with a valuable insight into how NGOs work and what it is like working for them as well as provide me with practical experience. However, I also think that it will help me develop as a person. I think it will make me more conscious of my actions and teach me to appreciate things more. So all in all, I think my 6 months here will be extremely valuable.

I hope that this post was able to provide you with some insight as to what Interning for ReefDoctor is like. I plan to post something each week in order to give you guys an idea of what interns do. Hope you enjoyed the post!


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