Diego Suarez (Antsiranana) is a sprawling port in northeastern Madagascar, set on a promontory jutting into one of the finest natural harbors in the Indian Ocean, perhaps the world.
Towering above the bay of Diego Suarez and its beautiful island, Nosy Lonjo, also known in French as the Pain de Sucre or Sugar Loaf, is the Montagne des Français – a large mountain covered in dry, deciduous forest that is a watershed for the surrounding area.
For years, the mountain has lost tree cover. Demand for wood-based products from Diego exerts a strong financial pressure, so logging for timber and charcoal production are continuing problems. Many area residents depend on the sea for their living.
But in the dry season, when the winds come up and it is difficult to fish, charcoal burning can provide income and a source of fuel. Slash-and-burn agriculture is also a challenge.
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To ensure continued health and vitality for the people, forests and underwater landscapes of the region, CI’s local office is working with partners like the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) and SAGE (Service d’Appui à la Gestion de l’Environnement) and is providing funding and technical support to the regional government to establish a new reserve called Complex Ramena.
“Making charcoal is not the priority of the people, but poverty drives them to use this method,” says Jimmy Razafitsalama, a young, passionate botanist with MBG, who is assisting in projects working with the local community on reforestation, land management and tourism plans. “After consultation, they are more willing to use sustainable practices on this site.”
Sustaining Livelihoods in Complex Ramena
Formally designated in 2008, Complex Ramena is a mosaic of protected areas that includes the Montagne de Français, the Orangea Reserve – on the site of a former military base – and the Baie D’Ambodivahibe Marine Reserve.
The project name derives from the gateway to the region – a picturesque fishing village called Ramena.
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CI and its partners are working to discourage logging and charcoal burning while providing alternative sustainable livelihoods. One emphasis is on working with local populations on reforestation and planting native species.
At the same time, project staff are also planting fast-growing non-native acacia that can be harvested for charcoal in a few years, eliminating pressure on the forest. In Orangea, MBG staff and the military group are currently attempting to plant moringa trees to restore bare soil.
Military liaison Col. Davidson said Orangea is the first military base turned into a protected area. “As such, we don’t feel skilled for the project, so we need training in effective management with our partners,” he says, and CI’s programs are helping to develop local expertise. Orangea is rich in biodiversity, including two local endemic species of lemurs, nine plant species and two species of geckos.
Marisiky Daodo, CI’s regional manager in Diego, understands that much more planning and consultation is required to ensure the ongoing success of Complex Ramena and the livelihoods of the people who live in the area.
From the Mountain to the Bay
The dependence of the Ambodivahibe community on the watershed, and the unique biodiversity there, makes a compelling case for the preservation of Complex Ramena as a place where nature and humans can thrive.
“We have good synergy and there are a lot of benefits here, not just for the local population and Madagascar, but for the rest of the world,” says Razafitsalama.
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Fresh water runs down the slope of the mountain into Ambodivahibe bay, mixing with the channel’s deep, cold water to provide an ideal temperature for nutrients and also for countering the adverse effects of climate change on the reef, such as bleaching.
“This connectivity from the water from Montagne des Français to the bay creates a nursery for biodiversity,” says Monica Tombolahy, a marine biologist at CI who works on Complex Ramena.
“The mangroves also protect the bay from cyclones and act as a filter for the mud and rubbish that would otherwise go into the bay.”
The 150 residents of Ambodivahibe rely heavily on what the forest and the bay provide. Jaozandry, the president of the village, said they have launched a campaign to make residents of his village and the surrounding area aware of the importance of the forest.
The community is also hoping to develop Ambodivahibe as a tourist destination, as visitors have discovered the beauty of the area and the opportunities for diving and fishing in the bay.
Ecotourism is a way that village residents can earn money, and it encourages the preservation of natural resources. “We need to learn more about the reef and fish so we can take tourists diving and make money in an environmentally friendly way,” says Jaozandry.
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