Expedition Madagascar: Conserving Coral Reefs with Community Conservation

Madagascar: The world's fourth largest island and informal ‘eighth continent' holds a wealth of unique biodiversity and the reality of fast economic development as one of the world's poorest countries. Photo by Emily Darling ©WCS.
By Emily Darling
Madagascar: the world’s “eighth continent” and fourth-largest island; a country that offers both promise and paradox for conservation. An evolutionary cradle of biodiversity, Madagascar is home to extraordinary plants and animals found nowhere else on our planet. It is also one of the world’s poorest countries. People are hungry for new roads, hospitals, schools and jobs that largely depend on natural resource development.
Madagascar: The world’s fourth largest island and informal ‘eighth continent’ holds a wealth of unique biodiversity and the reality of fast economic development as one of the world’s poorest countries. Photo by Emily Darling ©WCS.
With colleagues from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), we recently surveyed the first community-led Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Madagascar. These areas provide genuine hope for coral reef conservation and small-scale fisheries management under the shadow of emerging oil and gas development, deforestation, illegal fishing and climate change.
In recent years, Madagascar has pledged to triple the country’s MPAs while supporting a community-based approach to management. Working with local fishing communities in northwest Madagascar, WCS has developed management plans for two National Marine Parks: Ankarea and Ankivonjy. Our expedition arrived days after these two marine parks were set into law.
Fishing and tourism are two important livelihoods for Madagascar’s coastal communities. Photos by Emily Darling ©WCS.
Touchdown in Nosy Be, an island off the northwest coast of Madagascar. Our 4WD vehicles lumber into the night through the never-ending potholes and I catch a scent of the Western Indian Ocean, our home for the next two weeks. In that time we will spend some 80 hours underwater counting more than 5,200 corals and invertebrates and over 9,000 reef fish. Our findings will provide a baseline for the newly protected reefs.