Biodiversity Conservation in Sainte Luce

Biodiversity Conservation in Sainte Luce

Azafady, a sustainable development and conservation organization working in southeast Madagascar, focuses its conservation efforts on fragments of littoral (coastal) forest around the rural village of Sainte Luce.
The community relies heavily on fishing, but the forests also provide many crucial resources, from medicines and fishing vessels to construction materials and cooking fuel.
The forests also serve as habitat for an amazing array of plants and animals, including several endangered species. They are among the last forests of their kind. Roughly 90% of Madagascar's littoral forests have already been lost to agriculture, mining, and other human impacts, and only a fraction of what remains is protected.
Phelsuma antanosy, a critically endangered day gecko that has lost all but nine square kilometers of its coastal forest habitat. Significant portions of its remaining habitat will likely be destroyed by planned mining operations.
The volunteer-based Azafady Conservation Programme collects data to better understand the dynamics of the forest fragments to improve future decision-making about how to best preserve them. A variety of methods are used to study different species and answer different questions. For instance, staff and volunteers conduct "herp sweeps" in different sections of forest where they try to find as many reptiles and amphibians is possible.
Staff and expert guides help identify each animal, and various metrics like forest canopy cover and substrate (plant species, leaf litter, etc.) are recorded to help paint a better picture of how these species use different parts of the forest.
Herp sweeps are also conducted at night, when many species are much easier to find.
Behavior studies, where volunteers follow individual animals for an extended period and record their behavior at regular intervals, provide more details on diets, social interactions, and what habitat elements are important for different activities. Frogs, day geckos, elongate leaf chameleons, and red-collared brown lemurs are among the focal species for behavioral studies.
Red-collared brown lemurs are monitored for 12 hours at a time, or until they evade their observers. They are active at night too, but are almost impossible to track in the darkness, in part because they have no eyeshine when flashlights are pointed in their direction.
Red-collared brown lemurs (Eulemur collaris) are found in moist forests in the southeast of Madagascar where they play an important role as seed dispersers. They are threatened primarily by habitat loss from agriculture and mining.
Lemur transects, where lemurs of different species are recorded as they are encountered along fixed linear paths through the forest, yield information on populations that can not be gleaned from behavioral studies. For example, they can help answer questions about lemur population density and whether lemurs are found more towards the center of forest fragments or towards the edges. Red-collared brown lemurs and southern woolly lemurs (nocturnal, but large and easy enough to find) may be seen on day-time lemur transects.
Southern woolly lemurs can also be seen on night-time lemur transects, along with nocturnal fat-tailed dwarf lemurs and mouse lemurs.
The Azafady Conservation Programme also runs a conservation club for local children to learn about their environment. Volunteers help staff to plan and execute fun, interactive lessons twice per week.
The children of Sainte Luce will face many difficult economic and environmental challenges, and their understanding of core environmental concepts is likely to be invaluable as they grow older and begin to make decisions for their community. One imminent challenge will come in the form of planned ilmenite mining that will eventually wipe out two-thirds of the remaining littoral forest around Sainte Luce and intensify pressures on what is left.
The coast of Sainte Luce
With continued volunteer-supported research and environmental education, the Azafady Conservation Programme hopes to draw attention to the plight of the littoral forests of Saine Luce, and the people and wildlife that depend on them, and to enable informed, sustainable initiatives to conserve them far into the future.
For more on Azafady and their many important projects in southeast Madagascar, visit them at http://madagascar.co.uk/.