This post is one of a series on projects supported by the Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists, and grassroots organizations all around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the oceans.

With support from MCAF, a team of scientists is establishing a collaborative monitoring program to track the effects of climate change, fishing regulations, and other human impacts on the reefs around the island of Nosy Ankao off the coast of Madagascar. In the article below, team member Elizabeth Sadowski of the Time and Tide Foundation gives an overview of the project.

At 360 hectares, Nosy Ankao is the largest island within the protected Levens Archipelago of northeast Madagascar. The archipelago starts from the east with the island of Nosy Manampaho, which is surrounded by shallow coral reefs that caused several major shipwrecks in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1998, a seaweed farming business called IBIS developed on Nosy Ankao, when the climatic conditions were ideal for cultivation. For more than 10 years, the business flourished with 500 families living on the island and working fulltime to farm seaweed, which in turn allowed the marine environment to recover from years of over-fishing. Unfortunately, the seaweed business collapsed during the El Niño of 2010, perhaps as a result of the rising ocean temperatures. Due to the spectacular marine and terrestrial environment on and around the island, in 2012 Nosy Ankao was the selected site for a sustainable tourism venture, which is now under development.

aerial view of island in madagascar
A recent grant from the Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund will help launch a coral reef monitoring program on the island of Nosy Ankao. The island which is now a marine reserve, formerly hosted thriving seaweed farms. Photo: Time and Tide Foundation.

In 2010, the organization, CORDIO conducted a rapid marine biodiversity assessment of the coral reefs in northeast Madagascar. The reefs around Nosy Ankao were included in this survey, and they were noted as some of the most diverse in this region of Madagascar, with “complex structure and relatively high coral cover and water clarity*.” No further surveys have been conducted on these reefs since 2010 and there have been substantial changes in the area, including formal protection of the island as part of the marine reserve within the Loky-Manambato Protected Area. With financial support from the Marine Conservation Action Fund, and in partnership with the newly established marine biology department at the nearby University of Antsiranana, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, the local conservation management authority Fanamby, and Miavana lodge, the Time and Tide Foundation is launching a sustainable coral reef monitoring program for Nosy Ankao.

*Obura, David et al ed. A Rapid Marine Biodiversity Assessment of the Coral Reefs of Northeast Madagascar. Arlington: Conservation International: 2011.
satellite map of island in madagascar
Map of Nosy Ankao in the Northeast of Madagascar (see red marker in inlet). The sites from a previous assessment of coral reef health and resilience conducted in 2010, which will be re-sampled in the proposed study, are shown as yellow markers. Map: Dr. Maya Pfaff, Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa

This project, which commenced in November of 2016, includes a team of scientists from Madagascar and South Africa, led by Dr. Maya Pfaff, who are assessing the health status and resilience of the island’s coral reefs to climate change and other human stressors. Once established collaboratively, the program will be run by the Madagascan partners through the University of Antsiranana, who will use Nosy Ankao as a legally protected field site to conduct long-term surveys on coral reef health and resilience, fishing pressure and exposure to climate change. Ultimately, we hope to see the data from this program used by Fanamby and other conservation management authorities to advocate for additional and expanded marine protected areas in northeast Madagascar.

Dr. Maya Pfaff scuba diving
Lead scientist Dr. Maya Pfaff will train local researchers in monitoring the long-term health of the coral reefs on Nosy Ankao. Dr. Pfaff is a marine scientist with the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, and Research Associate of the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Department of Environmental Affairs, South Africa