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.  

rock delivery with FIMIHARA

“The Rock That Gives Life”

Back in August we posted some pictures of the blessing of the rocks being used in a new reef restoration project. It has been months in the planning but we are very excited to confirm that everything is now ready for construction. On Friday 21st of October the site of the first artificial reef in the Bay of Ranobe will be blessed during a huge day of events in Ifaty village and on the beach. The community event will even be attended by the Minister of Fisheries and the Mayor of the Belalanda region.

So first a bit of background on the project. The bay’s 32 km reef forms one of the largest coral reef systems in the world. However, the majority of coral reef habitats within the bay have been heavily degraded over the last decade due to bleaching, sedimentation, and overfishing. The majority of reefs have now been overgrown with algae and are mainly composed of dead coral rubble. This ecological degradation is in turn compromising marine resource availability for local fishermen. It is therefore imperative to implement a sustainable and widespread reef restoration programme in order to prevent total collapse of this valuable ecosystem and to reverse declining fishery catches for local subsistence communities.

Our earlier attempts to protect coral reefs in the bay comprised the establishment of two marine reserves (2007–2008). While the prohibition of fishing in the reserves has resulted in an increase in fish populations and the maintenance of coral cover at these sites, the establishment of additional marine reserves has not been feasible. This is because the continued degradation of reef sites in the bay has limited the availability of productive fishing reefs for local fishermen. Therefore, in order to address the social and economic needs of the local fishing communities, alternative fishing grounds must first be provided before the few remaining viable reefs can be protected from fishing.

Our new artificial reef project plans to install simple, relatively low-cost and replicable artificial reef structures on degraded reef sites to increase fish and invertebrate populations in order to improve fisheries productivity, reverse declining catches and redirect fishing pressure off over-exploited fragile coral reefs in the lagoon interior. We also intend to speed up the regeneration of corals reefs at these sites by transplanting coral fragments from our nurseries on to the artificial structures as part of our coral gardening project.

Back in March, we sourced low-cost limestone boulders from a local quarry in Ifaty village (providing direct financial benefits to Ifaty village quarry workers) to trial a simple artificial reef method. Limestone is ideal for artificial reef work as it mimic natural reef systems and is the perfect material to encourage reef organism settlement. Arrangement of these boulders into artificial reef bommies (a reef outcrop) will create structurally complex habitats in areas devoid of coral reefs to encourage colonisation of algal and invertebrates (including coral), which will in turn attract fish. In the long-term, we aim to install a network of these bommies across the bay in order to restore coral reef habitat and create alternative fishing sites.

We purposefully choose a simple structural design and low cost local materials for these artificial reefs so that local communities can maintain and replicate these structures in the future without external assistance or intervention. This project is being executed as a joint effort with Directeur Régional des Ressources Halieutiques et de la Pêche, Région Atsimo Andrefana – DRRHP (Ministry of Marine Resources and Fisheries), IOT, COPEFRITO, FRDA, Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines (University of Toliara), and importantly FI.MI.HA.RA (regional fishermen’s association), representing all 13 villages in the bay (> 20,000 people), in order to promote community ownership and project sustainability.

For the initial pilot scheme, we decided to start our efforts near the Rose Garden marine reserve, where years of protection have increased fish populations over a relatively limited reef area. Therefore, by placing a network of interconnecting artificial reef bommies in a region close to the reserve, we hope this will encourage a species spillover effect, and provide a corridor of new substrate to be inhabited (connecting other intermittent bommies and seagrass beds in the vicinity), regenerating marine life in areas of degraded reef. This in turn will provide alternative fishing sites so that the fishermen can directly benefit from Rose Garden’s high productivity, whilst allowing the marine reserve to continue to flourish in the absence of fishing pressure. In addition, we hope that this artificial reef site will be further protected by FI.MI.HA.RA with the implementation of open/closed fishing season rotations under a sustainable fisheries management plan.

The science team conducted survey dives and manta tows at various areas in the search for a suitable site, and in early August a site was agreed and mapping survey dives took place to map the area. They also carried out a considerable amount of artificial reef literature research. Armed with this knowledge and approximately 21 tons of limestone and five concrete tubes, design began on the bommies with prototypes being built on the beach and various different designs tested. The bommies had to be secure so that they wouldn’t collapse in strong currents but they also had to provide lots of interesting hiding places for marine life. The concrete tubes are going to provide habitats for octopuses and lobster. The science team have also been busy researching and developing monitoring methods to evaluate the impacts of the artificial reef on marine life, fisheries, and reef regeneration over time.

julie

Once the team had a good idea of where and what needed to be constructed, it was time to present the idea to the local community to obtain agreement and permission to bring the artificial reef project to life, since this is a community project that belongs to everyone in the area.

Monsieur Bruno Keza Souvenir, president of FI.MI.HA.RA, visited the site in late August. The matter was discussed with the members of FI.MI.HA.RA and the idea approved. The team was now ready to present the idea to people of Ifaty and this phase began with a meeting with the Olobe (village elders) of Ifaty at the end of August. The Olobe approved of the plan and we were honoured to be visited by the Olobe on 24th August when a traditional blessing with rum was carried out on the rocks on the beach.

Following the meeting with the Olobe a presentation was made in the village in mid September to discuss the idea with the community. The team discussed the difficulties faced by fishers in the bay and those present agreed but felt that there was nothing that could be done. This provided the perfect opportunity to introduce the Artificial Reef Project, as the team was able to confirm that there was definitely something we could try and they had been planning a solution for some time that would be implemented if the community wanted to proceed. Everyone agreed and the team awaited word of the start date from the residents of the village.

Preparation continued throughout the months of August and September. The protocol for survey methodology was agreed in mid August and the bommie position markers were put in the water. By the end of September building on land was finished and it was agreed that the final design would consist of two large bommies with three small bommies connecting them. At the end of September the first trial construction took place underwater. As the rocks had to be brought back to the surface, just 14 rocks were used. The dive was a success as the construction methodology was decided upon. On the 5th of October the markers were placed for permanent surveys and the first mimic survey took place the following day. Meanwhile the community agreed upon the 21st of October as the official start date for construction.

With just two weeks left to go before the big event everyone on camp and in the village is preparing. A day of traditional Vezo festivities is planned, with events taking place throughout the village including traditional Vezo dancing, songs from the Juniors, official speeches and traditional sporting events. The main attraction, however, will be the blessing of the site where the limestone rocks will hopefully become a vibrant reef providing an improved fishing ground for the area. The site has been named Vato Mahavelo meaning the rock that gives life and we are all optimistic that this will be the case.

If you would like to be part of the construction and maintenance of Vato Mahavelo get yourself signed up as a ReefDoctor volunteer and come and join the team hard at work. Alternatively, another great way to help is by donating to the project to help fund monitoring and bommie implementation expansion across the bay; fundraising details will be provided later this week. Thank You!!

Report by RD Comms Team Ivana Rubino & Viv Stein-Rostaing

Coral Transplantation Project Update

Our coral reef restoration programme in the Bay of Ranobe, SW Madagascar aims to enhance coral cover and diversity, assisting the natural recovery process of degraded reefs, through a combination of coral gardening, direct coral transplantation, and artificial reefs.

Earlier in the year we reported on the success of our trial coral transplantation project at the Rose Garden marine reserve. In August 2015, on a patch of reef devoid of live coral cover, we installed a network of artificial reef structures and populated them with corals of opportunity (loose fragments salvaged from the seabed that would otherwise die).  Despite extremely promising results after the first 6 months of the project (high coral survival, growth, self-attachment and natural coral recruitment), mass coral bleaching earlier this year sadly resulted in the loss of approximately 50% of these transplanted corals. However, transplantation of new fragments to these structures is continuing in order to get the restoration process back on track.

In February 2016 we started developing the coral transplantation project further and the team looked for another suitable site to expand the scope of our restoration efforts. We had three main objectives for this next stage of the project. Firstly, similar to the first site, transplantation would be carried out to increase coral cover and diversity, and to restore that section of the reef. Secondly, we wanted to see if corals react differently to transplantation depending on the species.  Finally, we wanted to find out if the high levels of sedimentation at Rose Garden (due to its relatively low profile) affect transplanted corals salvaged from other areas of the bay that have relatively lower levels of sedimentation.

The team selected a sloped site on the eastern side of Rose Garden, measuring approximately 7 m wide x 3.5 m deep from the top of the main section of the reef down to the sandy bottom surrounding the reef.  The same artificial reef structures (rebar frames) that were used at the first transplantation site were installed, upon which new corals of opportunity could be attached.  We also repurposed an old metal solar oven. The solar oven was stripped of paint and given ‘legs’ and a ‘head’ turning it into a turtle shaped structure. The idea being to act as a point of interest for tourists visiting the reef to promote awareness of this form of conservation.  In March, a total of 35 framed structures and the turtle were installed over the course of four dives. Two loads of limestone were also sunk at the site to stabilize the structures and to provide nooks and crannies for fish and invertebrates to hide in and swim through.

In order to monitor the survival and growth of the fragments it was necessary to implement a monitoring system that could guarantee repeatability and be easy enough for divers of all levels to operate, so that future volunteers and interns can continue the monitoring process. The team decided that a photographic method of recording growth was the best solution. They are currently working on refining this method and a camera rig to find the ideal set up.

We then waited until temperatures cooled down in June and July to populate the structures with corals of opportunity. To date, 25 fragments (Acropora, Seriatopora, Pocillipora and Porites spp.) have been transplanted from Coral Garden, a dive site south west of Rose Garden and close to the lagoon pass. A further 26 (Acropora and Pociliopora spp.) fragments have been transplanted from Ambatafia, a site also south west of Rose Garden but closer to the pass. Despite conducting coral transplantation in the cool season, unfortunately, at present, all fragments show signs of stress or bleaching, although Porities spp. are faring better. This stress may have been caused by the actual transplantation process and we are hopeful that the fragments will recover in time.

The project is still very much in the early stages and the team is currently assessing their transportation methods in an effort to reduce stress on the corals. Transplantation, cleaning and monitoring dives are undertaken weekly and we hope to be able to bring you some good news about the corals’ recovery from bleaching and their growth in our next update. Stay tuned!

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

honeybees

World Honeybee Day

Honeybees have been a prominent topic in conservation news in recent years and with good cause. Bee populations globally are under threat and without them to pollinate flowers and crops we may not be able to eat the food we love in the future. For instance, crops like blueberries and cherries are 90% dependent on pollination by bees. If honeybees were to disappear completely we could lose the equivalent of one in every three bites of food (www.beesmatter.ca). There is no single cause for the disappearance of honeybees but general scientific opinion is that there are a number of causes for the decline including insecticides and a loss of countryside and green spaces to urban development (www.fastcoexist/honeybees).

For this reason today, the 20th August, is World Honeybee Day, established to raise awareness of the importance of bees. Here in Madagascar bees are also important to sustainable development and even play their part in recycling. Wild honey hunters have, for centuries throughout Madagascar, hunted wild beehives and collected wild honey. There are many ways that this is done. Possibly the most macabre method is that used by tribes in the high plateau. Traditionally these people put the coffins of their dead in trees. Over time bees use the coffins as hives and produce honey in them. The people of the high plateau cannot eat the honey as it is fady (taboo) to do so. Instead they collect the honey and trade it with other groups for essentials (www.prezi.com).

Usually honey is collected by wild honey hunters by finding a wild hive in a hole in a tree, smoking out the bees and placing the queen in a bamboo cage. The hunter can then take the honeycomb and honey. Unfortunately, the bees are not always left alive and therefore the practice is not sustainable. But there are currently a number of NGOs in Madagascar who have looked to the traditional place of honey in Malagasy life and gotten involved in beekeeping projects that are sustainable and are helping to alleviate poverty for beekeeping families. Our sister NGO Honko Mangrove Conservation and Education is one of the NGOs that is teaching and practicing apiculture or beekeeping. In the village of Ambondrolava, where Honko is based, there are currently two households involved in apiculture. Each hive produces approximately 10 litres of honey a year. Honey is sold for 10,000 Ariary per litre and therefore the potential income to the household is 100,000 Ariary per year (approximately £23). This is not a vast amount of money by anyone’s standards but it is a helpful supplement to the income of these households.

 

Honko also have their own hive on site. They are currently populating the hive and it should be producing honey within a year. Hives are populated by using honeycomb created elsewhere and placing it in the new hive. The hive currently in use at Honko is of quite a complicated design and Honko has plans to begin using Kenyan beehives that are of a much simpler design and easier to extract honey from. The honey is extracted using a machine called an extractor in which the combs are spun, allowing the honey to be collected in a drum.

Honey and beekeeping also helps to deal with the thousands of plastic bottles used in Madagascar every day. Used bottles are refilled with honey and sold in markets and villages throughout the country. Of course, it’s not ideal to reuse plastic bottles containing PEP but it is an awful lot better than the alternative, which is burning all the plastic bottles that have only been used once or throwing them on the ground or in the sea. There is no refuse collection and no recycling points in most of Madagascar and so reusing something is the best way to prevent it becoming waste and very often pollution. Furthermore most people who sell honey probably cannot afford to buy the bottles they need. You often see children asking tourists for their empty bottles and most people touring the country or visiting national parks keep their empty bottles until they come across a group of children who want to recycle them. Please remember to do so if you visit or save them during your trip and drop them off at an NGO before you leave.

Closer to home there are a number of things you can do to help honeybee populations including planting bee-friendly wildflower seeds and allowing dandelions and clover to grow in your garden. Your garden, you and your family will also benefit if you stop using commercial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are loaded with harmful chemicals that are very damaging to bees. Support local honeybee keepers by buying your honey locally. This not only supports your local economy but supports local beekeepers who tend to be more concerned with the health of their bees than large companies are. And please remember to recycle the container your honey comes in.

 

Article by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

reef safe sunscreen

Not just a drop in the ocean….

Sunscreen is an essential part of almost everyone’s holiday preparations. We choose a sunscreen that we can afford, that offers the right level of SPF protection and that comes in a spray, cream or oil depending on our preferences. But do we look at or even care about what’s actually in our sunscreen? Is your sunscreen giving you and your environment the best protection it can? When it comes to the sea your sunscreen could be letting you down. Any diver who learned to dive with a reputable organization knows that caring for our oceans and everything that lives in them is an essential part of learning to dive and continuing to dive. New divers learn that it’s vital to protect the underwater environment for future generations to visit. But even the most careful diver could be damaging coral reefs systems without even knowing it.  Corals are vulnerable to many threats created by our modern world such as over fishing, rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and run off from industry and agriculture. But corals are also being damaged by something much less obvious.  Something each and every one of us can do our part to address. Sunscreen!

Traditional sunscreens are loaded with preservatives, chemicals and nano particles that have now been proven to damage coral reefs by contributing significantly to coral bleaching, and cause damage to our bodies through absorption of toxins from the chemicals through our skin. The majority of these sunscreens contain oxybenzone, a chemically active ingredient that has been identified as one of the most damaging chemicals for corals. The active ingredient in sunscreen is the component that does most of all of the work to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, which is great as long as the active ingredient is not oxybenzone or other damaging ingredients such as avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and octinoxate or a combination of these chemicals.

A report published in 2015 in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology reveals that oxybenzone is a major contributing factor in widespread coral bleaching. Furthermore the chemical does not just kill the coral. It damages DNA in adult coral and deforms DNA in coral in the larval stage making it unlikely to form properly.  Sadly this means that anytime you wear a sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or other harmful active ingredients and swim in waters that contain corals you are actively allowing the damaging chemical to come in contact with fragile corals. The Washington Post (2015) notes that ‘the equivalent of a drop of water in a half dozen Olympic sized swimming pools’ is enough to damage fragile coral reef systems. Just think how much sunscreen it takes to cover every tourist that visits a beach that has coral reefs nearby! A lot, right? Well, it is estimated that 14,000 tons of sunscreen ends up in coral reefs worldwide annually (Huffington Post). 14,000 TONS!!!!

Sunscreen does not spread or dissipate easily in water. Therefore tourist hotspots tend to have much higher concentrations of the chemical in the water. Unfortunately, a lot of tourist hotspots also have coral reef systems. It is estimated that 90% of dive and snorkeling tourism is concentrated in 10% of the world’s coral reefs (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: NOAA).  But you don’t have to be a diver or snorkeler to contribute to the damage. Even if you haven’t been in the sea on holiday the sunscreen you apply every day gets washed away in the shower and ends up in the wastewater system thereby ending up in the sea anyway in most cases.

This is all very compelling evidence to suggest that we all need to be far more responsible when it comes to what products we take into the water with us. However this may not be compelling enough for those of us who don’t feel a responsibility to our environment (and sadly, yes there are people who don’t). Is there any other reason to switch to a reef safe sunscreen? Well, yes. There is also evidence to suggest that the toxins in oxybenzone are absorbed through the skin every time sunscreen is applied. Based on a representative sampling of children and adults it is estimated that 96% of Americans have oxybenzone in their bodies (Centre for Disease Control, Calafat 2008).  Laboratory tests have shown that oxybenzone upsets hormone levels and acts like estrogen in the system, altering sperm counts in many animals and causing endometriosis in women. It has also been found in mothers’ breast milk and been found to cause skin allergies. So whatever way you look at it and no matter what you are seeking to protect oxybenzone is bad news.

But do you have to decide between protecting your skin and protecting corals? Thankfully, no you don’t. First of all hats, long sleeve shirts and sarongs provide good shade from the sun’s harmful rays. There are also many different options now available for people who love spending time in the sea and who care about protecting our oceans.  No sunscreen is completely ‘reef safe’ but the term is being used to refer to sunscreens that cause much less damage to corals than traditional sunscreens. Reef safe sunscreens are oxybenzone free and are very often free of parabens, nano particles and other nasty chemicals, of which we are increasingly becoming aware and do not want in our skincare products. Mineral active ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, which have not been found to harm corals, or a combination of both provide the sun protection in reef safe sunscreens.

One of the main criticisms leveled at sunscreens containing mineral active ingredient is that they are hard to apply and have a ‘paint like’ quality. However this is something that manufacturers are aware of and new more user-friendly versions are coming out all the time. Another draw back critics site is cost. Reef safe sunscreens tend to be all-natural and unfortunately they are often a little more expensive than the cheaper common chemical based sunscreens. However they are similar in price to sunscreens from some of the bigger manufacturers so this argument does not hold a lot of water.  But personal experience confirms that reef safe sunscreens last a very long time and do provide excellent protection from the sun making them very good value for money. They are best applied on well moisturized skin that is dry to the touch So it might take you a little longer to rub the cream in before you hit the water but is it really worth contributing to coral reef damage just to save two minutes and a tiny bit of elbow grease?

When it comes to being responsible for our environment people often say that anything one individual can do will make no difference. Despite the fact that this logic is flawed (but that’s another article for another time) wearing reef safe sunscreen is actually something that individuals can do that can make a very big difference. In fact, everyday average people are those best placed to address this problem. By making one simple change to your holiday preparations you are not only ensuring that you and your family are protected, you are also making sure that one of the most important ecosystems in the world is being protected. It is within your capabilities. Make a difference and go reef safe today!!

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino