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Students return from a two and a half week course on mangrove monitoring in Nosy Hara Marine Park

  Rufford Small Grants Foundation  

 

 

Students10 students from the University of Antsiranana, Madagascar, have just returned from a 2 ½ week Coastal Academy field course in Nosy Hara Marine Park, funded by a generous donation from Oxygene Surrey Diving Club (UK).

 

This course aimed to train the students in monitoring methodologies for surveying some of Madagascar’s most valuable coastal ecosystems,. The focus of this trip was on the vital mangrove ecosystems found around Nosy Hara Marine Park. Mangroves play an important ecological role, supporting many endangered species of fish, bird, mammal and reptile as well as providing shelter in which fish can spawn and their young can mature. In addition, mangroves offer important protection for coastal regions from extreme weather events and erosion and have recently been recognized for their contribution to the fight against climate change, due to the large amount of carbon stored within them. As well as this key ecological role, mangroves are extremely important to local communities, who depend upon the trees themselves as well as the species living among them for both food and income. Unfortunately, despite this importance, very little is known about the extent and status of mangroves in Nosy Hara Marine Park – a knowledge gap that C3 aims to fill.


Before leaving, the students received an extensive brief to prepare them for the trip, and to introduce them to mangrove ecosystems, species identification, and a mapping method developed by the Australia Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). This methodology is employed globally to ensure standardized and comprehensive data for comparison and analysis. They had a day to get themselves ready, and then travelled to Ampasandava Village in Nosy Hara Marine Park where they set up camp. The next day saw the beginning of their training period, given by C3 staff and ecologists from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE; UK), with students first learning how to identify the different species of mangroves in the area. The second training day was spent familiarizing themselves with and practicing the mapping methods that they would be using, and ensure they were confident with the scientific equipment.


Once confident in the methodology, students travelled to 3 different sites in the area to map the mangrove ecosystems and collect data on their status. At each site they spent two to three days, carrying out several transects at each site and sampling from numerous plots to ensure a representative overview of the area. In total they conducted 8 full transects across the three sites, and sampled 28 plots. The data that they collected will contribute to a collaborative project between C3 and the Marine Park authority which aims to understand the extent of mangrove systems and their value to local communities; this information will then be used to help promote good stewardship of the region’s mangroves and environmentally sustainable practices in return for community services such as education, healthcare and enterprise development.

 

During the trip students also had the chance to attend an awareness raising event coordinated by C3 in Ampasandava. The Antsiranana Boy Scouts, a local youth group with whom C3 has worked for several years, travelled out to the village and participated in an evening of music, talks, interactive activities and dramatic performances that aimed to raise awareness among community members of local and global environmental issues.

 

Evaluation forms completed by the students gave an insight into their opinions of the course, and whether it had met its objectives in providing useful and valuable training. Comments were very positive. Students described the course overall as ‘impressive’, ‘instructive’, ‘motivational’, ‘well organised’ and even ‘marvelous’. When asked what they had learnt during the course, most students responded that, aside from the mapping methods and species identification, the most valuable things that they had learnt were the usage of scientific field equipment such as GPS units, and a greater understanding of the diversity of mangrove ecosystems. A number of students were also appreciative of the chance to learn how to snorkel, which, despite living in a coastal city, is something that very few get the chance to practice.


Students were also asked their opinion of the C3 staff members’ training; all comments were extremely positive, describing the trainers as ‘dynamic’ and ‘clear’, and saying that they gave good explanations, using concrete examples to back these up. The only criticism given was that the students would like even more training from them!


A couple of students also mentioned that they had thought the trip would be easy before starting, but have now realized that fieldwork is harder than it seems! Nonetheless, they reiterated that they had enjoyed the trip and learnt a lot. A number of students added their thanks for the great opportunity at the end of their forms, suggesting that the course had been a useful and enjoyable experience for all. This is only reinforced by the most reoccurring ‘criticism’: that there just aren’t enough courses on enough subjects offered at the Coastal Academy!


Overall, the students and staff thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and the data collected will prove instrumental for C3’s work in the coming months. C3 is currently actively looking to secure funding that will allow more courses to be run through 2012 and beyond, enabling greater numbers of students to receive this valuable training.

 

Read more about the students that attended the course here