artificial habitat enhancement structure

Artificial Reef Site Gains New Habitat Enhancement Structures

During the past few weeks at Reef Doctor, volunteers have been providing valuable assistance with the community-based artificial reef project. They have been busy designing and building two new low-cost habitat enhancement structures in order to promote marine organism colonisation and aggregation at one of the artificial reef site in the Bay of Ranobe.

Each week volunteers came together at the construction area next to the science office to combine imaginations and construction skills to develop these structures and plan their installation. The first design comprised a hollow, cement dome designed to act as a refuge for juvenile fish and invertebrates, as well a provide an additional substrate for algae and coral colonisation. They first made a pyramidal shaped mould in the sand and then, with a bit of cement, sand and shell pieces from the beach, they were able to build a series of eight hollow domes with holes, to provide access for small fish and invertebrates. The science team and volunteers took the structures out on our boats at sunrise for deployment at the artificial reef, Vato Mahavelo, close to the Rose Garden marine reserve. They were lucky as the water visibility was excellent, our boat captain Manjo didn’t even need the GPS to spot the site. In fact, they could see the little city of artificial reef bommies from the surface! From the boat, they dropped the small but very heavy structures onto the artificial reef site, which stands at 5m depth, they then dived down to ensure correct positioning. Placed between the large artificial reef bommies, these domes can act as a connection between bommies and provide an important additional shelter for many small marine organisms.

artificial habitat enhancement structure

The second design was a two-layered rebar nest-like frame (2m x 2m) filled with empty, recycled shells. This structure was also designed to provide shelter for fish and invertebrates. The first layer of large rebars will allow some big fish to enter and shelter but the second layer of narrower rebars filled with shells will only provide access for juvenile or small fish. The shells attract rapid colonisation by microorganisms and algae that will also provide a new food source for grazing fish and invertebrates.

artificial habitat enhancement structure

Another group of volunteers, with the help of children from Ifaty, gathered as many shells as they could in order to fill the structure. At the Reef Doctor open day held a few months ago, we ran a shell collecting competition for the children. They organised teams and collected many bags of empty waste shells from the village, which would have either be sold on the curio trade or discarded as rubbish (locals eat the mollusc animal inside the shell). This was a great opportunity to involve the children in the recycling of empty shells for beneficial ecological purposes and encouraging their return back into the ocean ecosystem, as opposed to supporting the detrimental curio trade or allowing them to simply going to waste on land.

shell collection

collecting shells

For its installation, the structure needed to be towed on a big pirogue by our boat and was dropped next to the artificial reef bommies. Our science team and volunteers will begin monitoring marine life colonisation and utilisation of these structures, stay tuned for further updates!

Our artificial reef project is conducted in collaboration with the local fishermen’s association FI.MI.HA.RA. Together, and with significant help from our volunteers, we aim to continue deploying habitat enhancement structures to enhance our network of artificial reef bommies at degraded reef sites across the bay. By creating new reef habitats and increasing fishing yields at artificial reef sites we hope to reduce fishing pressure on the few remaining natural coral reefs in the Bay of Ranobe.

Photo credits: Margot Chapon & Mattia Ghilardi

DIY – Make Toys With Rubbish

All around the world, children love toys. In Europe and America, toys are everywhere and quite accessible. During holidays, and especially Christmas, is the time when every parent goes and buys toys as a gift for their children. Gifts, in our countries, represent a massive quantity of waste, especially with the packaging and even more with gift-wrap.

In Madagascar, and especially in rural areas of the Southwest, where Reef Doctor is based, kids are not as lucky and don’t get many gifts or toys. So they came up with an idea: make their own toys. What type of raw material would you use to make your own toys? In rural villages, where people don’t own a lot of things, there is not as much material… but children here are resourceful and will use anything they can find in the village or on the beach, things that no one needs to use anymore… I’ll give you three guesses. Rubbish, of course!

In this blog, which is a tiny bit unusual, we’re inviting you to join the children of Ifaty during a session of making toys with rubbish.

How to make a kite

Material needed:

– plastic (out of a plastic bag or any more or less solid plastic)

– branches (straight and light, like bamboo)

– strings (ideally nylon or something similarly resistant)

Here in Ifaty, you can find all these things easily without the need to buy anything. You can pick up branches that have fallen on the ground and get strings out of thick fishing ropes by taking single strings apart. Torn pieces of rope can easily be found on the beach. The plastic can be a bit trickier sometimes, but as we already mentioned, kids here are resourceful and they will always find a solution. Let’s take a plastic bag as example and show you how do make your own kite with it.

You start by cutting the edges of the plastic bag, to have a flat surface. You should now have some kind of rectangle. You fold the plastic in two, lengthwise, and cut a triangle, so when you unfold it you have a diamond. This will make the wing of your kite.

For the next step you need the branches. As mentioned, they must be straight and light, so bamboo is the ideal wood for that. Depending on the size of the branch, you might cut it in two or four parts. Once you have your pieces of branch, you need to put them in a cross on the diamond of plastic, on the longest parts. After you place them, you need to make tiny holes on each side of the branch, near both edges. In the holes, you pass a piece of string and tie a tight knot. You do the same on the other three edges. You will then have your plastic diamond tightly attached to your wooden cross.

Now you go back to what is left of your plastic bag and cut a long piece, which can be a bit twisted and uneven, as it’s going to be the tail of your kite. Once you’re satisfied with how the tail looks, you can attach it on the wood on the bottom part of the diamond. You are now almost done! The only thing left to do is the string to be able to fly it. You need quite a long piece of string, and if you cannot find a long one, you can tie several pieces of string together to make a long one. Once your string is ready, simply attach one end to the bottom wood stick. Your kite is now ready to fly!


How to make a toy car

Material needed:

– sardine can

– bottle caps

– small straight sticks

You probably already guessed what this toy could be – the sardine can is going to be your car and the bottle caps the wheels. But how to put all that together? We’re going to explain it all to you and you’ll see, it’s pretty simple!

First, take a pair of scissors or anything that can pierce a can. Prepare the wooden sticks on top of the sardine can, on the bottom and on the top, so you can make straight holes in which you’ll be able to introduce the wooden sticks. Once the holes are pierced and the wooden sticks go through the sardine can, you can pierce the bottle caps and fix them on the wooden sticks. If your wooden sticks are too long, cut them a bit before inserting the bottle caps. Your car is now ready! The only thing left to do is to pierce a little hole at the top of the can and to put in a string, tie a knot and you can now start playing with your new recycled toy!

Buying toys that are gift-wrapped makes our children happy and puts a big smile on their faces. It is great to please them but while thinking of how to make them happy, you could also give a thought to the impact of all the wrapping paper and packaging discarded and maybe even the toy itself. Almost every child in the world loves to fly kites, and how proud would they be to create and make a kite with their own hands? Not only a great way to reduce pollution, but also a great family activity! So, why not give it a try?

Blog and photos by RD Comms Officer Karin Moehler

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: 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