The crystal-clear waters of Madagascar's Nosivolo River hold more than beauty: they hold life. The river's waters support 19 endemic fish species, four of which are found in the Nosivolo and nowhere else.
So when, in September 2010, the river and its watershed was named a Ramsar site, it marked a milestone for CI and local communities in a joint mission to create protected areas that ensure the long-term health of the river for the fish — and for the human population living nearby.
And Luciano Andriamaro, Science Support Program Manager for CI-Madagascar, understands well how important a healthy river ecosystem is for ensuring benefits for both local communities and wildlife.
Beyond Protection: Conservation, Monitoring and Development
Luciano is responsible for the protection status of CI's freshwater sites, including community involvement in conservation, monitoring and development of the areas. It's critical work that can help secure the protection of key ecosystems.
"The protection status for freshwater sites contributes to watershed management from upstream (water resources) to downstream (habitats and services)," Luciano says.
Since officially joining CI in 2002, she has focused particularly on work in three of CI's freshwater sites in Madagascar — Mahavavy-Kinkony, Nosivolo-Marolambo and Mangoky-Ihotry. Luciano knows the importance of these sites, having worked on them before coming to CI as a technical adviser on Ecological Monitoring — a project funded by USAID to support the Malagasy government in the second phase of the country's National Environmental Action Plan.
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Protecting areas like this is vital in Madagascar, a country that, while rich in freshwater resources, lacks the infrastructure to adequately supply water to all of its residents. Analysis shows that many of these important headwaters are also priorities for biodiversity and carbon storage — so Luciano’s work protecting a small number of very important landscapes can go a long way in achieving multiple environmental objectives in Madagascar.
Some of these sites have a more advanced protective status than others, but work is ongoing to further the depth and scope of all protected areas. In Nosivolo, CI, Durrell Wildlife Conservation and the Animal Biology Department at the University of Antananarivolocal, with regional partners, have been working since 2003 to save local endemic species. They began their conservation activities with a program of scientific research and village awareness and have since expanded to incorporate a strong community conservation and development component.
This work paid off. Nosivolo-Marolambo received an additional protection status when it was named a Ramsar site. And Luciano also works closely with partners who manage other wetlands to secure protective status for Malagasy sites such as Torotorofotsy, Alaotra and Tsarasaotra.
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In addition to supervising partnerships and offering technical support, Luciano provides science-based knowledge to partners, including the collection and scientific analysis of freshwater species. Her work in the field focuses on fish and crayfish, and her team is updating a list of endemic and threatened fish species in Madagascar. They are also developing a fisheries program for these threatened species for the local community as a means to improve livelihoods of residents while also conserving fish species in danger of extinction.
Health Security: Community Involvement and Reward
Community involvement and support for the value of local freshwater ecosystems is essential to ensuring success in Madagascar. "The science that I do takes into account human welfare and the freshwater ecosystems that are favorable in providing many services for humanity," Luciano explains. "Freshwater ecosystems provide many services for humanity: water that's safe for drinking, food, hygiene and health."
In addition to her work on fresh water, Luciano is also the lead on CI's health initiative in Madagascar — which is fitting for someone who began her career as a biologist specializing in parasitical disease. "I chose this option because few students did this at the time. I like a challenge, so I chose to dive into this adventure." Luciano focused on bilharziasis, a water-borne disease, in her thesis. She was so passionate about the subject that she created an association focused on the link between health and the environment in 1998. In 2007, she created another association to fight bilharziasis in Madagascar.
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The disease, also known as schistosomiasis, remains a problem. Luciano says it demonstrates the links between fresh water and health: "If the water is polluted," she says, "then water-borne disease is more frequent." To help combat this pressing issue, CI-Madagascar is working to influence donors and NGOs to engage in water sanitation projects. CI has teamed up with Catholic Relief Services, Human Network International and two Malagasy private companies to propose an integrated water and sanitation program to USAID.
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Wetlands: Saving Madagascar's Most Productive Ecosystems
When Luciano was a child, her parents took her for walks in the forests of southeast Madagascar every Sunday to experience nature. Today, CI works in the Ambositra-Vondrozo Corridor — the same place where those walks happened — and Luciano says she can't help but compare the amount of forest now to the amount of forest then.
"Since a young age, I loved nature, the forest and everything around it," she says.
Now, Luciano has the opportunity to help protect the very environment she grew up loving. And it’s been her work in wetland sites that has shown particularly outstanding results.
"Most conservation organizations have worked on terrestrial ecosystems because it is evident to see the change of forest cover and the habitat degradation," Luciano says. "The taxing effects on terrestrial fauna and flora are well-known."
But a few years ago, actions on fresh water got under way "because we began to understand that freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened aspects of biodiversity in Madagascar. Up to this point, most activities in the wetland sites have registered a larger result than forest activities."
From the beginning, Luciano was optimistic about CI's potential to be successful. While there is still much to accomplish, Luciano's ability to welcome, and tackle, significant challenges is helping CI accomplish its goals of maintaining healthy and sustainable freshwater ecosystems, both for the community and for the many species that depend on them.
"Madagascar's wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems that contain unique species of fish, aquatic invertebrates and water birds," she says. "Sadly, these are among the most degraded of Madagascar’s ecosystems. It is time to save the freshwater ecosystem ... while maintaining ecosystem functions that contribute to socio-economic development, ecosystem survival and poverty alleviation."