Juniors Explore the Spiny Forest

A couple of weeks ago, on a Saturday morning we bundled all our Reef Doctor Juniors into a taxi brousse and headed to the Spiny Forest for a field trip! The Juniors are a group of 21, enthusiastic kids from EPP Ifaty to whom we teach environmental education each week. During the last couple of weeks, they have been learning the basics on ecosystems throughout Madagascar and locally to this region: Coral Reef, Seagrass, Mangrove and the Spiny Forest. For each subject in the Junior curriculum we take them on a fieldtrip… there is no better way to learn than actually getting out of the classroom! So, this time it was the locally run Spiny Forest (Ala maiky) reserve in Mangily.

When we arrived, we were met by the director of the reserve, Feon, who was to be our guide for the morning, and led us straight to Maki (Lemur) Sanctuary. Throughout our tour, he explained to the Juniors that these lemurs aren’t in cages for cruelty but to help them rehabilitate to the wild. Many of the foreigners who settle in Madagascar take lemurs from the wild, from their natural home, leave them in cages in their home with the job of looking pretty and impressing friends. It isn’t for conservation purposes. This sanctuary was created to retrieve these caged lemurs and rehabilitate them back to where they belong, in the wild areas of this beautiful country. In total, they have about 25 lemurs in rehabilitation, all Ring-tailed Lemurs apart from one Red-fronted Lemur.

Juniors learning about the rehabilitation of Lemurs

Ring-tailed Lemur nearly ready to be released back into his natural home.

After visiting where the lemurs’ food is prepared, Feon guided us to the Tortoise Sanctuary. He explained to the children that this species, the ‘Radiated’ tortoise, is found all over Madagascar, however the greatest population is found here, in the Spiny Forest. While the kids excitedly gathered in a circle trying to get a better look, Feon explained to them that the Radiated tortoise is critically endangered due to habitat loss and being poached for food – hence why they created a sanctuary.

In the Tortoise Sanctuary, each kid wanted a good look!

For the next hour, the kids got to tour and explore the forest of 95% flora endemic – the Ala Maiky or the Spiny Forest. It is now a well-known fact amongst the kids that this unique, dry forest is only found in the Southwest of Madagascar and nowhere else in the world. Along the way, kids jumped on the opportunity of cracking open and eating the delicious baobab fruit that had fallen to the ground. Baobab fruit is very healthy, containing more Vitamin C than oranges and more potassium than bananas. While the kids happily munched away, Feon guided the group around many endemic trees. The main attraction, however, was one of the oldest baobabs in the reserve – over 1100 years old! It took 15 kids, arms stretched wide, to circumference the trunk of the grand tree. During the tour, unsurprisingly with 21 exciting, laughing kids, we didn’t see any animals! However, Feon explained there are many interesting animals that call this dry land home, including several lemurs, geckos, snakes and 8 endemic species of bird.

Tour around the reserve – beautiful Moringa tree in the background

Fabrice happily breaking open her baobab fruit

How many Juniors does it take to circle the circumference of one of the oldest baobabs in the reserve?

To round off our morning in the Spiny forest, Feon ended with a small speech for our Juniors:

‘As young kids – the future generation of leaders and conservationists – you should be well aware of the reasons why we need to protect our animals, like the lemur, and our plants, like the baobab. Firstly, because they are endemic*, only found in our country, meaning only we are responsible for them. Secondly, because they are threatened and thirdly because they are absolutely beautiful. You, the future leaders of Madagascar, need to realise how special this region is and start to protect it.’

*Not all baobabs are endemic to Madagascar. There are 9 species worldwide, 7 are found in Madagascar, others are found in Mainland Africa & Australia.

In true Malagasy style, the Taxi Brousse was late!

21 Juniors, 2 teachers and our wonderful guide, Feon.

The Education Team would like to take this opportunity to thank Feon and all his employees for all their hard work. With a growing population and increasing cost of living, traditional ways of life aren’t generating enough money anymore. With the Bay of Ranobe highly overfished, many fishermen are now relying on charcoal production for income. The Spiny Forest is increasingly under threat and the work being done at the Ala Maiky Reserve is critical.

Blog and photos by RD Education Officer Beth Dickens

3 years of Juniors, a wonderful experience

A chapter is closing in the lives of 25 children of Ifaty. The children who were Reef Doctor’s Juniors for the past 3 years. During those years, they learnt about environmental protection, marine as well as terrestrial. They had the chance to witness with their own eyes the beauty and importance of the environment as we were teaching them through different activities outside of Reef Doctor. In this article, we’ll lead you through these past 3 years and let the Juniors tell you what they experienced and what they retain from this experience.

The Junior Reef Doctor Scholarship Programme started in 2014. The children of the Malagasy staff, who can read and write, as well as 15 other pupils of the EPP Ifaty (Public Primary School Ifaty), the most deserving in three different classes, formed the 30 Reef Doctor Juniors during these 3 years. Every Saturday morning, they came to Reef Doctor’s classroom from 8 till 12. For the last year, they had lunch with the education team before heading home, a meal prepared by the women’s group of Ifaty.

In the program, environment and ecology, oceans and seas, coastal areas, mangroves, coral reefs, human impacts: waste and pollution, but also sustainable management of littoral and halieutic resources. During this last year they have also studied water and hydrologic cycles, soils and forests. For every topic, they learnt what it is, what it provides, but also the threats they’re facing and how we can help protect it.

The Juniors also had the chance to witness with their own eyes what they were taught about during several excursions. Amongst those, they went whale watching, visited the mangrove at our Honko site in Ambondrolava, and discovered the Spiny Forest in Mangily as well as the tortoise sanctuary. They attended a “Green School” for 3 days with Bel Avenir and we took them to snorkel around our MPA Rose Garden. The apotheosis of the Junior Programme was most probably on the 28th of January when they held an open day at the Ifaty primary school to show their families, friends and the whole community what they had learned.

These 30 kids all enjoyed being part of the Juniors and were proud to represent Reef Doctor. At several events, such as the MPA Relay, they sang and danced in the name of Reef Doctor and were wonderful performers!

We collected some testimonials so the Juniors can tell us themselves what they liked and how these 3 years will help them in the future.


Souveline: I really liked the Juniors, especially the atmosphere, the community and the fact that nobody was ever fighting. The classes I enjoyed the most were the English lessons. I’m sure that what I learnt will help me in the future.




Pierrine: The Juniors was a great experience. I really enjoyed learning things about the environment and how we can protect it. What I learnt at the Juniors will surely help me in the future, as I, for example, now know the importance of tree planting to preserve the environment and improve our lives. I also know now that we shouldn’t throw rubbish on the floor because it pollutes the village and the sea, but we should put it in a bin, to make the village cleaner and healthier. It harmonizes life.




Papy: I really enjoyed being part of the Juniors. What I liked the most was to learn about tree planting. People cut down the trees but when I will be old I will see the trees I planted. It’s important to plant trees because they give us oxygen to breathe and provide shade when it’s hot. My experience with the Juniors will help me later, to make compost for example if I want to grow beans.



Lodafara: I liked the Juniors and especially the cohesion in the group and the love we share between Juniors. I enjoyed the English classes the most. I think they are going to help me to speak with Anglophones and find a job in the future.




Merine: I loved the Juniors. I really liked to learn about the environment and especially everything that is marine-related. I know that it is important to protect the marine environment and keep the fishes healthy!



Friko: I liked the Juniors, particularly learning about the environment and coral reefs, because if people don’t know how important coral reefs are and destroy them, there will be no more food. Later if people continue to destroy the reef, I know why and how to protect it so there will still be fish.

A chapter is closing but another is starting with 20 bright new Juniors, who, we hope, will continue to be curious and interested to learn more about their environment and how to protect it, in order to become the conscious, aware and dedicated leaders of tomorrow.

Blog by RD Comms Officer Karin Moehler

Photo credit: Ivana Rubino & Karin Moehler

Rd school

The New Reef Doctor School: Creating Future Leaders of Positive Change

Informed decision-making is an essential component of sustainable development and conservation in rural communities. For example, if you aim to sustainably exploit the marine environment you need to be able to interpret a graph on fisheries catch data. Therefore, the importance of a good education is undeniable. Although primary schooling is mandatory from the age of six in Madagascar, less than 50% of children have received five years of schooling by the age of 15 (OPHI). The education system is failing, with resources and facilities increasingly unable to function and accommodate the growing number of children requiring access to education. Reef Doctor is increasingly asking the ethical question ‘how can the communities we work with make informed decisions about their future if they are unable to access information through reading, disseminate information, and keep records of past events/changes if they cannot write?’.

In Ifaty, and indeed all across Madagascar, many parents cannot afford to send all of their children to school and many have to decide which of their children will get any kind of primary school education. Many schools in the area, like the primary school in Ifaty, are too small. In Ifaty, half the children of school going age attend school in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. Teachers do their absolute best with the limited teacher training available. Furthermore, the vast majority of public primary schools employ an archaic teaching method because the tools and resources are not available to introduce different teaching styles into the classroom.

After witnessing the deterioration of the schooling system in our home village of Ifaty, Reef Doctor directors, Roderick Stein-Rostaing and Emma Gibbons, decided enough was enough and recently started a programme for change, the new Reef Doctor school! This new initiative aims to deliver a high standard of education and skill development training to a few local children in order for them to become ambassadors and future leaders of their community. The new Reef Doctor school will provide the skills and tools for these children to become the access point for communities to learn about wider social issues such as climate change and declining fish stocks, which affect everyday lives. The vision is to provide a platform that empowers communities to make informed decisions about their future.

Rd school

Rd school

Based out of the home of Director Emma in Ifaty village, the Reef Doctor school is now attended by 25 children from the village. Four teachers have been employed to teach the children and they work closely with the Reef Doctor Education Department to improve teaching methods and deliver the children a broader programme of education in Science, Mathematics, French, Malagasy, English, Geography, History, Sport and of course, Environmental Studies. The school has been up and running since September 2016 and is going from strength to strength. In addition to classes in the Reef Doctor School, pupils also attend workshops at Reef Doctor and community events along with the Junior Reef Doctors.

Rd school

This endeavour received a huge boost recently when a representative of CISCO, the Regional Department of Education in Toliara, visited the school. The school is now being registered with the government to include permission to teach classes to the level of high school diploma. A huge advantage of the visit and the registration of the school is that the school, once registered, will be eligible to receive assistance from a food programme, which will mean that the children will receive a nutritious lunch during their school day to fulfil their learning potential. The school is a testament to Roderick and Emma’s dedication to the community where they have resided for over a decade. They hope to provide the opportunity for children to receive an education that will help them to learn to investigate and question the world around them and ultimately  understand enough about that world to make informed and educated decisions that improve their quality of life and the lives of those in their community.

Rd school

Jnr Open day

Reef Doctor Juniors Open Day Huge Success

Education is the most important conservation tool. Teaching children about the world around them and fostering an interest in the environment makes conservation part of a child’s everyday life and helps to form habits they will carry with them throughout their lives.

The Junior Reef Doctors Scholarship Programme has helped to educate the brightest and most dedicated students in Ifaty primary school about the environment since 2014.  In turn the Juniors share their knowledge with family and friends and spread the message of sustainable living and conservation. And on Saturday 28 January the Juniors really got a chance to shine when they held an open day in Ifaty primary school to show the community what they have learned.

open day

The education department and the Juniors got to work very early last Saturday morning bringing tables, prizes and various project materials to the school to host their very first open day. Stalls were set up around the school grounds and the children were all in charge of different stations. When visitors arrived the Juniors jumped into action and explained each project perfectly. They clarified deforestation and provided a practical example of the affect of deforestation on coastal erosion with a model forested and deforested area. They described the process for making artificial charcoal while showing the crowd the raw ingredients used to make the briquettes and then they held a practical demonstration by lighting a fire so that everyone could see how well the briquettes burned and feel the heat they gave out.

open day 2

alternative charcoal

The Juniors also showed off the crafts they made out of recycled materials including toilet roll insert puppets and skipping ropes made from plastic bags. They giggled uncontrollably while adults tried the tin can and string phone and beamed with pride while they explained to the grown ups how it worked. They demonstrated how to make plastic string by cutting a plastic bottle into a long thin strip with a simply made plastic cutting tool and they enjoyed watching as children played with the various toys and adults ooed and aahed at the various practical projects.

making skipping ropes

making telephones

Once the Juniors had demonstrated all the projects they entertained the crowd with a dance routine and made history with the first ever public lottery held in the village. There was great excitement as tickets were pulled from the hat and smiling winners came to collect their prizes that ranged from clothes to toiletries to food with the main prize being an inflatable dingy. There was a great turn out and the Juniors and the education department did a fantastic job as ever. Their parents, schoolteachers and Reef Doctor couldn’t be more proud of them.

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

lottery win

green school

Green School is Cool!

Remember how much fun bunk beds were when you were a child? Ok, now imagine how much fun a triple-decker bunk bed is when you’re a child living in a place where concrete houses are a rarity, not to mention bunk beds to put in them. Can you imagine? Yes! Well, that’s almost as much fun as the Junior Reef Doctors and about twenty other school children from Ifaty had at Green School, or Class Vert as it’s known here, last week. Green School is a three-day summer camp held in the grounds of Solidaire Hotel that teaches children about the environment and socially and environmentally responsible living to work towards sustainable development and a sustainable future. The workshop is run by Bel Avenir, an NGO based in Toliara and Mangily where the children stayed from Wednesday to Saturday. But the children didn’t just enjoy the bunk beds, they also loved the trip to the Spiny Forest, the trip to the beach to watch a video and learn about whales, the swings, the slide, the football pitch, the games, the songs, the trip away from home and the energetic fun people from Bel Avenir who run the summer camp.

I spent the second afternoon with the children at Green School and wished I could stay for the rest of the trip. I arrived at about noon when everyone was having lunch on traditional Vezo floor mats in the main meeting area in the grounds.  There were lots of smiling happy faces and it was obvious that even lunch was fun for everyone. Once the children had finished eating and helped to clean up it was time for a nap. This really meant that it was time to play in their bunk beds for a while before going outside and playing on the swings and slide or having a kick about with a football. After ‘nap time’ everyone lined up in the main meeting area again. The children had already been taught some really great raps and marches by Christian, one of the staff, and when he gave the signal to move out the children marched in pairs listening out for instructions or a funny rap.

Our big group walked through Mangily and down the beach where a local dive center, Atimo Plongee, had a TV set up waiting to show the children a film about whales. The teacher arrived shortly after us and none of the children seemed fazed by the fact that he was a very large imposing figure with a deep voice and a stick in his hand, but I was! But I soon found out I didn’t need to be. The stick was for pointing at the whales on the screen and his deep booming voice carried very nicely over the waves and wind. The children loved him and loved the film and class. They had a great time answering quiz questions at the end of the film about what they had learned. Afterwards everyone formed a huge circle on the beach and played games. A little while later it was time for me to head back to Ifaty and I left the group playing on the beach. I could still hear the squeals and giggles all the way down the beach.

Learning should be fun. Learning about socially responsible living and a sustainable future is great fun at Green School.  Sustainable development is essential for a sustainable future and Green School and its amazing team is doing a great job preparing these children for their future as socially aware and responsible adults.

Reported by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino