May Aquaculture Update: Record Seaweed Sales!

Seaweed farmers across the Bay of Ranobe were busy in May, finishing upgrades to their farms
which allow an increase in productivity. As part of the on-going support Reef Doctor provides to participants in this Darwin Initiative funded programme, seaweed farmers received extra materials and training in a new method of attaching seaweed to their rope – an improvement which allows them to grow more seaweed on their existing farm. The benefits of this new technique were quickly realised, with three out of five villages engaged in the programme boasting record harvests. Combined, the villages of Ifaty, Mangily, Amboaboaky, Ambomolailaky and Betsibaroke sold 9,376 kgs of dried seaweed, an increase of 66% from the last sale in those villages.

Combined with the income generated from sea cucumber harvests (400 sea cucumbers sold from the village of Andrevo), participants in our alternative livelihoods programme received 6,355,500 MGA in May. That’s the equivalent of $2,012 USD, and a 37% increase since last month! All told, the results from May suggest that seaweed and sea cucumber farmers are embracing their new sustainable livelihood, and looking forward to a brighter future.

Continuing with our farmers’ profiles, this month we would like to introduce you to Melene, who farms seaweed with her brother Joany. Reef Doctor communications officer Ivana Rubino met with her at her home in Ambolomailaky.

Seaweed Farmers: Melene (25) and Joany (18)
Village: Ambolamailkay
Occupation: Fishermen (Fish and Octopus) and marine gleaning

Melene skilfully removes scales from a basin of fish at her feet. Around her, family and friends help with the preparation of food. They chatter back and forth in their fast-paced Vezo dialect. It is late in the afternoon and Melene’s compound is busy but relaxed with people coming back from fishing, farming and other activities. Children are playing and eating corn on the cob. A group of watchful women attend small portable stoves filled with charcoal – the only cooking fuel available in this region. The smell of frying fish permeates the air.

“I started farming seaweed because it is good for us”, Melene says. She gestures towards the basin full of large fresh fish at her feet. “To buy fish like this”. Melene’s seaweed farm helps with some of her family’s most pressing needs, like food security, but they still struggle with larger expenses. “It is not enough for now. My seaweed is like that,” Melene says, pointing to a small sack of dried seaweed, worth about 5,000 Ariary. It is a small harvest, but she is optimistic. “It is still good, my seaweed is growing well. I work in the sea three or four days a week. The problem is I don’t have a pirogue. We use someone else’s pirogue. I will find a pirogue to go there every day”.

Melene is different to many seaweed farmers in the Bay of Ranobe. The majority of farming households are comprised of husband and wife teams. Generally, the husbands look after the seaweed in the water, while women take care of the on-land activities, such as drying and preparing the seaweed for sale. While there are female seaweed technicians, water beyond the intertidal zone is still considered by many to be the working place of men. Women traditionally stick to the intertidal zone, collecting urchins, octopus, or whatever else they can find living among the rocks. The money found from gleaning the intertidal zone is small in comparison to the income that can be found fishing the deeper waters of the bay – the money that men bring into the household. For Melene however, who borrows a pirogue to brave the deeper waters, seaweed farming is an opportunity to provide for her family. “I am more respected in my household when I do this [farm seaweed]”, she says.

Particularly in the rural areas of Southwest Madagascar, a male-dominated society prevails. The Olo Be, or village elders, who settle disputes and preside over each community, is exclusively male. The opportunity for women like Melene to work and lead her household gives them a voice in public life. Melene speaks confidently while she works, clearly comfortable being the spokesperson for her family. She acknowledges that her farm is still small, and will have to grow to provide all the necessities for her family, but what strikes me is her self-assuredness. “I will find a pirogue to go there every day”, she said. Not ‘I will try’, or ‘hopefully I can find’, but ‘I will’. And I believe her.

Written by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino and Aquaculture Project Manger Cale Golding

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World Turtle Day 2016

Today is World Turtle Day and here at Reef Doctor we focus heavily on turtle protection. There are seven species of turtle in the world, with four of these seven species classified as endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  In southwest Madagascar, five species occur naturally, however the most common type of marine turtle in the Bay of Ranobe is the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), so named because of the layer of green fat under the carapace (turtle shell).  We also see the occasional Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), a critically endangered species.

Sea turtles face many threats; plastic pollution, nest predation, changes to beach structure associated with urban development, boat strikes, by-catch, and of course, ubiquitous climate change.  However, around the Bay of Ranobe, they are also the target of a commercial fishery, despite being a legally protected species.

Reef Doctor, with assistance from The Rufford Small Grants Foundation, investigated the role of turtle fishing in Vezo culture, to understand the social and economic importance of these animals to local coastal communities.  We identified that the once highly revered role that marine turtles played in traditional ceremonies was largely eroded, with a greater value placed on their meat for direct consumption, or sale.  Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 95% of the population living in poverty (World Bank, 2015).  The average daily income for a fisherman in the Bay of Ranobe is around 2,000 Ariary.  When a large green turtle can easily sell at market for 200,000 Ariary, it is easy to understand the economic incentive to catch this species.

In response, Reef Doctor established FI.MPA.MI.FA, a local association of fishermen and turtle hunters who were concerned about the sustainability of this resource.  The result was signing into local law the first community-led marine turtle fishery regulation, a minimum size limit.  Initially set at 50 cm curved carapace length, this size limit was later increased to 70 cm, to fully protect juvenile turtles that have not reached sexual maturity.

To compliment this regulation, a tagging and alternative livelihoods program was established with assistance from the Darwin Initiative.  Under this programme, turtles caught under the size limit are brought to Reef Doctor where our team of trained staff and volunteers record specific information about the turtle such as size, where and how it was caught.  A unique identifying tag is then placed on the turtle, and it is released back into the ocean.  Data is shared with the Kelonia marine turtle observatory in Reunion, and within Madagascar to inform management authorities and guide fishery policy.  Data is also used to monitor the success of Reef Doctors’ other turtle protection programmes.

Last year, over 600 juvenile turtles were tagged and released – a substantial step forward in the protection of these beautiful species!

What’s it like tagging a turtle? At Reef Doctor volunteers have the opportunity to tag turtles. It’s a simple procedure to perform and once you get over the squeamishness, it’s not so bad. For those of us who worry about hurting the turtle (yes the non scientists!) it helps to bear in mind that despite the turtle having a really terrible day being caught (often with a spear gun) and dragged on land to be tagged, at least they don’t end up in a cooking pot!

For further information please visit our Fano Project and Alternative Livelihoods pages.

Story by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino & Aquaculture Project Manager Cale Golding


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April Aquaculture Update & Sea Cucumber Farmer Interview

Seaweed farming continued to grow across the Bay of Ranobe in April, with record harvests in the villages of Amboaboaky and Ifaty.  The former sold a total of 382 kg, and the latter an impressive 2,837 kg of dried seaweed.  Together with farmers in Mangily, seaweed farms in the bay generated 1,723,000 MGA.

After the large sea cucumber harvests last month, sales this month were more modest in the villages of Andrevo and Ambolomailaky.  A total 688 sea cucumbers were harvested from community managed farms, with a value of 2,903,000 MGA.  The total income generated by the Darwin Initiative-funded alternative livelihoods in April was $1,468 USD, money that would not otherwise be available to these rural communities.


Last month, we introduced you to Ferolle and Vola, husband and wife seaweed farmers from the village of Ifaty.  This month, ReefDoctor Communications Officer Ivana Rubino travelled to the village to Ambolomalaiky, to meet to sea cucumber farmers Lera and Soahasy Raberzery.


Lera (58) and Soahasy (54)

Village: Ambolomailaky

Occupation: Fishermen (fish, octopus, turtles) and marine gleaning

We asked Lera what he thought of the project when it began. “Before we always dived for sea cucumbers and we knew the value of cucumbers. When the sea cucumber project came here we knew that it would be a big benefit to us”, Lera says.  “I know that the resources in the sea are decreasing now and I know that it [farming] is an alternative livelihood for us and I know that it protects our way of living in the sea”.

Lera pauses for a moment, and looks off in the direction of the sea.  His pens are not visible from his house, but one can see that his thoughts are out there in the water.  We are sitting by the house he shares with his wife Soahasy, on tihy, traditional mats made of leaves.  It is early afternoon, siesta hour, and there is a quiet stillness to the family compound.

“It would be different for me if the project was not there. I could find money but it isn’t the same.  I could buy pots if I work in the same job I had before but I could not manage to pay for something that has a big value like [improvements to] the house or anything like that”.

“We see that there is a change in our household”, Sohasy adds.  “For instance we have a vondro house and we can change it step by step to be made of corrugated metal”.  Vondro is the typical construction material for Vezo houses.  It is a form of dried reed that is relatively inexpensive, but does not last long and offers limited protection from the elements.  The income earned from sea cucumber farming allows such investments that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

“I can see that it helps a lot for food that we have in our household,” Soahasy continues.  We encountered Soahasy earlier this morning, maintaining her sea cucumber pens.  She talks now with the same sense of energy which with she cleaned her pens.  She is clearly happy to talk about her experiences with sea cucumbers, and list the changes in their lives since they began the project.

“Our children don’t go to the public school, they can now go to the convent school,” she says.  Public schools in the region are typically under-resourced, over-populated and provide only a basic level of education.  This low level of education makes it very difficult for people in the village to find suitable employment.  As a result, they turn to fishing as a way to eke out a livelihood.  In providing quality education, Lera and Soahasy are offering their children a future that is not entrenched in poverty.

“It changed our life a lot.”

Story by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino and Aquaculture Project Manger Cale Golding

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Juniors’ Classroom Exchange

The Junior Reef Doctors programme has been going extremely well since it began in 2014. The Juniors learn about marine ecosystems and conservation, and we hope that as they grow into adults they will use their knowledge of how to care for the environment and sustainable living to teach following generations.

Our nearest NGO neighbour, Honko, has also recently begun their own Juniors programme with the aim of educating children in the area about the importance of mangrove forests. Their programme is also going very well and the Junior Reef Doctors and our staff got to see how well on Saturday when the Honko Juniors and staff visited us.

The Honko Juniors made some great posters about the mangrove ecosystem, the utility of mangroves in every day life and how to protect this resource, which they used to make a really fun and informative presentation to our Juniors class on Saturday. They then attended a lesson with the  Juniors Reef Doctor on threats to the environment. Of course, there were games and snacks for everyone afterwards!

We look forward to more classroom exchanges and presentations with Honko and other NGOs in the future with the aim of teaching children about different elements and aspects of conservation. We hope that a holistic approach to conservation will become a part of every day life for these children and will help to prepare them for a time when they are making the decisions in their community and how those decisions will affect their environment.

Report by RD Comms officer Ivana Rubino

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Junior Reef Doctors Picnic Treat

We’ve had such a busy week at ReefDoctor there is barely enough time to tell you about everything that’s been going on. We’ve filled you in on our hugely successful second annual MPA relay and the latest aquaculture news, and now we get a chance to brag about our wonderful ReefDoctor Juniors again!

The Juniors entertained everyone at our MPA relay with songs about conservation, littering and the environment. They were fantastic and everyone really loved the songs, specially written for them by our very own, very talented volunteer coordinator Rinah. The next day the Juniors should have been attending classes and learning even more about the environment but they have reached the end of the current curriculum and deserved a treat for all their hard work in class and at the MPA relay. So, instead of heading to the classroom on Saturday we took the Juniors for a picnic.

At 8am 28 Juniors together with Rinah and Apo who organized the day, Tom, Candice, Marco, Oriana, Viv, Mary and Iva set off laden with food, snacks, far too many fizzy drinks and a big bag full of masks for snorkeling. The younger children are just a little too small still to go snorkeling so while we divided the older children into groups, games of football and tag were played on the beach. The older children were given a mask each and groups took to the water to see what could be seen. The tide was low, which was perfect for the Juniors because they could stay in shallow water and still get to see what was on the seabed. It was a lot of fun and the Juniors saw seagrass, sponges, nudibranch eggs, various types of snails and shells, some coral fragments and lots of starfish.

We had another little surprise in store while everyone was playing and snorkeling. RD Comms leader Viv had the great idea of bringing a Polaroid camera from the UK to take photos of the Juniors, and we brought it to the picnic. Everyone posed in and out of the water. None of the ReefDoctor team had seen a Polaroid camera in years and we were just as excited as the children when the pictures popped out! We don’t often get the chance to print photographs so it was great to have a physical picture to show the children. All the photographs are going to be made into a collage to hang in the ReefDoctor classroom so the Juniors can see them whenever they want.

Once everyone had a turn it was time for the picnic. A huge picnic blanket was made out of everyone’s lamba (sarongs) and the children feasted on misao (a pasta and vegetable dish), Sambosa (the Gasy name for samosa made from fish or potato), caca pigeon (the best fried dough snack ever made!), fizzy drinks and lollipops. The children were a little hyperactive after all the sugar but who doesn’t enjoy a fizzy drink fuelled frenzy every once in a while? It was a treat they definitely deserved.

Story by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

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