Washington, DC – On September 17, 2010 the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Secretariat in Gland, Switzerland, and Madagascar's Ministry of the Environment and Forests declared the Nosivolo River as the country's 7th Ramsar site. It is the first river in Madagascar to receive this designation. The new Ramsar site encompasses 358,500ha, including the Nosivolo river and its entire watershed.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Conservation International, and our local and regional partners have been working in the Nosivolo since 2005 to save local endemic species from extinction and conserve the river for wildlife and people. We began our conservation activities with a programme of scientific research and village awareness, and have since expanded to incorporate a strong community conservation and development component.
The Nosivolo is the most important river in Madagascar in terms of biodiversity. Its crystal clear waters support 19 endemic fish species, four of which (the Katria Katria katria, Songatana Oxylapia pollia, an undescribed species of Bedotia called the Nosivolo Blue, and an undescribed species of Rheocles) are found only in the Nosivolo and nowhere else. The river begins at 1800m above sea level and extends for 130km, over spectacular waterfalls and cascades down to 700m asl, where it joins the Mangoro River before flowing out to the ocean.
The cichlid Oxylapia polli, Songatana in local Malagasy, is one of the four locally endemic fish, and has been adopted as a conservation flagship species by the district capital of Marolambo. Marolambo is the largest village along the Nosivolo and the district capital where most of the local authorities are based. The Songatana Festival organised by Durrell in 2006, was a key component in promoting local pride and awareness of the conservation importance of the Nosivolo. Over 1,000 local people took part, including a visit by the Minister of the Environment.
Conservation activities have focused on determining the status and distribution of the endemic fish species, in partnership with the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and the Biology Department at the University of Antananarivo (DBA), and on large scale community conservation and development initiatives financed and supported by Conservation International's Node programme and the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission (JOAC).
The Ramsar principle of conservation and wise use of wetlands toward achieving sustainable development complements the vision of Durrell, CI and our partners in the Nosivolo. Our goal is to reduce local overexploitation of the river by creating opportunities for sustainable local development. We are working together with regional and local partners to create a New Protected Area along the Nosivolo to ensure the long term health of the river for the endemic fish, and for the human population living near the river. Our central belief is that a healthy river ecosystem will benefit both local communities and wildlife.
"This is a huge success for the local community and for global conservation. I hope it will create opportunities for conservation of other important rivers in Madagascar," said the Deputy Secretary General for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Professor Nick Davidson.
Conservation International's Regional Vice President in Madagascar, Leon Rajaobelina, said: "We are extremely proud of this achievement as this is the culmination of years of work lead by the local communities that live along the river basin to improve the management of the natural resources they depend on. It is proof that healthy freshwater ecosystems are absolutely vital for development and human well-being."
Through funding provided by Conservation International's Node programme, Durrell has been implementing a project aimed at developing alternative livelihoods along the Nosivolo River and within its watershed. Commenting on this Richard Lewis Durrell's Director of Madagascan Programmes said "Since 2007, our team of just two has been working in incredibly remote areas and we have successfully implemented 138 micro-projects in 80 villages. These micro-projects focus on improving methods for crop production to reduce exploitation pressure of the river. To date, more than 2000 families have benefited from this support and our teams are currently working with 6000 households to realise the next phase of this programme by 2012."
Discussing the local involvement he continued "All of this work has been accomplished through close collaboration with local government at the district and village level. Eighty village conservation associations have been created to carry out this work, and have been invaluable partners in realising conservation activity at the ground level."
Linked to the development of local capacity and sustainable management of the river, Durrell has also been improving public health and education among local communities. Greater than 50 percent of the local people along the river are infected with schistosomiasis. In 2007 and 2008, funding by the Jersey Overseas Aid Commission was used by Durrell to provide medication to 4,080 people, for treatment of this debilitating disease. This JOAC funding also provided roofing and desks for 59 schools, improving education opportunities for local children.
The Nosivolo River represents Durrell's largest community conservation and development effort in Madagascar. The recent designation of the Nosivolo as a Ramsar site is a significant achievement, and a major advancement toward conservation of Madagascar's most important river for endemic fish and for the communities that rely on a healthy river for their survival.
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Notes to editors
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is an international charity working globally to save species from extinction. Headquartered in Jersey, Channel Islands, Durrell works in some of the most threatened environments on the planet and has over 50 active field projects in 14 countries around the world, focusing on critically endangered species and highly threatened island ecosystems.
Durrell has a unique structure, based around three core pillars of specialisation: a wildlife park in Jersey, field programmes around the world and an International Training Centre. Durrell's aim is to address conservation challenges where each of the three areas of the Trust can act in synergy.
Durrell has been working to save Madagascar's unique biodiversity for the past 25 years. With a staff of almost 40 people working fulltime in eight principle intervention sites around the country we focus on the most threatened species in the most threatened ecosystems which are dry forest and wetlands. Our approach to community-led conservation efforts have brought a measurable benefit to the welfare of the people who are reliant the natural resources, which we aim to protect.
For more information visit www.durrell.org
Conservation International (CI)
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents.
For more information visit www.conservation.org