Reforestation of the Atsimo Andrefana Region

We are very excited to announce the launch of the official campaign for reforestation of the Atsimo Andrefana region! The 66,283 km square region spans from the Southwestern tip of Madagascar to roughly 250 km north of the Reef Doctor base in Ifaty. Therefore, it was to our delight that the Regional Department of Environment, Ecology and Forests (DREEF) chose to team up with Reef Doctor and develop a project right here in the Bay of Ranobe!

Weeks ago, alongside DREEF we visited the small village of Ranobe. Having been involved in tree planting projects in the past, and bearing a name that in Malagasy means “BIG WATER”, we felt it was an ideal location to inaugurate this tremendous regional wide reforestation initiative.

A town situated 6 km from the coastal highway, it is quite the rugged road to get to the village of Ranobe. Not even the ever-dependent local mode of transport, the taxi brousse, can make its way to Ranobe during the rainy season!

Residents are dependent on Zebu led carts to make the journey to the closest town once a week and attend a market for goods. Generally, this involves community members of Ranobe travelling with what little resources they have for an income such as vondro (grass like reeds used for building huts) and wood cut down from their forests for charcoal and construction, or some of the products grown around the village such as corn, cassava and sugarcane, when the weather provides stable growing conditions.

Initially we were excited to see the rains return for one final push before the end of the rainy season to support all of the trees we would be planting for this event but during the many back and forth deliveries of our trees, we started to change our minds. We chased goats in torrential downpours, drove through puddles metres deep, and mud that would spin you every which way. To top it off, the cactus has grown so high, that in certain places it engulfs the entire truck, and you have to be sure to keep your limbs well tucked away in the vehicle!

After many meetings with Village Presidents, Regional Mayors, community members and site visits to the degraded forest that was to be planted, on Monday February 20th the event kicked off with a training day for community members. They were taught the importance of planting indigenous species in the forest rather than introducing non-native trees, as well as demonstrations of proper planting techniques.


From Tuesday to Thursday, the community members were up before sunrise and back in the forest just before sundown to beat the heat, and plant 2,800 indigenous tree seedlings! The local women would sing and dance each time we arrived with more trees throughout the week and the community had come together and planted trees they had already been growing around their schoolyard and throughout the village to create a tree lined driveway into the grounds where the event would take place. On February 24th, a huge turnout of roughly 500 people made the journey out to Ranobe from all around the region to support this wonderful project!

The Reef Doctor team was there bright and early to help set up the event. Woman’s groups from around the region had prepared a dance and were very eager to get the Reef Doctor team up there dancing with them in front of the crowd! Speeches from local and regional authorities commenced to spread awareness about deforestation and the importance of this initiative and then the excitement began as everyone in attendance walked into the forest and planted roughly 700 trees!

DREEF is committed to reforesting an astounding 3,000 hectares! Although this will only reforest roughly 20% of the current regional deforestation estimates, it is an exciting commitment to reforestation of Madagascar’s largest region. Reef Doctor provided 2,200 trees for the event, which amounted to one tree planted per Ranobe community member.

Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting new venture into terrestrial conservation, the reforestation of one of earth’s most unique forests, and to learn more about what Reef Doctor is doing not only to reforest indigenous trees, but to combat the causes of deforestation!

Report by Project Leader Jackie Brunton

man carrying vundro

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

tree planting

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

spiny forest

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 

octopus trees

Towards Sustainable Forestry

It is forest conservation week here at Reef Doctor and we are very excited to unveil our new forest conservation 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, this 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 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.