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Why do we need to act in Madagascar?

by Louise-Océane Delion, marine biologist and scientific content creator for Koraï

One of the really first projects of Koraï is to contribute to the restoration of coral reefs in Madagascar.

On top of being where Koraï really started with its first coral nursery, Madagascar is one of the most diverse places in the world as well as one of the most threatened ones due to human activities.

Let’s dive deeper into the marine biodiversity of this island, the threats it is facing, why it is urgent to protect and restore its marine ecosystems and how Koraï is aiming to do so, with your help.

A biodiversity hotspot

Madagascar is the fourth biggest island in the world, with more than 5,500 km of coastline, making it the country with the largest coastline in the Indian Ocean, exceeding the lengths of the coastlines of Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Comoros combined!

Such an extensive coastline makes Madagascar one of the most diverse countries in the region in terms of marine and coastal ecosystems.

The highest level of coral diversity and abundance in the Indian Ocean is found in Madagascar, with more than 2,4000km2 of coral reefs found in its waters, representing 20% of the surface area of corals in the Western Indian Ocean. It also harbours some of the most extensive mangrove forests and seagrass beds in the region.

All these coastal ecosystems harbour most marine life as they act as nurseries, refuges, reproduction and foraging grounds for most marine species.

As a result, the marine biodiversity of Madagascar is incredible, with a high concentration of endemic species (only found there) and a high level of species richness. The diversity and amount of fish, marine mammals, seabirds and other animals are astonishing. For example, around 1700 marine fish species are found in Madagascar!

Due to its abundant and flourishing marine life, Madagascar is considered one of the most important biodiversity hotspots on the planet1.

Coastal ecosystems, vital for marine life and the islanders

With around 29 million people living on Madagascar, half of which live within 100km of the coast, marine and coastal ecosystems are crucial for the islanders.

Coral reefs provide habitat to an incredible amount of marine biodiversity on which local people rely. It provides them primarily with an important source of food and animal protein, contributing to national food security. More than 250,000 artisanal fishers depend on these ecosystems for their income and livelihoods, providing food for the entire island.

Coastal ecosystems like coral reefs also protect the coast: the structure within the shallow water reduces the wave energy hitting the coast, protecting coastal communities from erosion, storms and flooding.

A marine paradise threatened

Unfortunately, on top of being one of the most diverse places on Earth, Madagascar is also one of the most threatened.

The global ocean is threatened by human activities through overexploitation, destructive fishing methods, uncontrolled tourism, climate change, water pollution and coastal development, among others.

Coral reefs are some of the most impacted ecosystems in the ocean, with 50% of them being already degraded, and up to 90% of them facing extinction by the end of the century2.

The marine biodiversity of the Western Indian Ocean is not exempted. It is also heavily impacted, especially by overfishing, habitat degradation and climate change. Due to current warming trends and heavy fishing pressure, the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean are very likely to collapse within the coming years3.

And Madagascar’s coral reefs are some of the most critically threatened in this region3.

Multiple threats are working in synergy, putting a lot of pressure on these vulnerable ecosystems: climate change is the biggest one4. Coastal erosion, physical destruction following cyclonic events, and bleaching events due to higher water temperatures are all outcomes of the changing climate and are meant to worsen in frequency and severity as warming continues.

Coupled with the overexploitation of marine organisms and destructive fishing methods, and the lack of appropriate and efficient management and conservation measures, coral reefs are extremely vulnerable in Madagascar3.

When coral reefs collapse, the impact on both the marine biodiversity found within coral reefs and on the local coastal communities that rely on them for livelihoods and protection is terrible.

This is what will happen if we follow a business-as-usual scenario. But there is still a window of opportunity available to us to reverse the trend and limit the ecological collapse of coral reefs.

Time for action is now. And Koraï is on it! Will you join us?

Protecting the reefs

There are multiple actions that can be taken today to better protect the current state of coral reefs in Madagascar5.

One of the most efficient and recommended tools is the implementation of marine protected areas. The establishment of such reserves can provide some relief to the local ecosystems, sustaining their health and enhancing their recovery and resilience to disturbances, if stressors are being removed (decreasing pollution and fishing activity…).

The positive effects of MPAs on coral reefs have been demonstrated in Madagascar. The unfished areas show a higher abundance and percentage cover of corals, with a higher number of herbivorous fish and other marine species6.

However, only 3.7% of Madagascar waters are designated as marine protected areas today, with <1% fully protected (no fishing activity allowed). This is way below the recommended threshold of 20-30% of surface area protected that can efficiently protect ecosystems and maintain the ecological resilience of the marine world.

There is a real need to develop a robust plan for a marine protected areas network in Madagascar. This goes hand-in-hand with the better management of fishing activities, especially the ones using destructive gear threatening the health of the reef ecosystems.

Going beyond protection: restoring coral reefs

Protecting current ecosystems is an urgent action to safeguard local marine biodiversity. But what do we do when the current natural state is not good enough and natural recovery does not happen?

Protecting what is degraded does not really make sense. And this is where the power of restoration comes into play.

Restoring coral reefs is about assisting their recovery when they have been degraded, destroyed or damaged. It is about giving a hand to natural ecosystems so that we can foster their regeneration and resilience.

All over the world, many initiatives for coral restoration are taking place and already showing great results. The percentage cover, complexity and diversity of the coral reefs increase in sites where restoration efforts have been put in place, in comparison to unrestored and degraded sites7.

Many coral restoration projects are happening in Tanzania, Kenya and other countries of Africa. Although it has the most diverse and prevalent coral reefs in the region, no projects yet exist in Madagascar.

Yes, coral restoration works. So Koraï is working to make it happen in Madagascar.

Before starting any restoration project, it is important to understand the local conditions of the island, from the governance, social, economic and ecological perspectives. Considering that Koraï was born in Madagascar and that our coral nursery is already in place in Nosy Be, we are doing our best to provide the best coral restoration efforts in the region, integrated within the local environment.

Madagascar is a unique place, facing many difficulties. It has high levels of poverty, political instability, poor governance institutions, severe funding gaps and poor environmental education. The last point is especially key, as education and awareness raising among the population are key for individuals to become stewards of their environment and act to better protect it.

There is a real incredible opportunity and need for the government, NGOs and the private sector to leverage funds to better protect and restore coral reefs in Madagascar.

Koraï’s mission is to restore coral reefs, with the help of local people, increasing both the level of education and livelihoods, by creating educational programs and hiring local individuals within the team. We are doing everything we can to raise the funds to create scalable impacts to restore coral reefs in Madagascar, and the good news is that you also have a role to play in helping us in our mission.

By joining us, you could contribute alongside us to restoring some of the most beautiful and diverse coral reefs in the world, bringing back marine biodiversity and contributing to local economic development.

You are interested in making a difference? Contact us to make it happen.

References - Going further

1Jefferson, T., & Costello, M. J. (2020). Hotspots of marine biodiversity. Encyclopedia of the World's Biomes.

2Eddy, T. D., Lam, V. W., Reygondeau, G., Cisneros-Montemayor, A. M., Greer, K., Palomares, M. L. D., ... & Cheung, W. W. (2021). Global decline in capacity of coral reefs to provide ecosystem services. One Earth, 4(9), 1278-1285.

3Obura, D., Gudka, M., Samoilys, M., Osuka, K., Mbugua, J., Keith, D. A., ... & Zivane, F. (2022). Vulnerability to collapse of coral reef ecosystems in the Western Indian Ocean. Nature Sustainability, 5(2), 104-113.

4Harris, A. R. (2011). Out of sight but no longer out of mind: a climate of change for marine conservation in Madagascar. Madagascar Conservation & Development, 6(1).

5Weiskopf, S., Cushing, J., Morelli, T. L., & Myers, B. (2021). Climate change risks and adaptation options for Madagascar. Ecology and Society, 26(4).

6Randrianarivo, M., Guilhaumon, F., Tsilavonarivo, J., Razakandrainy, A., Philippe, J., Botosoamananto, R. L., ... & Adjeroud, M. (2022). A contemporary baseline of Madagascar’s coral assemblages: Reefs with high coral diversity, abundance, and function associated with marine protected areas. Plos one, 17(10), e0275017.

7Hein, M. Y., Beeden, R., Birtles, A., Gardiner, N. M., Le Berre, T., Levy, J., ... & Willis, B. L. (2020). Coral restoration effectiveness: multiregional snapshots of the long-term responses of coral assemblages to restoration. Diversity, 12(4), 153.


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