Community initiative to restore mangroves of Bay of Assassins: experience from the south-west of Madagascar

World Ocean’s day is fast approaching! This week we will share some short articles from current grantees under WIOMSA’s MASMA and MARG programmes. 

Community initiative to restore mangroves of Bay of Assassins: experience from the south-west of Madagascar

By Cicelin RAKOTOMAHAZO – PhD  

Walking down to this amazing place just at the shore of the southwestern coast of Madagascar, it is sometimes difficult to imagine, how lucky we are. Other people will pay hundreds of dollars for a walk into this tropical coastal and marine forest. At low tide, trees and roots loom from exposed mud, straight and curved tree woods, tangled and sometimes knee bent roots like. If you are lucky to be there when the tide is coming back say during high tide, cool seawater erases the loom dry trees into an amazing underwater world. It’s unbelievable how life changes here in a blink of an eye. Little fishes mostly juveniles will hover this habitat, searching for food and shelter, as the water piles up, adult fish will also move around. It is a completely different world. When tide resides, the stick-up roots like sharp objects come to life again, mud crab and mudfish will take over! What a place! So many stories to tell about this place, but let’s not forget this can be gone in a minute and will remain a fair tell. Am talking about mangroves.  

The mangrove habitat is part of the vital coastal ecosystems that support the livelihoods for millions of coastal communities in the world. Madagascar host about 2% of the world’s mangroves, the mangroves habitat provide food, support marine food webs, act as fisheries spawning ground and are a source of timber and fuel woods for the construction and cooking energy. They control sedimentation and provide protection from erosion and natural events such as cyclones. Mangroves play also an important role in climate change mitigation thanks to their significant capacity to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

The Bay of Assassins located within the Velondriake Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA), southwest Madagascar is surrounded by 1340ha of mangroves forests where the forest forms an economic backup to coastal communities surrounding the area. Since the year 2000, there has been a decrease in total area covered by the mangroves, estimate indicates from 2002 and 2014 net loss was 3.2%.  

Apart from the establishment of 257ha of strict conservation block and 973ha of sustainable harvest zones within their mangroves forest, restoring 163 ha of the degraded areas of mangroves is also an initiative taken by the ten communities surrounding the Bay of Assassins as sustainable solution to prevent mangrove degradation as well as to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Mangrove reforestation is an activity that attracts the attention of the local communities surrounding the bay as it is easy to proceed. The reforestation initiative started since 2014 through the commitment to plant 10ha per year (1ha in each village) with three mangrove species: Rhizophora mucronata, Bruguiera gymnorhiza and Ceriops tagal. Senegal’s Oceanium protocol is in full operation here, where seedlings are spaced 2 meters apart and the monitoring is scheduled at 3, 6, 12, 24 and 36 months after the plantation. 

From the year 2014, 47ha of degraded mangrove forests area has been replanted with a mixture of the three species mentioned above. Despite the initiative of local communities, most of the replanted sites encounter high mortality of seedlings where the cause remains unknown. 

Undertaking a deep study on investigating the factors that influence the success of mangrove restoration is important. Results from the study can be used for multiple purposes: to enhance the local initiative through the capacity building on mangrove restoration, to develop a standardize mangrove restoration manual, to influence policy and management strategies for this important ecosystem and the area could be used to  attract researchers from and outside the WIO region to share lesson and experience. 

Promoting collaborative research with the neighboring countries is important given that Madagascar’s mangroves have the largest extent in the Western Indian Ocean region with the high potentiality to support fisheries production in the region and also to contribute to climate change mitigation. There is therefore high opportunity to approach several research themes such as institutional governance of mangroves and quantification of the community effort to sequester carbon through mangrove restoration. Collaborative research will allow Madagascar not only to share experience and lesson to learn but also to learning from others. With support from WIOMSA through the Marine and Research Grant (MARG), we are working to assist communities to conserve mangroves forest.  

Cicelin Rakotomahazo is a PhD student at Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines in Madagascar 

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