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.


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


mangrove replanting

Twice the Celebration, Twice the Awareness

Tuesday 21 March was International Forestry Day and celebrations were so big here in the Atsimo-Andrefana region of southwest Madagascar they were spread over two days! On Friday 24 March, we attended a huge celebration in the village of Antanimeva in the district of Morombe, which was attended by the Minister for the Environment, Ecology and Forests, Dr. Johanita Ndahimananjara, together with associations from across the district.

International Forestry Day

International Forestry Day

We had an early start on Friday morning with the Reef Doctor car and the IOT (Indian Ocean Trapang – breed and sell juvenile sea cucumbers for sustainable livelihood farms) car leaving camp in convoy at 5:50am. We travelled for 3 hours inland to reach Antanimeva over some very bumpy roads with some amazing lush green scenery. The earth is so red in this part of the country that it looked like red velvet cake and made the trees and grasses seem even greener. The theme of the celebrations was ‘From the Forest to a Green Economy’. As the residents of Antanimeva and surrounding villages rely on agriculture, rearing livestock and charcoal production for subsistence this made Antanimeva the best place to celebrate the day and raise awareness of biofuel and sustainable forestry. Biofuel is a fuel produced through biological processes such as agriculture rather than through geological processes. Some renewable biofuels are made using biomass such as rice husks or zebu manure making them very suitable to forest areas of this region.

A number of different organisations attended the event and stalls were set up under shade in the baking sun for each organisation to share information about forestry, sustainable livelihoods, wildlife sanctuaries and biofuel.  Reef Doctor took the opportunity to introduce the residents of the area to the alternative charcoal we have been working on. The charcoal is made of approximately 35% charcoal dust mixed with zebu manure and small amount of wood chips, sawdust or filao needles. We were delighted with the turn out and in the interest in the project. The really exciting news is that the Minister for Environment, Ecology and Forests liked the project so much that she requested that we work with DREEF, the regional branch of the Environment, Ecology and Forests to promote the idea of alternative charcoal throughout the region. Following a busy but very gratifying day the Reef Doctor team bounced home on the bumpy road to get to bed early and continue the celebrations the following day a little closer to home.

International Forestry Day

International Forestry Day

International Forestry Day

We had another early start on Saturday and made our way to Andrevo at 6am to plant mangrove propagules. Despite the early hour seating and shelters were set up and music pumped from the speakers on the beach. The crowd started to gather and there was a full house, well beach, by the time the Minister, Dr. Johanita Ndahimananjara, the Mayor of Belalanda and the Mayor of Morombe arrived. Following speeches and a presentation of beautiful handmade miniature pirogues to the officials the real business of the day began. The Junior Reef Doctors joined the Reef Doctor staff and interns and it looked like half the village of Andrevo was out and ready to plant. With such a huge crowd it only took a few hours to plant a large area of mangroves and the hard work was done by 10am. The event then moved to Toliara with many of the attendants in tow but for many of us it was time to head back to camp for a late breakfast, happy in the knowledge that the beautiful mangrove forest in Andrevo will be a lot bigger in a few years!

mangrove replanting

mangrove replanting

International Forestry Day

Blog by Communications Officer Ivana Rubino 

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