EducationTuesday August 19th, 2014

Coral reef protection in Madagascar

The southwestern coast of Madagascar supports the third largest coral reef system in the world. Extending a distance of more than 300km, the Toliara reef system is made up of barrier and fringing reefs, shallow lagoons and abyssal slopes. It is also one of the very few places where the prehistoric coelacanth fish can be seen. 
 
The Vezo people who live in this coastal region continue to practice a traditional lifestyle that is almost entirely dependent on the coral reefs. To protect this way of life and the reef, WWF is working to create a marine protected area within the Toliara coral reef and to help communities manage the marine resources.

Background

The Southwestern coast of Madagascar supports the third largest coral reef system in the world. Known as the Toliara reef system near the largest city in the Southwest, it extends from the North of the Mangoky river (Belo sur Mer) southwards to the village of Androka, a distance of more than 300 km. The wide variety of marine habitats includes barrier and fringing reefs, shallow lagoons and abyssal slopes that fall to a depth of more than a kilometre. These different environments are home to more than 6,000 recorded species. 

Apart from the plethora of reef- and lagoon-dwelling fish and invertebrates, the region attracts sea turtles from all over the Western Indian Ocean. It is also one of the very few places on Earth where the fabled coelacanth, a prehistoric fish close to the ancestors of terrestrial vertebrates, still finds refuge among the caves far below the ocean’s surface. 

The Vezo people are the traditional inhabitants along the Southwestern coast of Madagascar. The Vezo continue to practice a traditional lifestyle that is almost entirely dependent on the coral reefs and lagoons that are so characteristic of the region. For many generations, the Vezo had little impact of the sea’s rich resources, which were far more that the people could wish to consume. 

In contrast, pressure on this magnificent ecosystem has grown exponentially in recent times as the number of people continues to increase in the region and commercial demand leads to more intensive harvesting of its resources. With their long coastal history and tradition, the Vezo are acutely aware of the increasing damage to their environment and the risks that this presents for their very future. 

However, the coastal communities lack the knowledge of how to organize themselves in the face of uncontrolled commercial over-harvesting and uncontrolled exploitation. Many Vezo communities have thus asked for outside assistance to regain control of their reefs and lagoons, and many individuals are calling for marine parks to protect vital areas such as fish breeding sites.

Objectives

• Create the first marine park for the world’s third largest coral reef ecosystem. 
• Improve understanding of the Toliara reef system and its role in people’s lives. 
• Build local and regional capacity to manage the marine park effectively. 
• Help communities to manage their own marine and coastal environment, and to take responsibility for its ecological health.

Solution

The project is a direct response to this local plea to restore wise management and conservation to this globally important ecosystem. It aims to establish the first marine park designed to conserve its spectacular biodiversity.