World Wetlands Day 2018

Last Friday (2nd Feb) was World Wetlands Day, a special day to celebrate these special ecosystems that are so vital to our planet and to contribute to their conservation!

Wetlands of International Importance are protected by a convention, known as the Ramsar Convention. This is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources (Source: Ramsar.org). The Convention counts 169 Contracting Parties and 2,293 wetlands are listed as Ramsar Sites. Madagascar has been part of the Convention since 1998 with two Ramsar Sites initially, amongst which, the National Park of Tsimanampesotse, located in the Province of Toliara. Over the last 20 years, another 18 wetlands have been added to the Ramsar List, making a total of 20 Ramsar Sites in Madagascar today, covering an area of 2,094,911 hectares. Last year was particularly active, with the addition of 10 new wetlands to the list.

The wetland of Belalanda, in the district of Toliara, where we work, offers many natural resources on which the local communities depend. This wetland is composed of mangroves and reeds, and covers a surface of approximately 400 hectares. It spreads across five villages: Belalanda, Belitsaky, Tanambao, Ambondrolava and Ambotsibotsiky. Since 2008, the Honko NGO worked working towards the preservation of this wetland, and since early 2017, following incorporation into Reef Doctor, this work continues as part of Reef Doctor Honko Project.

Mangroves are a unique forest ecosystem for several reasons related to the relatively hostile environment in which they develop. They grow on a muddy, unstable, anaerobic (low in oxygen), and high salinity soil. The trees have therefore developed anatomical and physiological characteristics to survive these constraints: respiration through aerial roots, recovery of nutrients despite low oxygen levels, adaptation to the soil by a special fixation system of the roots, reproduction by viviparity (specific germination mode on the parent tree) and a wide variety of techniques to get remove salt.

As mentioned, mangroves are a vital coastal ecosystem that play a considerable number of important ecological, sociological and economic roles. Mangroves are home to many species of fish and shellfish, and shelter a unique biodiversity. 75% of all tropical fish species traded in the world live part of their lives in the mangrove. It serves as a spawning ground, incubator, nursery, refuge against predators and feeding ground for these fish and shellfish. In addition, mangroves act as a natural barrier against submersion and coastal erosion. Sediments accumulate in mangroves, reducing turbidity in Ranobe Bay and allowing the development of coral reefs. Finally, mangroves are amongst the most efficient forests to trap some of the excess atmospheric carbon and therefore help regulate the climate.

As a marine conservation NGO, we are very aware of the close association between mangroves, seagrass beds and coral reefs, and work towards stabilizing and restoring all of these components to ensure the stability and survival of marine ecosystems in the region.

Our team at the Reef Doctor Honko site works continuously to improve the management of the mangrove area and its restoration. To evaluate the success of conservation efforts, it is crucial to implement long term monitoring. We also try to keep our fauna inventory up to date and have mapped the mangrove area with the help of our volunteers. Last June, we told you about a big planting event on the Tsingoritelo sand spit with the aim to stabilize the dune, as its progression is threatening the mangrove. Since 2015, a temporary fishing reserve in the mangrove of Ambondrolava was established thanks to the financing of the LUSH Foundation. The system was organized into two rotating reserves in the mangrove channel, so there would always be a protected area.

Mangrove reforestation is essential for mangrove restoration. Since the creation of Honko in 2008, around 40 hectares of mangroves have been planted. Since the beginning of 2017, following incorporation into Reef Doctor, planting activity has been intensified with 14 hectares and 170,000 propagules being planted by more than 600 members of the local communities and Reef Doctor’s volunteers, interns and staff in the mangrove of Belalanda.

To celebrate this year’s World Wetlands Day, we decided to organize another planting event at our Honko site in Ambondrolava to help restore the mangroves there. All volunteers, interns and staff joined in and planted more than 400 propagules of red mangrove, Rhizophora mucronata, as well as a few Moringa trees. It was a nice day for everyone and allowed some new volunteers to discover Honko and learn more about mangroves, thanks to the knowledgeable local guides. Well done and thanks to everyone!

Blog by RD Comms Officer Karin Moehler

Photo credit: Karin Moehler & Margot Chapon

Building Artificial Reefs in the Villages of Beheloke, Besambay and Tariboly

Drawing from the success of the artificial reef establishment in the Bay of Ranobe, Reef Doctor replicated this effort in three villages south of Anakao: Beheloke, Besambay, and Tariboly through a field project last month. Funded by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and supported by the WWF Toliara Office, this project building artificial reefs in the coastal environments aimed to create new viable habitats for fish and invertebrates. This in turns may translate to a potential increase in fisheries catch, which can benefit local communities whose lives depend mostly exclusively on the coastal marine resources.

A field team from Reef Doctor, led by Head Science Officer – Roberto Komeno, went on a mission down south from 13 to 30 November. Upon our arrival, we had a meeting with the President and villagers and demonstrated them how to create octopus habitats, which were then to be built continuously in the following days to be placed at the artificial reefs. We also checked out different sites and chose the ones that were most suitable for installing the artificial reefs. At these chosen sites, we surveyed the abundance of fish and invertebrates to establish a baseline for the current state of ecological community composition.

In the following days, we built 12 artificial bommies made of locally mined limestones in each village and placed 48 octopus habitats made of cement created by local villagers. The building process was quite intensive as we dove 3-4 times a day and lifted bulky limestones during the entire dive. Yet, thanks to the leadership of Roberto and the help of Reef Doctor’s staff and interns – Cory, David, Jack, Lana, Margot, Martin, Razvan, we were able to accomplish our set goals by the end of our mission.

Next year, we will go back to these villages to survey again the abundance of fish and invertebrates. These data can then be compared with the baseline data and allow us to assess impacts of the artificial reef establishment on the ecological communities. In the future, we are also looking forward to replicate this effort in other coastal environments in the region, offering a practical and reproducible solution to improving the well-being of the coastal communities and their environment.

Written by RD Science Officer Martin Wong

Photo credit: Martin Wong, Margot Chapon & Cory Montgomery

dune planting

Protecting Mangroves Through Dune Stabilisation

On the road to Ifaty from Toliara, you will see a huge patch of sand which looks like a giant arm reaching for the sea. This is the Songeritelo sand spit and under the appearance of a beautiful landscape you absolutely want to photograph, hides a growing threat to the neighbouring mangrove ecosystem.

Songeritelo dunes

Songeritelo sand spit is not as stable as it may seem. It has been growing northwards at an alarming rate of 45 m/year since 1949. This rate has increased over recent years (to almost 90 m/year between 2011 and 2017) probably due to major deforestation and erosion inland. The channel that brings seawater to the Ambondrolava mangrove system, located to the east of the sand spit, is under threat from dune mobilisation; the potential reduction in seawater supply in the coming years threatens the balance of the mangrove ecosystem. Mangrove forests are complex environments in which trees and shrubbery live within brackish water. The Ambondrolava mangrove is home of a large variety of crabs, birds, fish and other crustaceans. It acts as a nursery ground for fish and invertebrates, provides a variety of ecosystem services (such as sediment and pollution filtration, coastline protection, carbon storage), and provides a livelihood for local communities. The mangrove ecosystem balance, and the livelihood of local communities who depend on the mangroves to survive is under threat from the evolution of the Songeritelo dune system.

However, on Saturday 17th June, there was some unusual activity taking place in the dunes…..

dune planting

More than 60 people, from the YSO (Young Researcher Organization of Madagascar), Reef Doctor, IH.SM (Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines), and Ambotsibotsike and Songeritelo villages, along with the deputy mayor (adjoint au maire), representatives of the chef de région, DREF (Direction Régionale des Eaux et Forêts) and GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – German cooperation) crossed the channel on foot or by pirogue to take part in a dune stabilisation planting event. The YSO, a student’s association of the IH.SM, along with Reef Doctor Honko Project organized, for the second year in a row, this massive planting event as a first step to stabilise dunes and reduce the threat to the mangroves. This great initiative was supported by the GIZ, WHH, IH.SM and club Vintsy Vatohara. Similar to last year, the event was organised to coincide with the United Nation’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.

dune planting

dune planting

dune planting

Around 4000 saplings were planted in total, the three main species included filao (Casuarina equisetifolia), sisal (Agave sisalana) and lalanda (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Sisal are well known to help stabilise sandy areas and lalanda also contribute to this objective. The filaos were planted to help sisal and lalandas in their ecological job by acting as a fixing agent. Over time, the filaos should grow tall and wide enough to act as a solid barrier against the wind, which would help stop the movement of the sand and hence the advancement of the dune.

dune planting

dune planting

dune planting

dune planting

dune planting

 

After a few hours of toil, around 2500 sisals, 200 filaos and 1000 lalandas were planted on the dune. After a morning of hard work, everyone was very tired but happy about the great achievement and were rewarded with a copious lunch prepared by the women of the villages. Regarding the maintenance of the saplings, the local communities are tasked with irrigating and protecting the replanted areas, and Reef Doctor Honko Project will frequently review the progress. More actions will be undertaken in the near future. Stay tuned for updates on the dune and progress of the plantation event soon!

Reported by Karin Moehler & Antoine Lechevalier

dune planting

seagrass

First Seagrass Protected Area Established in the Bay of Ranobe

Over the last three years the Darwin Initiative-funded Sustainable Livelihoods Programme has been a huge part of Reef Doctor operations, and seaweed and sea cucumber farming are now part of everyday life in the seven villages where the project is run.  Aquaculture was introduced to these villages in attempt to alleviate poverty and to reduce stress on an ecosystem that is coming under increasing pressure from dwindling biomass and increasing migration of people to the coast from inland areas of southwest Madagascar as living conditions become more and more difficult in the semi arid drought prone land.

Initially sea turtle hunters and beach seine fishers were approached for inclusion in the project over people engaged in other fishing activities because of the destructive nature of their fishing practices and damage these practices cause to marine ecosystems. By targeting turtle hunters the project had the two fold affect of engaging the hunter in a project that could lift them out of poverty and could work towards turtle conservation in the area by providing an alternative income generating activity.  By reducing the number of beach seine fishers in the area, the project helped to allow time for juvenile fish who live in seagrass near the shore to reach maturity and reproduce, and to limit damage to the seagrass itself.

Indeed, protecting seagrass, an important foraging habitat for turtles, in the Bay of Ranobe is another important objective of our Darwin Initiative funded-Sustainable Livelihoods Programme. In the second year of the project, stakeholders throughout the bay attended monthly meetings to discuss creating a seagrass protected area (SPA). This aspect of the project required agreement and a commitment from village elders in Ifaty and Mangily, Fi.MI.HARA, the local fisher’s association and various local businesses to become a reality. Following a considerable amount of discussion it was agreed by all the stakeholders that the first SPA in the Bay of Ranobe would be created. In fact, discussions were so successful that the total area of the SPA is be 950 hectares, which is over twice the size of the targeted area of 400 hectares originally planned! The entire SPA is a restricted use zone, which means that only certain fishing activities can be carried out in the area including some fishing with restricted fishing gear using hook and line. However beach seining is strictly prohibited within the SPA. Meetings are now ongoing to make 150 hectares of the SPA a strict protection zone where no fishing or marine gleaning activities can take place whatsoever.

village seagrass meeting

Currently seagrass monitoring in the bay takes place every three months. The waypoints required to build a comprehensive map of the seagrass areas of the bay were explored and prepared by the science and aquaculture teams throughout 2016 and you can read about the process and the importance of seagrass to the environment in our blog dated 5 October 2016. The seagrass mapping project allowed the team to decide on the best location of the seagrass reserves and zoning. Monitoring will continue every three months in order to collect data that will allow the team to assess the health of the SPA.

seagrass survey

The creation of this SPA, the first in the Bay of Ranobe, is a very significant step forward for sustainable fishing practices and conservation in the Bay of Ranobe. There are now three marine protected areas in the bay, which cover two degraded reefs and the seagrass area close to the shoreline. These areas are guarded and maintained by the communities that rely upon the bay for their livelihood.

seagrass

mangrove replanting

Mangrove Replantation Project Huge Success!

Conservation and development projects often take years to complete and indeed some are never ending. That’s why we’re delighted to tell you about one of our projects that has not only been completed in a very short time but has exceeded the aims set out when the project began!

As you may be aware Reef Doctor Honko is the branch of Reef Doctor concerned with mangrove conservation and since January 2017, when Reef Doctor Honko was born, a lot of conservation has been going on. Particularly in the villages of Ambondrolava, where Reef Doctor Honko is based, and in Andrevo, a village to the north where sea cucumber farming takes place. The Mangrove Replantation Project is the first complete project undertaken by Reef Doctor Honko and we are very happy with the results! What’s more, there will be many projects in the near future focusing on replenishing the mangrove forests in these and other areas.

mangrove replanting

The project focused on replanting degraded mangrove forests in Ambondrolava and Andrevo. These villages are important targets for replanting because they both have existing mangrove forests that have been degraded through over exploitation. This project was co-funded by FRDA, the Darwin Initiative, the Rufford Foundation, WHH Toliara, and ADES Toliara. The project was implemented in collaboration with CDR (Direction Regionale Des Ressources Halieutique et de la Peche), DREEF (Director Regionale de L’Environment, de L’Ecologie et des Forets), and IHSM (Institut Halientique et des Sciences Marine). The aim of the project was to replant 12 hectares of degraded areas of mangrove forest at both sites with 120,000 propagules from three species of mangrove; Rhizophora mucronata, Ceriops tagal and Brugriera gymnoshiza.

mangrove propagules

mangrove propagules

Planting began on the 4th of March in both areas and over the course of three planting days an impressive 51,426 propagules were planted over 5.32 hectares in Andrevo, and 88,630 propagules were planted over 8.84 hectares in Ambondrolava! Only two species of mangrove were planted, Rhizophora mucronata and Ceriops tagal but the total area planted was 14.19 hectares. Expectations were also exceeded by the planting of 140,056 propagules rather than the 120,000 that were initially planned!

communtiy planting event

mangrove replanting 2

The local community associations in both villages, VOI Mamelo Honko and VOI Andrevo took charge of the collection of propagules and were also very involved in each of the planting days. These associations are also tasked with monitoring the growth and progress of the propagules on a monthly basis and protecting the replanted areas. Reef Doctor Honko will review progress every six months and we look forward to letting you know how the mangroves are doing then!

Update by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

mangroves