Madagscar…something I wrote after returning from a year in this amazing place!

The blossoming baby sister of Africa. It is now finally receiving some worthy attention due to the cheeky pixar animation, despite being the oldest and fourth largest island in the world.

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot in both a terrestrial and oceanic perspective. There are over 200,000 species on the island, living in habitats ranging from rainforests to deserts and from the mountain tops to mangrove swamps. It is this range of available habitats, its positioning near the equator and subsequent tropical climate that has helped Madagascar become such a biological phenomenon.

In the tropical seas off the south west coast of Madagascar lies the fourth largest coral reef in the world, the Grand Recif de Tulear. It is ideally situated on the west coast where there lies a vast and shallow shelf, spreading out under the Mozambique channel, warmed by the Agulhas current. Perfect conditions for coral reef development, from fringing, to patchy to barrier formations.

The biggest ‘threat’ in the area is the native local Vezo culture. The inhabitants rely on the ocean for many aspects of their lives, with Vezo having the local meaning of ‘to live with the sea’. Every aspect of their lives and all necessary resources are extracted from the water in whatever capacity to suffice them.

Fortunately this problem has been acknowledged and there is currently significant action being undertaken in the form of a Marine conservation organisation, Blue Ventures.

One of Blue Ventures intentions is to help maintain the biological diversity and productivity of the reef. They work with an integrated and holistic approach, collaborating with the local community in a way that will not just create short term improvements, but will help ensure future benefits for the people and the natural environment.

The approach targets a whole spectrum, from social issues such as family planning, educational and teaching practices to actual scientific research and conservation legislation’s.

The intention is to help support and guide, but most importantly ensure self-sufficiency and progress. Local villagers are trained from fisherman to scientists. They are taught to preserve and protect the reef instead of hunting and predating it. Women are being taught about alternative livelihoods to encourage them away from their previous destructive lifestyles such as gleaning and shell fishing.

In conjunction with local activities for long term futures, powerful and direct projects are being implemented. In 2003 Blue Ventures discovered the importance of octopus to the region. This led to Marine protected areas and no-take zones being implemented. As a result there has already been a significant impact with greater yields for fishers  and an increase in the size and number of octopus. Strategising the times and areas where octopus are allowed to be caught has allowed the octopus to mature and reproduce more successively. The project has been a big success from an environmental and economic perspective, but has also illustrated the amazing success of an integrated and  personal approach with a local community. The whole scheme has been embraced and respected by everyone involved.

The collaborative approach is continued with an environmental perspective. Other than the projects directed at the coral reef itself, developments are being implemented on other crucial ecosystems. The coastal area is surrounded by both mangroves and seagrass beds. These separate ecosystems are individually important and fragile, but also rely on each other for success.

The mangroves protect the shoreline from coastal erosion, filter sediments and other imposing debris as well as serve as a nursery ground for future reef species. The seagrass represent a second lineage of stabilisation with the deeply embedded route system and provide niche habitats for other juvenile organisms. Without the healthy existence and continued productivity of these two ecosystems, the reef is placed in a vulnerable position. The coral reef requires such specific, almost delicate conditions to live and to flourish. The temperature, salinity levels and turbidity are all required to be succinctly stabilised and without the safety havens of the mangroves and seagrass with their sheltered and resourceful areas, reproductive stocks and general populations of reef organisms could suffer.

Blue Ventures carry out investigations and produce data for all three ecosystems and have different projects working on the protection and conservation of the whole area.


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