Apr 7
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Out on the Barren Isles: Part II – When the going gets tough!

Readers of the ARKive blog may remember that last year we featured a guest blog introducing the fantastic Barren Isles Project, which is working towards creating Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. Recently Olivier Raynaud, the Barren Isles Project Coordinator, got in touch let us know how the project is progressing.

Barren Isles image

Head down under the rain the whole morning, bailing water out of the pirogue as it crashes back in at once, one can’t help but reflect on how this mission hasn’t quite gone to plan…

We’d originally set out for a two-week mission covering all of the nine islands and eight coastal villages which make up the Barren Isles, but now, just 6 days in, we’re headed home early, and let’s face it; this particular consultation trip to the Barren Isles has been less than successful. Uncooperative equipment was daunting enough, but a patch of unexpected inclement weather added insult to injury, forcing us to abort the mission and scramble back to the mainland.

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

Under more auspicious conditions, travelling in the Barren Isles does by no means convey a sense of hardship (© O. Raynaud)

In contrast to this undeniably disappointing mission, overall project development is relatively stable and encouraging, as we work our way towards Madagascar’s largest locally-managed marine area (LMMA) in the Barren Isles. If there’s anywhere that warrants protection in Madagascar’s coastal waters, it’s the Barren Isles archipelago. When out on the islands, I never miss a chance to duck in for a snorkel, and am always rewarded with pristine coral reefs teeming with fish. Despite hosting hundreds of migrant fishers every year, fish populations remain relatively in tact here, as the fishers, mostly coming from Madagascar’s southwest coast, are here in search of high-value sharks and sea cucumbers.  As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is why we’re engaging with local and migrant fishing communities, before these reefs and fish go the way of many of the reefs of southwest Madagascar. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for local shark and sea cucumber populations, which are already largely fished out.

The Malagasy government now has in its possession all the paperwork required to establish an official Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Barren Isles. Throughout the creation process, and beyond all the legal and scientific requirements, we, as project promoter, have gone to great lengths to ensure transparent and constant communication between all stakeholders by gathering together, on a regular basis, all actors relevant to the Barren Isles conservation initiative.

Indeed, strong community support and collaboration between stakeholders are the only chance for the MPA to be a success, as it will depend on local communities to both create and enforce the rules and regulations, in partnership with government representatives and industrial sectors.

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

Stakeholder meeting on the establishment of the Barren Isles Marine Protected Areas, Antananarivo

For instance, when the initial outline for the MPA perimeter overlapped with industrial shrimp fishing grounds, back-to-back delimitation propositions were exchanged between traditional fishermen and the national industrial fishing lobby (Groupement des Aquaculteurs et Pêcheurs de Crevettes de Madagascar – GAPCM). The negotiations reached a win-win compromise, where a considerable portion of the ecosystem is to become off limits to trawlers, hence allowing the regeneration of stocks, and in turn increasing the productivity of adjacent fishing grounds.

This MPA protection status will regulate external and industrial threats to the local marine resources. It will also provide a legal framework for the broader LMMA approach, through which local issues (such as destructive fishing practices) will be addressed by elaborating and implementing a marine dina – a set of rules agreed on and enforced by the community.

It is precisely in order to finalize this dina with the fishing communities that we headed back off to the isles on our ill-fated trip.

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Perimeter of the future Barren Isles Marine Protected Area

Though the mission got off to a good start, with weather forecasts predicting clear skies and smooth sailing, by the second day it was quite apparent that the weather was not going to cooperate much longer. An evening thunderstorm on Nosy Lava put a serious damper on the open-air outreach activities we had planned- a mix of showing environmental documentaries, giving updates on the MPA creation process and fielding questions from the community- sending everyone running for cover. A downpour the following day, as well as confirmation that our resupply pirogue bringing fresh water from the mainland would not be able to make the trip, made up our minds, and so on the third day we headed out early, while the sea was still calm and the skies relatively clear.

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra - when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

Consultations with fishing communities on Nosy Lava and Nosy Manandra – when the weather cooperates (© O. Raynaud)

After the very first leg of the trip, and its occasional waves actually crashing in the boat, our generator had already drowned. A day spent drying – as far as sitting disassembled in the ambient dampness can be called drying – and it was back to life; hopes were high!  All the Nosy Dondosy fishermen gathered round, and… as we pulled the starter rope, it snapped. The final blow. Bummer.

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time... (© O. Raynaud)

Encounters in the Barren Isles – ones we did not get a chance to have this time… (© O. Raynaud)

Back home, after a quick stop for a – not so well-deserved but nonetheless necessary – hot pizza and icy beer (funny thing about being on the islands during inclement weather is that the fishers can’t go fishing, so our dinners were limited to rice and beans), and nothing left to do but pull ourselves up by the boot straps, plan another trip and keep our fingers crossed that this crazy atypical weather finally moves on to bother someone else… Heads Up!

By Olivier Raynaud, Barren Isles Project Coordinator

Feb 22
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Finding the Rubbish Bin Frog – Robin Moore

Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International © Conservation International

Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International © Conservation International

Lost things usually turn up in the last place you expect to find them. Car keys behind the fridge. Glasses in a plant pot. But the last thing I expected to find in a rubbish bin in the Western Ghats of India was something last seen the year “The Empire Strikes Back” hit the big screen. Yet, as I slowly lifted the lid covering a small plastic bin in the kitchen of our retreat, I am not sure who was more surprised: me or the frog that started bouncing from wall to wall like a pinball.

And so it was that the Silent Valley tropical frog (Micrixalus thampii) was rediscovered after 30 years. It was an auspicious start to the ‘Lost! Amphibians of India’ campaign, inspired by the global Search for Lost Frogs and launched just two days earlier at the University of Delhi.

There is something especially rewarding about finding something you thought was lost. I always appreciate house keys a little more after they have been missing. And so it is with amphibians – finding species that we thought were gone provides a rare good news story and offers a second chance at survival. And why is it important? It is important because amphibians are at the forefront of a Sixth Great Extinction – the largest since the dinosaurs left our planet. It is an unprecedented opportunity to understand why some species survive while those around are disappearing. Knowledge of what makes a species resilient to the driving forces of extinction could help us stem the crisis and maintain our lifeline to a healthy future.

But as teams of scientists set out on an unprecedented collaborative global effort to search for lost species in August last year, I really didn’t know what to expect. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned that all teams would come back empty handed. The field reports started pouring in; so evocative and dripping with enthusiasm that I felt like I was right there with them, wading up streams and turning logs. I was transported from the high Andes of Chile to the dense jungles of Cameroon and Malaysia. It was exhilarating. I quickly became immersed in the thrill of the chase. The sense of anticipation was incredible, and the element of exploration ignited a childlike curiosity in the world around us. The passion from all the teams was contagious and inspiring.

And then there were moments of unadulterated joy. On Saturday 4th September I opened my inbox to find an email from N’Goran Koume, sent from a cybercafé in Danané, Ivory Coast. “Dear Robin, Yes, it is fantastic. The Mount Nimba reed frog has been found after 43 years!” I almost fell out of my chair. The excitement in the email was palpable. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

Although the successes were few and far between, each was like a generous shot of tequila (the good stuff).

Mount Nimba reed frog

Last seen in 1967, the Mount Nimba reed frog was found by researchers 2010 as part of the Search for Lost Frogs campaign.

I was also lucky enough to accompany teams of local and international herpetologists into the field to join the search. I clambered around steep hillsides in Colombia, drove through rivers to reach craggy peaks in Haiti, and came face-to-face with elephants in India. Long hours of searching for creatures that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to not be seen only strengthened my respect and admiration for the people that are dedicating their lives to understanding our planet and its fascinating inhabitants. I was bowled over by the dedication of local scientists and reminded that we should never underestimate the knowledge of local communities, who frequently steered search teams in the right direction.

Now that the Search For Lost Frogs has come to a close, it is time to reflect on what it means for amphibians and for us. The rediscoveries are significant. We are working with local partners in Ecuador toward the protection and monitoring of the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad that clings onto survival in one stream. Through the ‘Lost! Amphibians of India’ campaign we have forged partnerships and created a platform to catalyze conservation efforts in the forests of the Western Ghats, one of the richest and most threatened habitats on earth.

Photo of the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad

The Critically Endangered Rio Pescado stubfoot toad

But what about the species that were not found? More than nine out of ten of the species searched for did not turn up. Without wanting to sound like a Debbie Downer, it is a sobering reality that many of these species may be gone forever. They are sounding an alarm that the ecosystems upon which they, and we, depend for survival are sick. It is up to us – anyone who cares – to do something about it. Whether it is helping to protect the last home of the Rio Pescado stubfoot toad, or spreading the word about the amphibian extinction crisis and why we should care. While time is of the essence, with each rediscovery comes a reassurance that it is not too late. Let’s not wait until it is.

Find out more about the Search for the Lost Frogs campaign.

View Robin’s amphibian images on ARKive.

Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International

Jan 6
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In the Field: Global Wildlife Conservation

Despite the fact that human well-being is intrinsically linked to the natural world, our planet is still very much an unexplored place, and our knowledge of the world’s threatened species and habitats is often inadequate for effective conservation action. 

In 2008, a team of leading scientists and conservationists began to tackle this problem by creating Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC), with the aim of documenting and protecting our planet’s biodiversity. 

Hog deer (Axis porcinus) photo

After suffering dramatic declines, the Endangered hog deer now survives in small populations scattered across South and Southeast Asia.

GWC is founded on the principle that science-based decisions are crucial for the long-term protection of the world’s species and habitats. In collaboration with conservation organisations, universities, museums, government agencies, and especially local experts and organisations, GWC initiates conservation action in the most biologically important and threatened areas on the planet. The organisation’s scientists endeavor to use novel and innovative strategies to identify those habitats and species most in need of conservation.  

“GWC and partners are actively pursuing wildlife and ecosystem conservation based upon sound science and collaborative efforts, with the knowledge that biodiversity conservation is fundamental to maintaining life on this planet, including humanity.” Wes Sechrest, Ph.D. Chief Scientist and CEO. 

Rediscovering lost species

One of GWC’s inaugural missions was to conduct biodiversity surveys and identify priority sites for conservation in Southeast Asia, starting with southwest Cambodia, a biologically rich but poorly documented region. The Cambodia expedition produced many encouraging results, including the rediscovery of a population of hog deer long thought lost – one of only two populations in the whole of Southeast Asia – and the first records of the hairy-nosed otter – the world’s rarest otter – for the area. More recently, GWC has helped ARKive to develop and authenticate some of our species profiles. 

Hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana) photo

The hairy-nosed otter, the world's rarest otter.

One of GWC’s largest undertakings to date has been ‘The Search for Lost Amphibians’ campaign in collaboration with the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group and Conservation International. Whilst searching across Africa, Latin America and Asia for 100 amphibian species deemed ‘lost’ due to their lack of recent sightings, GWC has so far helped rediscover three species and document three more entirely new species, including a possible new type of beaked toad now known as the Simpsons toad due to its startling resemblance to the villainous character Mr. Burns from the television series.     

Interview with Wes Sechrest, Chief Scientist and founder of Global Wildlife Conservation

What is your background, and what motivated you to create GWC? 

I am a conservation biologist by training, with an emphasis on combining academic research and applied conservation in endangered species and habitat conservation. My focus has been on identifying global priorities for biodiversity conservation and implementing crucial field work to promote on-the-ground conservation efforts. I founded GWC to support the incredible efforts of the best and brightest minds in conservation. My colleagues and I have formed a dynamic organisation that is strategically and operationally based upon the work of many influential past and present field scientists and conservationists. The core mission of biodiversity conservation is fundamental to all of our projects, with a strong emphasis on partnering with like-minded individuals and institutions across the world. GWC is a vehicle for action, a think tank that acts to conserve the most endangered species and ecosystems. 

What have been GWC’s most important and rewarding findings so far? 

GWC’s most important and rewarding finding is that there has been a massive gap in global conservation efforts, which GWC and partners have begun to fill. This entails promoting exploration, research, and on-the-ground conservation efforts with local institutions. We have ignited a global effort, strongly partnered with experts and institutions in critical countries such as India, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, and Cambodia, among others. GWC helps provide a launching platform to combine global efforts with field-based action, amplifying and expanding the possibilities in biodiversity conservation. 

What projects is GWC planning now? 

We have a suite of new conservation projects coming online, including initiatives in Central and South America to help protect the last remaining tracts of unique cloud forest. We are also partnering on a novel initiative to tackle conservation in the Caribbean, starting with the incredibly diverse Massif de la Hotte in Haiti. Additionally, the search for both ‘lost’ and new species continues, particularly in the tropics, where there remains much to discover and more to conserve. We are continuing the support of individuals and institutions that share GWC’s mission and values, which has helped to amplify conservation efforts in several countries over the last few years. 

What role do you think films and photos have in promoting conservation? 

Conservationists and scientists often have trouble communicating what they discover and see in the field, and images and film can go a long ways towards bringing increased knowledge to those who have not experienced time in a cloud forest, desert, or coral reef. To save species, we need to understand their habitats, behaviors, and threats. Without communication efforts, the decline of species can be nearly invisible to people, and making these potential losses visible is important to prevent long-term consequences to humanity and the planet. I have been thoroughly impressed by the efforts of ARKive in promoting and spreading conservation knowledge to people around the world. 

Find out more about Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC)

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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