May 29

In a letter to Nature magazine, researchers have expressed their concern over the appearance of a non-native toad species, the Asian common toad, in Madagascar.

The Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictusi) is a close relative of the cane toad (Rhinella marina), an invasive toad species that rapidly spread across Australia after its introduction in the 1930s, and has devastated many native fauna and flora populations. First seen on Madagascar in March, the Asian common toad has been sighted several times in areas close to Toasmasina, the main port of the island nation. Worryingly, there have also been sightings of the amphibian just 25 kilometres from the Betampona Nature Reserve and short distances from other biodiversity hotspots. The dispersal of this species is not just limited to Madagascar and it is thought that populations may have also become established in other areas. One of the authors of the letter, Jonathan Kolby, of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, said, ”There is now a high dispersal risk of these toads spreading from Madagascar to other Indian Ocean islands such as the Mascarene Islands, Comoros, and Seychelles.”

It is thought that populations may have also become established on other Indian Ocean islands, such as the Mascarene Islands

It is thought that the Asian common toad could have various negative impacts on the fauna of Madagascar, including spreading diseases such as ranavirus and chytridiomycosis to native amphibians and competing with them for food and breeding areas. This toad species is poisonous and is known to be toxic to animals that ingest it. Snakes are thought to be one of the animal groups most at risk from the invasion and there are over 50 endemic snake species on Madagascar, including the Madagascar ground boa. Other endemic species including fossas, lemurs, and birds will also be put at risk should the population of this harmful amphibian become established. Kolby also said, “It’s worrying because Madagascar has amazing endemic biodiversity – plants, animals, and amphibians that are found nowhere else. And this one species has the propensity to damage that.”

95 percent of the reptiles on Madagascar are endemic to the island, including the Madagascan ground boa

As well as being a threat to the animals of Madagascar, the Asian common toad is also a threat to the human population as it is known to contaminate drinking water and transmit parasites. After the devastation the cane toad has caused in Australia, it is thought that immediate action is required on Madagascar to prevent history from repeating itself. Kolby said, “The question is, can we still eradicate them? Have we caught it soon enough that eradication could be a feasible option? Obviously we all hope the answer is yes.” Suggested methods of eradication include removing adult toads, draining breeding ponds, and installing fences to prevent the toads from reaching water where they would be able to breed. Highlighting the urgency of the situation, Kolby said, ”Time is short, so we are issuing an urgent call to the conservation community and governments to prevent an ecological disaster.”

In Australia, the introduced cane toad is responsible for the declines of many native species, including the Near Threatened brush-tailed phascogale

Read more on this story at Nature – Toxic toads threaten ‘ecological disaster’ for Madagascar.

View images and videos of Madagascan species on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Apr 7

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

Apr 4

Angel’s Madagascar frog (Boehmantis microtympanum)

Species: Angel’s Madagascar frog (Boehmantis microtympanum)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Angel’s Madagascar frog is not known to produce any vocalisations and its external ear drum is much smaller than in most frog species.

More information: Angel’s Madagascar frog is a large-bodied frog species that has a marbled green-brown or grey pattern on the upper surface of its body, perfectly camouflaging it against the abundant moss-covered rocks in its habitat.

The impressive yet infrequent energetic movements of this species are only used when an individual is disturbed, and Angel’s Madagascar frog is relatively sedentary for the majority of the time. The main prey items of this species include insects, small freshwater crustaceans and smaller frogs, which it hunts for at dusk and generally devours whole. This long-living amphibian can live for up to seven years.

Local extinctions of Angel’s Madagascar frog have already occurred due to the extensive destruction of forest habitats throughout its range, especially in southeast Madagascar. As well as habitat loss and degradation, the introduction of an invasive eucalyptus species has also led to population declines in this species.

The range of Angel’s Madagascar frog includes two protected areas, the Andohela and Midongy-du-Sud National Parks, although further protection of this species’ habitat would be highly beneficial for its conservation. Promoting sustainable forestry practices within the local community would also help to mitigate the extensive habitat destruction that continues to remove huge expanses of naturally occurring forest across Madagascar.

Find out more about amphibians on the IUCN Red List

Find out more about conservation in Madagascar

See images of Angel’s Madagascar frog on ARKive

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Aug 20

Madagascar’s lemurs could be all but wiped out within the next 20 years unless drastic action is taken, according to primatologists.

Black-and-white ruffed lemur portrait

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN

Threats to lemurs

All lemur species are endemic to Madagascar, the world’s fourth-largest island and a global “hotspot” of biodiversity. However, these unique primates are under threat from habitat loss and hunting, and recent assessments have found that an alarming 91% of lemur species should be placed in the IUCN Red List threatened categories. This makes lemurs the world’s most endangered mammal group.

One of the greatest threats to lemurs is widespread deforestation. Decades of logging, mining and agriculture have already destroyed 90% of Madagascar’s forests, confining lemurs to the remaining fragments. In recent years, political instability has compounded the problem, forcing many local people to turn to illegal logging and hunting to survive.

Photo of brown lemur on a tree trunk

The brown lemur, listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN

According to Jonah Ratsimbazafy, a local primatologist, “If continued at this rate of deforestation, we can say that within 20 to 25 years there will be no more forest and thus no more lemurs.”

Lemur conservation strategy

To tackle the issues facing these charismatic primates, the world’s leading primate experts came together this month to draw up a three-year strategy for lemur conservation. This strategy contains 30 action plans for the 30 different priority sites for lemur conservation, and it aims to help with fundraising for individual projects.

According to Dr Russ Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, there are three main actions which will be most effective for lemur conservation in the field: “First working on grassroots projects with local communities so people can make a difference for themselves, secondly supporting eco-tourism projects and thirdly establishing research stations as a permanent facility to protect against loggers and hunters.”

Photo of Verreaux's sifaka about to leap from tree

Like many other lemurs, Verreaux’s sifaka is threatened by habitat loss and hunting

Benjamin Andriamihaja of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments said, “We try to fund activities that generate revenues, like planting beans, rearing pigs and chickens or developing fish farming, so that peasants stop destroying the forest.”

Hard work is yet to come

Speaking about the new strategy for lemur conservation, Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Head of Research at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said, “The fact is that if we don’t act now we risk losing a species of lemur for the first time in two centuries. The importance of the projects we’ve outlined in this document simply cannot be overstated.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young

The Alaotran gentle lemur has a very restricted range and specialised habitat, putting it at high risk of extinction

However, he said that he was an optimist and would not give up on any species of lemur, adding that, “This document shows how well people can work together when species are on the brink. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here but the hard work is yet to come.”

 

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – Furry lemurs ‘could be wiped out within 20 years’.

Find out more about Madagascar and other Indian Ocean islands.

View more photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 10
Olivier Raynaud, Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator, Blue Ventures © Blue Ventures

Olivier Raynaud, Blue Ventures

In this week’s guest blog we meet Olivier Raynaud, the Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator for Blue Ventures. Blue Ventures is an award-winning social enterprise that works with local communities to conserve threatened marine and coastal environments, both protecting biodiversity and alleviating poverty.The Barren Isles project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs whilst ensuring the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods, by establishing a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar.

Hi Oliver, welcome to the ARKive blog! Can you tell us a little bit about your scientific background?

My academic background is centred on engineering and the management of public environmental issues (such as the design and coordination of local initiatives to regulate natural resources exploitation), but my practical scientific know-how mainly results from various field experiences in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean. It includes ecological monitoring, research on threatened species (seabirds, turtles, sharks…), invasive species control and eradication, and socio-economic research.

Why do you do what you do?

The money! No just kidding, I do it because I enjoy myself. This is a totally personal judgement, but to my knowledge, conservation is the only field that has enhanced my motivation and implication in a way that permits me to work in an efficient manner. My passion for nature and my somewhat subconscious need to spend time on issues that I find ethically rewarding, have catalyzed my involvement. At the moment I can’t imagine being as stimulated as I currently am, if I was working on any other mission than one aiming for the conservation of species, habitats and traditional livelihoods.

Why is scientific research important?

Whatever project it is that you are working on, success and achievements will be linked to the notion of progress. The trick is that progress cannot be assessed unless you are in some way measuring, determining and analysing all relevant parameters. Scientific research allows you to justify and elaborate result-oriented, pertinent strategies to start with, but more importantly it gives you the information necessary to evaluate the progress being made. Hence scientific research provides the knowledge necessary to steer and adjust action plans and strategies to ensure their efficiency.

Tell us a bit about the project you are currently working on and what the end result will be…

The project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs, and ensure the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods. Our strategy is based on the establishment of a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar, and expected outcomes include the preservation of pelagic fish stocks and ecosystem services, local capacity building in conservation, development of alternative and durable livelihoods, and the obliteration of illegal, destructive practices.

In our quest for a durable and efficient management configuration, in order to preserve and organise the utilisation of the Barren Isles’ precious ecosystems, Blue Ventures has had to address local overexploitation and unsustainable practices, but also considerable outside threats. These threats include the presence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels, mining interests targeting the islands for guano extraction, and illegal dive teams using scuba gear to collect sea cucumbers.

These external pressures are so conspicuous they are likely to discourage any conservation efforts made by the local fishermen, and in the long term may constitute a threat to community conservation. In order to avoid such a perilous start, and simultaneously take in hand all the issues, the community-based management of the area will need to be based on a primary legal status, an official Marine Protected Area.

What is the process for creating a Marine Protected Area in the Barren Isles?

In order to design and request a Temporary Protection Status that is relevant and tailored to the needs of the local communities, we embarked on a journey to consult each and every one of the 6 coastal villages and 8 islands connected with the project, all the way down to Soahany, 75 km south of Maintirano.

Nosy Dondosy, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

Nosy Dondosy, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

This was our brand new motorised pirogue’s first trip, and it consisted of a busy and demanding two weeks, which introduced the boat to the great variety of waterways in the area; unpredictable open sea swells, coastal breaking waves, meandering mangrove channels, and idyllic lagoons.

As the public meetings were held in the first weeks of November – before migrant communities head back south to their home towns for the rainy season – the great majority of the fishing communities participated in discussions on resource use initiatives in each location. They proposed regulations and drew outlines for a perimeter of the MPA, according to the conservation targets, and with regard to their preferred fishing zones.

Following this trip, a large meeting was held in Maintirano on December 5th and 6th, co-organised by the Direction Regionale de l’Environnement et des Forets and Blue Ventures. It gathered together representatives from local communities, regional authorities, and other stakeholders for creation of an Atelier Scientifique. This is where the conservation targets are identified, and an Atelier de Concertation is also made – where the stakeholders’ desire for MPA creation is formalised in an engagement document. The assembly agreed on proposing a perimeter that delimits a huge area; the proposed MPA includes all of the Barren Isles, 100 kilometres of coastline and numerous remote reefs, for a total area of over 5,000 square kilometres!

Public consultation in Ambalahonko, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

Public consultation in Ambalahonko, Madagascar © Blue Ventures

As the MPA has now been approved by stakeholders on the regional scale, the project now needs to be brought to the national level with another Atelier de Concertation to be held in Antananarivo in January – then the Temporary Protection Status can officially be requested to the environmental government entities. In the meantime, the proposed delimitation may be an issue for some national stakeholders, such as shrimp fishery representatives, and hence maybe subject to change.

However, what does remain certain is that stakeholder and community participation has driven this project a long way in the past weeks. This steady wind has propelled all of us at a steady pace through a rather smooth first leg of a very long LMMA trip!

What is the best and worst thing about being a conservation scientist?

It seems to me that the advantages and drawbacks of this profession are related to the feeling of working on legitimate, essential and challenging issues. The best thing of the job is motivation; being aware how pertinent your tasks are, and realizing how this wonderful occupation is significant in light of worldwide issues and future generations.

The worst thing of the job is frustration; realizing that despite knowing it makes sense to invest time in effort in such genuine and rightful cause, some other project stakeholders do not understand the need and critical importance of these issues.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I enjoy the most is being out there! It’s a combination of simply enjoying personal interests and working on public interest issues on the spot. Because you’re constantly confronted to the local reality, some days you’re disappointed by unreasonable behaviours, cupidity of individuals or lack of concern in long term public interests, but that’s only some days. The rest of the time your reaction to events is predominantly paced by YES, WOW, or RIGHT ON!

What is your favourite species or group of species and why?

Recently, my favourite encounters have been with rays. Meeting with these majestic creatures makes any snorkelling/diving sessions wonderful; whether they’re spotted eagles, mantas or devil rays, observing these massive bird-like shapes smoothly fly through the water is quite a show. My admiration is also due to their very social behaviour: how crazy is it that when you scream underwater, one of these beautiful rays may turn around, and circle you slowly before it slowly moves away? One of rare wild animals that seems to show respect and politely say “Hi” to humans despite our generally reprehensible behaviour!

 

Spotted eagle ray photo

Spotted eagle ray

Taking inspiration from Team WILD, what would your science superhero power be?

It’d have to be the ability to travel in time, or more precisely to send other people in time! See, what constitutes the greatest asset in the Barren Isles is the current good health of ecosystems and the affluence of marine resources. It’s an asset but it also brings major difficulties; how do you get people to adhere to conservation initiatives when today there are plenty of resources for everyone?

Being a superhero, I’d send a few community leaders to the Barren Isles in 2050, to make them realize that 2013’s prolific natural resources were exploited in a way that did not allow the regeneration of stocks. If we could make local communities realize the impacts that current practices potentially engender on the long term, that’d be a game changer for conservation and our project!

Thanks for Oliver! Do keep us posted on progress with the Barren Isles project.

Learn more about Blue Ventures and the Barren Isles project.

Test your own science superhero skills with Team WILD and learn more about coral reef conservation on ARKive.

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