Madagascar RAP: Ambodivahibe

As part of a CI-organized Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) off the northeastern coast of Madagascar, an international team of marine scientists is spending three weeks exploring ecosystems, documenting species – and reporting back to us about what they’ve found. Read all of the team’s posts from the field here.

It took me two weeks to learn how to say the name of the place: Ambodivahibe.

A small bay down the northeastern tip of Madagascar, the site first came to our attention after the second CI RAP in 2006. In 1998 there had been a mass bleaching of corals nearby, yet this site had resisted most of the damage, thanks to upwelling of cool ocean water.

I visited Ambodivahibe again in December 2008 while doing fieldwork nearby, and was again entranced by the bay’s clear, cold waters, so different from the country’s west coast. I began to think about the possibility of creating a high biodiversity core region in the western Indian Ocean–extending from coastal Madagascar west to the coastlines of Mozambique and Tanzania.

So when I got the chance to lead the third CI RAP and investigate the shoreline south of Ambodivahibe, I leapt at it. I knew it would be an ideal opportunity to see a part of East Africa that no one has yet surveyed, to see if other sites, like Ambodivahibe, are protected from global warming by local currents, and to explore this all-important region at the tip of the triangle of high diversity in the western Indian Ocean region where I work.

On my first CI expedition in Ambodivahibe, we had to push our vehicle out of the mud to get between here and Diego Suarez. In contrast, on this trip we are on a beautiful sailing boat, the Antsiva, a perfect platform for diving these remote waters. In almost three weeks, we will cover 125 kilometers [78 miles] of coastline. We have a great team–eight scientists, a photographer and four crew members. We will focus on coral reef health and reef fish biomass, the species diversity of corals, algae and seagrasses, and invertebrates living in coral heads.

My own specialty is coral species diversity and reef resilience. The first days of the expedition are focused on identifying species–a challenge when faced with species I don’t often see in other, less diverse locations. We’ll also be collecting some corals for genetic analyses, which will tell us more about how these species differ from those in other parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It will also give us new insight on how closely connected reefs along the coastline are: a critical question when faced with reef degradation from a combination of overuse and climate change.

But for today, it’s a pleasure to just get back in the water and see some old familiar corals, and some of the rarer ones that will challenge me over the next few days.

David Obura is a chief scientist at CORDIO. He is based in Mombasa, Kenya.

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