Marine park bolsters community facing climate change

Posted on 30 March 2011
Future Aire Protégée Marine de Nosy Hara.
© WWF-MWIOPO/R. Ratsimbazafy
At the northern most tip of Madagascar, the country frazzles and explodes into many small islands that dot the Indian Ocean. Nosy Hara is the queen of these islands, and she wears a crown of razor-sharp limestone called "Tsingy" on her head. Nosy Hara is also covered with dense vegetation, and to the queen’s feet lies a turquoise sea teeming with countless colorful fish. Now and then, a marine turtle plows through the water as a ray digs up in the sand creating quite a swirl!

Since 2007, the entire island group of Nosy Hara has been under MPA (Marine Protected Area) temporary protection status, safeguarding the waters and islands, and all species that live there. It usually takes about two years to transition from this temporary status to permanent protection, but in the case of Nosy Hara, political upheaval has slowed the process.

Nevertheless, WWF and partners are determined to see the process to completion. "Everyone agreed that Nosy Hara must be protected,” says Olivier Harifidy Ralison, WWF Marine Programme Coordinator. “These coral reefs host 332 of 340 coral species that are found in the Western Indian Ocean. Coral reefs are important to protect because they are home to an abundant variety of fish and young marine turtles that hatch on the deserted beaches.”

In Ampasindava, a small fishing village that serves as an entry to the Nosy Hara National Park, resident Gerard remembers, "Before the creation of the park, everyone simply did whatever they wanted. Many foreign fishermen fished in our waters. Now we have rules, and this has been much better for us." Gerard proudly presents his fishing license, issued by the national park authority.

With the participation of the residents of Ampasindava, MNP and WWF have developed the rules for the Marine National Park, Nosy Hara. Together, we have determined where the protection zones are and what is forbidden. For example, anchors that destroy coral and fishing using scuba gear are not permitted.

Beyond the rules established by the park authority, residents are stepping in to save the resources they depend on. The members of the village Fishermen’s Association have decided to increase the closure period for octopus fishing from three to four months. "WWF told us about octopus marine reserves in the southwest, where people earn more money these days because the octopus population is stronger if you give them time to recover. And it works," says an enthusiastic woman. "The quality and quantity of capture has improved ever since." She beams with pride.

Before the creation of the park, the villagers would occasionally catch a marine turtle and feast on its flesh. Today, there is a ban on catching marine turtles, and no one seems to be bothered, because there are still enough fish to eat. "Today there are many, many turtles. They even come up to our houses to reproduce," says Monique Tombo, a fisherman's wife and mother of five.

But an increasingly unpredictable climate has made life difficult for the people of Ampasindava. The rainy season has been getting shorter every year, and it has become nearly impossible to farm due to lack of water. Therefore, farmers moved from cultivating the soil to the ocean; and they would have emptied the waters if not for the MPA rules.

"The park and the training we get to manage our marine resources better will help us secure our income and defend our traditional territories,” says a fisherman.

Future Aire Protégée Marine de Nosy Hara.
© WWF-MWIOPO/R. Ratsimbazafy Enlarge
Fishing village Antsako, Nosy Hara Marine National Park, Madagascar
© WWF Madagascar / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Fisherwoman in Antsako fishing village, Nosy Hara Marine National Park, Madagascar
© WWF Madagascar / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Apasindava, Nosy Hara Marine National Park, Madagascar
© WWF Madagascar / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
A little girl smiling behind a fishing net at Nosy Hara
© WWF / Martina Lippuner Enlarge