by Trevor Jones, Remote Sensing Scientist, Madagascar
Greetings from Ambanja, in the north-west of Madagascar, where the Blue Venture’s (BV) Blue Forests and Coastal Communities (BFCC) team is currently recharging their batteries (figuratively and literally) in preparation for the 4th week of a month long field campaign in the vast mangroves of Ambaro/Ambanja bay. Hosted by and working closely with residents of mangrove-adjacent communities who have intimate knowledge of the area, our biomass scientists, joined by a visiting mangrove scholar from the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), have been following a systematic sampling strategy designed around our preliminary mangrove variability survey in February. The going is typically hard and slow. But, impressively,43 plots have been established in and around two mangrove-adjacent communities (i.e. Ampampamena and Ambolikapy). With a fourth week to go, we are sure to have established well over 50 plots. In addition, we are excited to report siting a mangrove species as of yet undocumented in the literature as occurring in Madagascar (i.e. Xylocarpus moluccensis: see the photo below)!
While most members of the BFCC team are bogged down in the mud, the socio-economic crew have been spending their days hard at work making themselves known to all regional & local authorities and also community members, while arranging focus groups and workshops wherein historical and current relationships between communities and the mangrove resources they rely upon are being established. By no means an easy task, but progress has been made through these meetings and interactions and with a 4th week to go, the socio-economic crew is poised to return with a wealth of contextual information associated with past and present mangrove relationships.
Through the observations of the biomass crew and the interactions of the socio-economic crew, it is clear that degradation and in certain areas whole-sale deforestation of the mangroves is indeed prevalent (just see the photo below). Sadly, the pace of this loss seems rapid, and we can report that some of the dense areas of tall, mature, closed canopy mangrove forest, visited just two months ago, once revisited during this expedition, are now largely devoid of trees. The primary cause of this loss is related to over-exploitation for charcoal; much of which is done by and for other communities, such as those from neighbouring Nosy be and reportedly migrants from as far south as Antsohihy. Other drivers include unplanned over-exploitation and exportation for other needs/uses/materials (e.g. fence posts, building materials for dwellings) and conversion of mangrove areas for food production (e.g. rice, palm, and fruit bearing trees).
Community leaders generally seem aware of the issues at hand and recognise the associated pending risks; some more so than others, depending on the extent and tangible proximity/impacts of over-exploitation. Encouragingly, replanting efforts have been observed in several communities however, for these to be successfully continued and to prevent discouragement with results, an overhaul must occur; nurseries are to be established and mangroves are only planted when they are physically ready and have the highest chance of survival.
Despite the dire situation, the reaction in communities seems promising and leads us to believe that our continued efforts can help empower these vulnerable coastal communities to restore, conserve and sustainably utilise the surrounding mangroves. This in turn further helps safeguard the numerous critical ecosystems services and diverse flora and fauna associated with healthy, intact mangrove ecosystems and adjacent lands.
It is early days yet for these efforts, the task at hand is complex and difficult and the road is long, but once the mud has been washed off from this trip, the BFCC team will be hard at work preparing for a comparative analysis in Mahajamba bay – this will be done in collaboration with the sustainable aquaculture firm, Aqualma. Mahajamba Bay is an area which ecologically has many similarities but which due to a comparatively smaller proximate population is only now starting to experience high levels of loss associated with unplanned over-use.
During the coming months, with field efforts on-going, the BFCC team will be piecing together what we have learned from these field campaigns, the results of which will include an unprecedented suite of information for the carbon stocks, dynamics, and underlying agents, drivers and causes of change for Madagascar’s two largest mangrove ecosystems. The information we are collecting and analysing will allow us to further evaluate the feasibility of and work towards implementing payments for ecosystem services (PES) and carbon financing mechanisms (e.g. REDD+) as well as directly contribute to methodologies specific to measuring carbon stocks and their dynamics in mangrove ecosystems. In summary, our novel efforts aim to improve the livelihoods and climate change preparedness of these and other increasingly vulnerable coastal communities throughout Madagascar’s coastal communities and hopefully, in time, beyond.