Madagascar RAP: Easter in Vohemar

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’s Easter Sunday, and I imagine at home some people are heading to church, others are preparing meals to share during large family gatherings. But on the Antsiva, it’s a day as any other. We prepare for work at 6:30am – our schedule doesn’t allow for any days off.

Last night we reached Vohemar at dusk. This is our southernmost destination; we will spend a few days sampling the small islands here before slowly moving back north towards Diego, where our journey began.

Today, Monica and I are headed to explore a seagrass bed in the inner part of a large reef flat. The wind is blowing and the sea is rough, so we must be careful with our small boat and its 25 horsepower outboard engine. Our work is very different than that conducted by the coral team. They dive most of the time in lush coral gardens, while we crawl in shallow mudflats, burn under the hot sun walking the mudflats, drift among mangrove roots.

But it’s all worth it, as these habitats provide important functions for our oceans and its resources. For example, most species of fish spend their larval stages here before moving out to open water or to the reefs. Similarly, seagrasses and mangroves stabilize sediments and reduce coastal erosion, protection our shoreline from storms, cyclone and floods. This benefit is becoming more essential in a time where climate change might increase these risks to our lives.

So far on this expedition, the seagrass meadows we have visited are the most pristine I have ever seen, as this area is so remote that very few threats are posed upon them. We have been particularly excited to find more species than we expected in this part of Madagascar – we have counted at least nine so far, well above the four we thought we would find!

Today we are continuing to learn about which seagrass species can live in reef flats and persist in areas that are subjected to high wave energy. This information will help us better understand the ecological interactions between seagrasses and coral reefs and the species of fish or invertebrates associated with these environments.

We anchor the boat, put on our mask and fins. For a moment I stop and think that I am missing lunch on Easter Sunday, but then as I look underwater at the myriads of fish surrounding us, that thought quickly disappears. Nobody has explored this part of the world before, and I feel privileged every day to be here.

Giuseppe Di Carlo is the manager of CI’s Marine Climate Change program.

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