Wetland conservation in Madagascar
The rich and extraordinary biodiversity that is concentrated in
BirdLife has been working in
Wetlands conservation is among the highest priorities identified by this IBA analysis and other research, such as the annually updated IUCN Red List. Nine of the thirteen Endangered or Critically Endangered birds, and the only recently extinct species (Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus), in
The BirdLife programme of wetland site conservation work in
The wetlands of western Madagascar
Madagascar has extensive wetlands, yet lacks vast networks like the lakes of east Africa. For bird conservation purposes, Malagasy wetlands have been divided into two Endemic Bird Areas (EBAs): western and eastern, corresponding to the dry, low-lying western region; and the humid, mountainous east.
The West Malagasy Wetlands EBA is a 26,000 square km complex of lakes, rivers, marshes, deltas, rocky shorelines and mangroves. It is the unique habitat of six threatened species: one Critically Endangered (Madagascar Fish Eagle), four Endangered (Madagascar Heron, Madagascar Sacred Ibis, Madagascar Teal, Sakalava Rail) and one Vulnerable (Madagascar Plover); these occur alongside four other threatened species that are also found in the East. This wetland serves also an important habitat for migratory waterbird species.
Wetlands have long been important to the Malagasy people for fishing, hunting and agriculture. However, under the changing circumstances of recent decades, resource use has changed, becoming more intensive and less discerning, to a degree that seriously threatens native biodiversity. The most grave and widespread threats are: conversion of wetland habitat to intensive rice production or drainage for upland crops; hunting of birds, particularly at nesting and moulting sites; and overfishing, particularly using fine-mesh nets, affecting birds and turtles as well as endemic fish. Invasive alien species, especially plants and fish, have also become abundant locally, altering the character and species composition of many wetlands, as well as contributing to extinctions of some endemic fish.
Wetlands and their conservation in Madagascar
BirdLife's priority sites in the West Malagasy Wetlands EBA are both large complexes of wetlands, each exceeding 1,000 square km. Both comprise the delta of a major river, the lower reaches of the river and associated freshwater marshes, and many associated lakes.
The Mahavavy Delta wetlands IBA includes the largest lake in the region, Lake Kinkony. The Lake Ihotry Hunting Reserve - Mangoky Delta complex IBA is at the foot of Madagascar's largest catchment. The two sites are now usually referred to as the Mahavavy-Kinkony and Mangoky-Ihotry complexes, respectively, recognising that among the wetlands are also important and biologically spectacular areas of dryland forest and caves.
All of the threatened wetland species listed above have been recorded at one or both of the sites. Uniquely, the Mahavavy-Kinkony complex holds them all, including the very rare and almost unknown Sakalava Rail, found at Lake Kinkony in 2003 (see photo, right). Counts of up to 285 Madagascar Teal, the most ever recorded at one site, have also been made there. Apart from the birds, the endemic and threatened Malagasy aquatic turtle Erymnochelys madagascariensis occurs on lakes at both sites.
Western Malagasy wetlands are centres of productivity in a largely unproductive land. This makes them vital for local people to safeguard. Wetland users have made clear their determination to manage their wetlands sustainably and to conserve their biodiversity. But they need help to be allowed access to opportunities to do this, which Asity Madagascar is providing.
This local demand has been greatly strengthened by the Madagascar government’s initiative to treble the area of natural ecosystems that are protected in a way that also makes their benefits sustainable and available to local people. This initiative has become an integral part of the country's development.
Involving local people in wetland conservation
The first step towards conserving the sites was to build a consensus among the many organisations and local people concerned, regarding the need for controlled management of the wetlands so that their benefits – local, national and global – could be maintained. Under Malagasy law, local communities can acquire rights to control management of resources through a series of steps, of which the creation and strengthening of local associations is crucial.
Management agreements that integrate scientifically-based and traditional resource management and protection systems were then facilitated and are monitored by the government's local technical services, working alongside other organisations, including Asity
Under the programme, associations (whose goals include biodiversity conservation) have been established at both sites. Helping communities to exercise their rights through these associations is proving to be a very successful and economical conservation measure.
While small-scale resource-use is the main livelihood activity for communities dependent on the wetlands, there are other users, such as agribusiness, aquaculture (including shrimp farms), and ecotourism.
At each site, BirdLife and Asity
New protected areas
To strengthen the new management system, the Mahavavy-Kinkony and Mangoky-Ihotry complexes are also in the process of becoming new Protected Areas, each overseen by its management body. These bodies will follow the overriding principles of the new protected areas initiative, making benefits sustainable and focusing on community participation, rather than working through strict exclusion policies which would be neither feasible nor ethical in ecosystems of such great socio-economic importance. With technical support from Asity
Major steps were taken in 2007 and 2008, with the signature of interministerial decrees on the temporary protection of 268,000 ha of the Mahavavy-Kinkony complex (see Madagascar protects wetlands crucial for people and birds, 21 January 2007) and 213,661 ha of the Mangoky-Ihotry complex. Such decrees give an initial level of legal protection while safeguarding local uses: objectives are set; preliminary boundaries, zoning plans and the management body are defined; and activities permitted or banned. The next steps in the creation of permanent protected areas are in the hands of Asity
Thanks to these activities, the extent and condition of the wetlands and the populations of threatened species at the two sites appear to have been largely maintained since 1998, when BirdLife teams first visited the region. There is much more to do to put management and conservation on to a sustainable footing, but thanks to the general consensus on the importance of wetland conservation in Madagascar (which itself has changed greatly over the past ten years), there is every chance that the biodiversity and other wonders of these wetlands can be conserved for the foreseeable future.
Funding for the BirdLife International Madagascar Programme work at the wetlands up to 2008 came from the UK Department of International Development, British Birdwatching Fair, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Conservation International (Madagascar), Tubney's Charitable Trust and the Aage V Jensen Charity Foundation. Updates since 2008, and lists of supporters of Asity