A Morning at the Sea Cucumber Hatchery

ReefDoctor has been active in aquaculture activities for quite a while now and we have been updating you on our efforts and progress on providing an alternative livelihood to local communities through this blog. This time we’re going to take you behind the scenes of sea cucumber farming and guide you through the discovery of the whole process taking place before the juveniles are delivered to our farmers.

Most of the volunteers and interns at ReefDoctor get involved in our aquaculture program, whether cleaning our seaweed lines in Ifaty, attending seaweed and sea cucumber sales or helping building new pens. This allows them to go to several villages, but they don’t see the process of juvenile rearing from the nursery until the delivery to the farmers. This was the occasion to show them the cycle of production.

The aquaculture team, a couple of interns and volunteers as well as myself left Ifaty early in the morning in a taxi-brousse to make our way to the Indian Ocean Trepang (IOT) sea cucumber hatchery, located close to Toliara (Ankaloha). Upon arrival, we were greeted by the director of the hatchery and met students from the University of Agronomy of Antananarivo as well as from the Higher Institute of Technology of Fort Dauphin who were doing the visit with us. After a brief introduction and the splitting of the visitors into three groups, we headed to the hatchery house.

Our visit started with the hatchery, where broodstocks (themselves produced by IOT) are put together to produce larvae naturally or by in-vitro fertilisation. This step is the key of the sea cucumber (Holothuria scabra) production and the infrastructures and equipment needed are very expensive and the operations are delicate.

We then continued our tour to the nursery, where juveniles are reared and stocked before they are delivered to the farmers in the villages. The production of transferable juveniles lasts for approximately 3 months. We then headed to the maintenance systems, which are essential for the site, as this department ensures that all the rearing parameters are correct.

Upon the request of one of our aquaculture interns, we finished the tour by a visit to the crab fattening project site, located right next to the hatchery. This project consists of a commercial revalorisation of crabs physically complete (no wound, no leg or pincer missing) but lacking flesh inside the carapace. The crabs are stabled during a 20-day cycle and fed daily to fill their carapaces with flesh. The most beautiful pieces are dedicated to export and crabs that do not meet the commercial criteria for export are decommissioned and destined for freezing.

Once the tour finished and all the questions asked, we took a group photo with all the visitors and IOT staff before going back into our taxi-brousse to head back to Ifaty on time for lunch. It was a very interesting morning for everyone and we hope to organize more such visits for future volunteers and interns!

Blog and photos by RD Comms Officer Karin Moehler

finance training

April Aquaculture Update

The searing summer temperatures started to drop in southwest Madagascar in April and everyone in the Bay of Ranobe breathed a sigh of relief as we were able to sleep a little better because of the cooler nights. But, thankfully, for our Darwin Initiative-funded Sustainable Livelihoods Programme Livelihoods programme developed in partnership with DRRHP (Regional Director of Fisheries), COPEFRITO/IOT, and FRDA, aquaculture sale figures stayed high for the month despite the dropping water temperatures.

As the cold weather approaches, the challenges facing the farmers are similar to those faced during the warmer months, but instead of seeking shelter from the scorching sun, farmers have to work hard to stay warm while tending their farms, especially during sea cucumber sales, which take place late at night during spring tide. Crowds gather on the beach late at night to wait for low tide so that all the collection buckets and weighing equipment can be brought out to the farms. Farmers start gathering sea cucumbers from their pens while the weighing stations are set up. Everyone is wrapped in as many layers as possible but with sales often lasting until 3am it takes quite a while to warm up again as there are no hot showers or central heating. However, the falling sea temperatures and approaching cold didn’t deter the sea cucumber farmers of Andrevo and Ambolomailaky who had another strong month selling a combined total of 1,708 individual animals, which generated an income of 8,463,500 MGA (2664.70 USD). Early in the month of April, the farming households in Andrevo also received financial training to help them manage their now regular income from farming, and make plans for future expansions and improvements to their farms, homes and living conditions. The financial training also aims to teach farmers about negotiating prices and agreements with stakeholders and funders. Farmers in Ifaty have already received the training and, over the coming months, farmers in all the villages participating in the programme will receive training and advice. This is an essential component of the programme as the majority of the farmers are receiving a steady monthly income for the first time in their lives and experiencing a small measure of economic freedom previously unavailable to them.

finance training

finance training

finance training

Mangily farmers did not sell any seaweed again last month as the farms are still recovering from a bad outbreak of epiphytic filamentous algae in mid-2016. However, they have got their lines back in the water and we are very pleased to be able to confirm that there will be a seaweed sale in Mangily in May. We look forward to being able to report the first results from Mangily since last year.

The other seaweed farming villages had a good month in April with Betsibaroke selling an impressive 2,773 kg of seaweed, bringing in 1,663,800 MGA. In total seaweed farmers in all four villages sold a combined weight of 4,548 kg valued at 3,028,800 MGA (963.98 USD).  These figures hopefully bring everyone another month closer to lifting themselves out of poverty with a lot of hard work, training and planning.

Andrevo sea cucumber pens

March Aquaculture Update

Following a slow start to the year we are delighted to report that seaweed farming in the Bay of Ranobe is back on the rise. The community of Ifaty celebrated its best sale in 6 months, while Betsibaroke broke records with a harvest of 3,046 kg – the biggest in the community’s history! Combined, all villages in the Darwin Initiative-funded sustainable livelihoods programme generated over 5 tons of dried seaweed in March, resulting in an income of 3,193,800 MGA (991.67 USD).

There were no sea cucumber sales in March but there was still a lot of activity at the sea cucumber farms. The village of Ambolamailake received a delivery of 3,000 juvenile sea cucumbers, while in Andrevo new nursery enclosures were constructed as part of an expansion initiative with programme partners Indian Ocean Trepang. This expansion will allow 20 new households to enter sea cucumber farming activities, increasing the number of beneficiaries in that community by a factor of 5! This expansion is welcomed by the community of Andrevo, Reef Doctor, and Indian Ocean Trepang, and promises to promote sustainable, reliable poverty alleviation across a wider part of the community. It also reflects the great success and dedication of the initial farmers involved in sea cucumber farming. The new farmers are expected to receive their first delivery of juvenile sea cucumbers in April, with construction to their larger, grow-out enclosures to be completed over the coming weeks.

pen construction

andrevo pens

building new pens

sea cucumber pen building

Andrevo sea cucumber pens


aquaculture training

Sustainable Livelihoods Project Update

The rainy season is upon us here in Madagascar, and while this is still the dry, drought-riddled southwest, there was just enough rain to hinder seaweed farming operations. Once seaweed has been grown in the ocean, it must be sun-dried for about three days before it can be sold. During this drying process, it is important that fresh water avoids contact with seaweed, as it breaks down the valuable carrageenan inside the seaweed. Farmers in the Bay of Ranobe have therefore been hindered in their attempts to dry seaweed, due to the intermittent rain, and results for the months of January and February reflected this. Just over 4 tons of seaweed was sold in the first two months of the year, valuing 2.5 million MGA (745 USD).

However, we are happy to announce the completion of a large storage facility in the community of Betsibaroke, the biggest seaweed producing village in the Bay. This facility, possible with funding from program partners Fonds Regional pour le Developpement Agricole (FRDA), provides farmers with a safe and secure place to dry and store seaweed, and avoid any future disruptions due to inclement weather. The centre will also act as an aquaculture education centre, meeting place and centralized collection depot for sold seaweed. With a capacity to store 12 tons of seaweed, the centre will be officially opened in March.

construction of storage facility

building storage facilitiy

new storage facility

storage facility


Sea cucumber farming continued to be highly successful in the first two months of the year, with 2,587 sea cucumbers harvested, and 12 million MGA (3,642 USD) generated for the communities involved. On the back of these outstanding results, program partners Indian Ocean Trepang (IOT) have agreed to expand sea cucumber farming activities, and over the coming months we will be almost doubling the number of families involved, with additional increases scheduled throughout the year! In scaling up this sustainable, environmentally-sound method of sea cucumber farming, we can continue to reduce pressure on wild fisheries, replenish natural stocks of sea cucumbers, and provide a meaningful and reliable source of income for local communities.

February also saw the very exciting start of entrepreneurial training for communities involved in the Darwin Initiative-funded Sustainable Livelihoods programme. Farmers from the villages of Ifaty and Amboaboke attended a two-day training course at Reef Doctor on 15th & 16th February, learning basic book keeping skills, financial management and financial planning. This training program, developed by programme partners Conseil Diocesain De Developpement (CDD), provides farmers with the skills and information necessary to convert their aquaculture activities into small businesses, and therefore to maximize their income generating potential. Despite the low level of education, and high level of poverty in the Bay of Ranobe, this training programme offers communities the potential to shape their own future and manage their own marine resources – another step towards independence. Entrepreneurial training is being rolled out to all households in all the villages involved in the project over the coming months.

aquaculture training


Update by Project Leader Cale Golding and Comms Officer Ivana Rubino


partner logos

seaweed lady on beach

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