Reef Doctor Juniors Open Day Huge Success

Education is the most important conservation tool. Teaching children about the world around them and fostering an interest in the environment makes conservation part of a child’s everyday life and helps to form habits they will carry with them throughout their lives. 

 The Junior Reef Doctors Scholarship Programme has helped to educate the brightest and most dedicated students in Ifaty primary school about the environment since 2014.  In turn the Juniors share their knowledge with family and friends and spread the message of sustainable living and conservation. And on Saturday 28 January the Juniors really got a chance to shine when they held an open day in Ifaty primary school to show the community what they have learned.

open day

 The education department and the Juniors got to work very early last Saturday morning bringing tables, prizes and various project materials to the school to host their very first open day. Stalls were set up around the school grounds and the children were all in charge of different stations. When visitors arrived the Juniors jumped into action and explained each project perfectly. They clarified deforestation and provided a practical example of the affect of deforestation on coastal erosion with a model forested and deforested area. They described the process for making artificial charcoal while showing the crowd the raw ingredients used to make the briquettes and then they held a practical demonstration by lighting a fire so that everyone could see how well the briquettes burned and feel the heat they gave out. 

open day 2

alternative charcoal

The Juniors also showed off the crafts they made out of recycled materials including toilet roll insert puppets and skipping ropes made from plastic bags. They giggled uncontrollably while adults tried the tin can and string phone and beamed with pride while they explained to the grown ups how it worked. They demonstrated how to make plastic string by cutting a plastic bottle into a long thin strip with a simply made plastic cutting tool and they enjoyed watching as children played with the various toys and adults ooed and aahed at the various practical projects. 

making skipping ropes

making telephones

Once the Juniors had demonstrated all the projects they entertained the crowd with a dance routine and made history with the first ever public lottery held in the village. There was great excitement as tickets were pulled from the hat and smiling winners came to collect their prizes that ranged from clothes to toiletries to food with the main prize being an inflatable dingy. There was a great turn out and the Juniors and the education department did a fantastic job as ever. Their parents, schoolteachers and Reef Doctor couldn’t be more proud of them.

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

lottery win

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World Wetlands Day 2017

Today is World Wetlands Day. We know that most of you know how important wetlands are to the environment but for anyone out there who isn’t sure this a good time to explain what wetlands actually are and why they deserve a day to raise awareness about them. Wetlands are, in general terms, areas in which water covers the soil or where water is present at or near the surface of the soil or within the root zone throughout the year or for varying periods within the year. Think swamps, marshes and, the ones that really interests us today, reed beds.


Reed beds are incredibly important ecologically. They help to protect species of fish and crabs by providing food and shelter in their roots for juvenile animals. They provide shore protection by stabilizing the soil with their root system and decelerating wave energy. Reeds’ grow from an interconnected root system called the rhizome. The rhizome is one continual system that connects plants, which allows the root system to exist for millennia unless threatened or destroyed by changes in their climate (soil changing from damp to dry) or human impact on landscape ecology resulting in the clearing the area and allowing the root system to die. They also provide protection to the sea from pollution.  Reed beds are also an incredibly important and useful resource in the Bay of Ranobe and across Madagascar for another reason. Vondro reeds are used for many different purposes throughout Madagascar including making mats, baskets and roofing houses. It is the most economical and easily sourced building material in this area and is used a lot.


The importance of reed bed protection is very clear in the village of Ambondrolava, where the Reef Doctor Honko Project (full details of this project to be provided on our new website, coming soon!) is based. Many people in the village make a living from vondro and it provides the main source of income to many villagers. Men in the village cut and dry vondro for use as a building material for roofs. Although vondro does not withstand conditions as well as corrugated iron or slate, it is the most economical and most freely available material and so is used to make the vast majority of roofs on houses in the area.

man carrying vundro

Women in the village, many of whom are members of the women’s association of Amdondrolava, use the reeds to make traditional floor mats known as Tihy, baskets, hats and bags that they sell through Reef Doctor Project Honko to generate an income for the women’s group and for the women’s individual families and an alternative livelihood to women so that they can earn their own money and be empowered by their activity.  Reef Doctor Honko has worked closely with the community since 2007 to educate people about the importance of reed beds and mangroves and has actively participated in the protection of these resources. The mangroves and reed beds are protected by the local community and guardians are paid to guard the beds and mangroves at night.

girl carrying vundro

vundro basket

So why is an NGO concerned with mangrove protection involved with reed bed protection? Reed beds form their own ecosystem but can also be looked at as part of a larger ecosystem that includes wetlands, mangroves and seagrass. This larger ecosystem also provides protection to juvenile animals and shore protection and reed beds can be seen as the first line of defense for this ecosystem with mangroves and sea grass providing the second and third barriers to erosion and pollution, all of which help to protect the barrier reef that stretches across the Bay of Ranobe. Like many things in nature these ecosystems are intrinsically linked and need each other to survive and to provide protection to the surrounding area including the shoreline and coral reefs so it just makes sense that the villagers of Amdondrolava protect their mangrove forests and their vondro reed beds.  Seagrass in the area is also protected with over 400 hectares currently under partial protection with plans to increase the area and level of protection in the future.

In 2017 Reef Doctor Honko plans to map the wetlands, mangroves and sea grass in the area and will develop a management plan for sustainable exploitation of reed beds to further ensure the proper management of the resource. Currently an extraction license is required to extract reeds from the beds and the money generated by this will be used to manage and protect the beds to ensure that the people of Ambondrolava will continue to have a source of income that benefits both men and women for generations to come.

 Article by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

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Tree Nursery Update

It’s been an incredibly busy month in our Tree Nursery!

As reported in our last blog, we started with 1,600 trees in our newly established Reef Doctor nursery. These included several species that we are testing for use in sustainable charcoal production, including Acacia auriculiformis, Acacia leptocarpa, Leucaena leucocephala, Albizia lebbeck, Eucalyptus majunga, Eucalyptus grandis, and Eucalyptus camaldulensis, as well as the fruit-bearing trees Papaya carica and Coeur de boeuf to complement our objectives regarding food security. We received the second half of our tree order just 2 days before Christmas, adding another 8 species to the nursery, bringing us up to a grand total of 2,800 trees! These species consisted of Casuarina and Acacia mangium for sustainable charcoal, Croton mongue, Mantaly, Acajou D’Africa and Flamboyant for reforestation, and Tamarind and Pomegranate for food security.

tree delivery

The first few weeks certainly had its trials and tribulations. First an outbreak of mealybugs hit our papaya trees with a vengeance, and began travelling to other species before we could mitigate the nasty little white critters. Luckily we were able to recover many of our papaya, and managed to come out with an 80% survival rate. Techniques such as wiping the bugs away with old toothbrushes and our fingertips, and saturating the bugs with dish soap were undertaken, but ultimately the resilient pests only succumbed to the use of insecticidal soap purchased in Toliara.

tree disease

Another odd insect to reach our saplings was the leaf cutter bee. These bees nibble perfect little circles on the leaves of plants, and do not seem picky about which leaf they gorge on!  Thankfully their grazings are only aesthetically unpleasing, and have no severe negative impact on the health of the plant.


Secondly, we were naive as to how much water these wonderful saplings would require. Initially we thought these trees were adapted to full sun exposure and limited waterings, but boy were we wrong! After the first week in the RD nursery, our plants looked a little unhealthy. They were drooping, turning brown, and losing leaves at an alarming rate. We decided a visit to Welt Hunger Hilfe (WHH), our seedling provider, was necessary. Low and behold, we were very surprised to see the seedlings being kept in full shade receiving heavy daily waterings. Right away we had to nurse some of our babies back to life with extra waterings in mornings and evenings, as well as relocating some seedlings to more shaded areas. The worst hit was one of our Eucalyptus species, which had a survival rate of only 60%, but the good news was that we were able to nurse most our species back to health with over 90% survival rates. Lastly, we realised many of the plants had been damaged during their transport to Reef Doctor and without immediate attention, they tended to suffer quite a bit. Such affects as wind burn, loss of soil around their root balls, and broken bags had long term affects on the health of the plant.

tree nursery

At the start of January, we re-measured our first 9 species that have been here for a month and the results were very uplifting compared to what felt like the decimation of our babies! The combined survival rate averaged 92% with an average growth rate of 5 cm.

Going forward we are slowly weening our plants off full shade, persistently moving them around the nursery, constantly monitoring for new pests, and last week, we were one watering shy of the trees being fully dependent on the rain! Next week we will be measuring our second batch of trees from Christmas and are excited to see if there are any differences in the overall growth and survival results, having gone through so much turmoil with our first set of species! The rest of the month’s activities include setting up a vegetable garden on camp, and hopefully gearing up for a big transplantation into the field soon!

When not in the nursery, the tree team has been hard at work with the help of volunteers and interns at camp, researching the species in stock and building a database of the current trees we have here on camp. We also began a tree growing competition right here at RD headquarters! Meanwhile, our in country director Emma Gibbons has been very busy working towards land acquisition so we can get our seedlings planted in the ground soon! In addition, just two days ago we had another delivery of 1,350 trees from the DREEF Nursery (Regional Department of Environment, Ecology and Forests), including the addition of some exotic local species such as Rosewood and Baobab! We will leave discussion of these species for the next blog!

tree nursery

To conclude this month’s report, we thought we would give you an idea of the costs thus far related to starting up a nursery. This is all in Canadian funds as that is where our project leader Jackie Brunton acquired the funding for the project from, so those that contributed can see how far their donation goes in Madagascar! Our cheapest seedling works out to about 8 cents, and the most expensive roughly 18 cents, with the total cost of all 4,150 saplings just under 500 dollars. 4 dollars per week keeps our saplings well watered, and tools such as shovels, rakes, watering cans, shade netting ran up a tab of 100 dollars. We are incredibly grateful for our financial donors, and can’t thank you enough for your kindness.

Thanks for reading!

Jackie Brunton

tree planting

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Life as a Reef Doctor Intern: Week 14

Hi guys! It’s been awhile since my last post, we’ve all been quite busy on camp. I am now in my 14th week of interning for Reef Doctor. Things are going really well. My last post was before Christmas; I therefore thought I’d give you guys a quick update on what a bunch of us did for New year’s. We decided to go to a nearby village called St Augustin which is around an hour and a half away from Toliara. We choose St Augustin as it isn’t too far away, as well as being relatively cheap and the place is known for its natural pools and grottos. We spent New year’s eve hiking, swimming in crystal clear water and watching the stars on a deserted beach. It was an adventurous and very fun trip. I learned that in Madagascar you have to be very patient with everything – on the first day it took us 12 hours to get to our destination! I also learned how interesting and diverse the landscape is, how quickly it can change. It is a beautiful country and I definitely want to see more of it.

With regard to the last two weeks, I am nearing the end of my Divemaster training. I completed most of the necessary water skills and passed the written exam last Friday. 13 new people arrive tomorrow. The other soon-to-be Divemasters and I will then be accompanying them on scuba refresher dives as well as assisting with any other dives or skills that need the new interns and volunteers have difficulty with. You have to be quite patient and exaggerate every movement when demonstrating surface or underwater skills. The dive master training made me realise that people learn at different paces, pick up knowledge in different ways and not everybody finds diving easy. The training definitely gave me a good foundation of how to teach people. Perhaps I’ll train for instructor next!

Apart from that, the tree project is going well. A few people on camp have signed up for a tree contest. The aim of the contest is to plant a tree, experiment with different planting techniques and see whose tree grows the best. We each have to choose a different tree species. Each person has to then decide where to plant the tree, what soil and fertiliser to use e.g. seaweed or mulching, how often the tree sapling needs to be watered as well as if it needs protection e.g. in the form of a mosquito net for example. The competition will allow us to collect notes on how best to grow the different tree species. This will provide us with essential information that we can then use when we properly start planting our trees.

tree planting

We have also started creating a tree database on the various trees found on camp. A sign will then be constructed and put up near the tree. This will enable people to learn more about the different plants found in Madagascar, what their different uses are as well as making people realise how many of the plants are native to the island. Madagascar is such a unique place with thousands of animals and plants being endemic to the island; increasing people’s realisation and knowledge of this could be a decisive way to encourage protection and respect for this extremely diverse environment.

On another note, the weather has been very warm and humid the past couple of days. In the evenings there is often a storm with showers of rain. This cools the temperature down, however it is also the perfect weather for breeding mosquitoes. Tip for new interns and volunteers: bring lots of DEET!

Hope you all have a good week,

Saoirse Flood

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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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