Preserving Paradise: Boeny and Sofia's Vital Coastal Habitats Fight for Survival Towards the conservation of critical coastal and marine habitats in Boeny and Sofia regions in Madagascar

In September 2023, an intrepid team of environmental stewards embarked on a transformative odyssey along the coasts of Boeny and Sofia regions in Madagascar. They sought to assess and engage with local communities on mangrove conservation, restoration and explore blue carbon market initiatives for the sustainability of coastal marine biodiversity in the country. The team included representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MEDD), UNEP-Nairobi Convention and other organizations and partners.

Day 1: 16 September 2023

The field mission commenced from Antananarivo to Mahajanga on 16 September 2023, with the Island’s landscape unfolding like a canvas, painting a vivid backdrop to the imminent quest. After a full and busy day of travel, the team reached Maevatanana at 8 PM, which was halfway to Mahajanga.

Sites and routes in the Boeny and Sofia, Madagascar.

Day 2: 17 September 2023

The second day of the field mission began with an early departure at 4:06am from Maevatanana towards Mahajanga. After arriving in Mahajanga at 11:30am the team visited the first village – a local fishing community situated approximately 30 kilometres from Mahajanga.

A two-hour interaction with the Ambalatani village community, comprised of women, men, youth, and children, proved immensely fulfilling. The team engaged in discussions focusing on mangrove restoration, blue carbon markets, and crucial coastal concerns. The community expressed worries about coastal erosion, sedimentation at Bombetoka, the challenges in aquaculture, and the impending November 2023 presidential elections.

The team's engagement at Ambalatani village lasted two hours following which the team embarked on an exploration of the old port of Boanamary, once an export hub for beef, cement, and slaves to Europe.

Satellite images showing sedimentation at Bombetoka, and the neglected aquaculture ponds.

The port has historical significance but is grappling with challenges, particularly sedimentation from Bestiboka river. The potential for its revival was discussed, and the team observed ongoing fishing activities at the bay and the adjacent fish landing site.

Day 3: 18 September 2023

The team, including MEDD and regional fisheries officers from Mahajanga, revisited Ambalatani village early in the morning. The aim was to inspect the mangrove nursery sites prepared by the community under the WIOSAP project for the restoration of the Ambalatani floodplain. Lessons learned and the success of this restoration effort informed similar projects in other sites across Boeny and Sofia regions.

WIOSAP project nursery site in Ambatolampy village.

The WIOSAP project's impact on Ambatolampy village was evident with the installation of 20 solar functional streetlights. During the visit, the village chairman shared insights into local flora, including baobab and mango trees, and drought-tolerant shrubs suitable for honey production. The discussions covered monitoring activities and strategies for planting mangrove propagules, exploring alternatives such as cultivating mangrove seedlings in the nursery. Challenges included cows consuming young Avicennia seedlings.

The degraded flood plain covers over 150 hectares and resulted from the historical clear-felling of mangroves for cement kilns at Boanamary's old port. Observations highlighted high die-off rates of planted propagules. There were complications arising from direct planting without regard for mangrove zonation and recovery periods required post clear-felling, and the negative influence of freshwater on young mangroves. The team observed a vast dry area in the flood plain with no vegetation, but suitable for developing salt pans.

The degraded flood plain at Ambatolampy village following clear-felling of mangroves. Notice the dead mangroves propagules.

Significant progress in mangrove restoration was observed as the team explored the floodplain, noting propagule die-offs. Returning to Ambalatani village by 3:00 pm, they observed a curious trade in charcoal in the sparsely treed Boeny region, prompting reflections on sustainable practices and the imperative for robust biodiversity conservation in the area.

Day 4: 19 September 2023

Departing Mahajanga at 4:15 am, we drove to Mahajamba Bay to assess the Nairobi Convention-SWIOFC Partnership Project. The team, including Environment and Fisheries officers and Boeny region Directorate teams, reached Antsarengy hely by 11 am. Discussions with the community revolved around vital topics such as mangrove conservation, blue carbon markets, and the impactful initiatives of organizations like Blue Ventures and GIZ. The local community not only eagerly anticipated our visit but also emphasized its significant role in strengthening collaboration.

Left: Map illustrating the location of Antsarengy hely in Madagascar. - Right: Stalled expedition vehicle.

After the meeting with the village residents, we began our journey back to Mahajanga at 2pm. One of the convoy vehicles became mired in deep sand at around 3.30pm necessitating assistance to extricate it, while another developed a gearbox malfunction. After three hours the convoy continued the drive to Mahajanga, arriving at 9:15pm.

Day 5 and 6: 20–21 September 2023

Following morning vehicle repairs, the team departed for the Sofia region at 3 pm, reaching Anstohihy at 4 am the next day. By 9 am, a meeting at the MEDD offices in Sofia Region centered on discussing the project's scope, emphasizing marine spatial planning, ecosystems valuation, and blue carbon market options for community support in conserving and restoring habitats.

With the regional Director of Environment in Sofia, we journeyed to Bealoy village within the Analalava estuary, which drains into Narinda Bay. Engaging with the local community focused on mangrove conservation and the potential benefits of blue carbon markets.

Map showing Beoloy village location in Madagascar.

The two-hour community dialogue with Bealoy villagers began at 11 am under solar streetlights provided by the Partnership project. Led by the community chairman, conversations explored marine spatial planning, mangrove conservation, restoration, and the potential benefits of blue carbon markets for ecosystem sustainability. The session concluded with a Q&A session.

Returning to Anstohihy, the MEDD team and the Nairobi Convention Secretariat representative convened to share insights and lessons gleaned from the missions. The focus was on critical habitat conservation and the potential impact of blue carbon markets.

Right: Meeting at Beoloy village.

Day 7: 22 September 2023

Trip to Salamahaza Bay commenced at 6am after a morning vehicle repair and arrived at Marovato South village at 9:40am. The Community chairman addressed the villagers and welcomed ‘guests’ from Antananarivo and Anstohihy Region, as well as the Directorate of Environment, Sofia region and the Directorate of Fisheries in Sofia. The community was sensitized on blue carbon and its market potential, followed by a Q&A session.

Meeting at Marovato South village.

After the village meeting the team proceeded to a fisherfolk village within the mangrove area. The day's mission included a visit to a mud crab fattening experimental farm sponsored by the SAPPHIRE project and a nearby mangrove propagules nursery for the Nairobi Convention–SWIOFC Partnership project. Challenges of retaining seawater in the mudcrab enclosure were noted, and the potential for Ceriops species to replace Sonneratia in the mangrove nursery was discussed, readying transplanting in November 2023. The site was noted to have a high species diversity of mangroves and potential areas for aided restoration.

A boardwalk to the mud crab fattening enclosure SAPPHIRE project site, and the mangrove seedlings nursery.
Map showing the location of Marovato south village in Madagascar.

The day concluded in the floodplain area and at 1pm when the high tides would begin to build up, the team exited the floodplain to return to Anstohihy, after overcoming a challenge where one of their convoy cars was stuck in the mud.

The round-trip journey back to Antananarivo began on 23 September 2023.

Left: Map illustrating the location of Fisherfolk village in Madgascar, and the projects being carried out i.e mudcrab experimental farm and the mangrove nursery.


In 2019, Madagascar emerged as a front-runner among three nations chosen to spearhead national demonstration initiatives within the SIDA-funded SWIOFC-Nairobi Convention partnership project—forging 'A Partnership for Marine and Coastal Governance and Fisheries Management for Sustainable Blue Growth.' Fast forward to January 2022, where the ink met paper in a decisive Project Cooperation Agreement between MEDD and UNEP's Nairobi Convention, pinpointing Boeny and Sofia's coastal realms for the demonstration of Component 1 activities.

Boeny's Bay of Bombetoka and Bay of Mahajamba, along with Sofia's Bay of Sahamalaza and the village of Beloy in Antsohihy, took center stage. From carving out local Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) in the Bay of Bombetoka to executing Management Plans for critical habitats and revitalizing degraded ecosystems, the targeted sites buzzed with action. Simultaneously, fishing communities witnessed the unfolding of livelihood strategies, and a robust toolkit, complete with climate change adaptation plans, began to take shape.

Fast-forward to the September 2023 site visit, and the project boasted a 70% realization of the planned activities, accelerating conservation efforts.

Nairobi Convention in Madagascar