Author: Kirk Stewart
14 February 2018
Evaluating MPA Reef Health
The marine program at MRCI has been evaluating, monitoring, and protecting the reefs of Nosy Komba and surrounding islands for several years. Rigorous surveys are conducted every month on reefs close to camp as well as the three artificial reefs that MRCI has constructed so far. Every single month there are no less than twenty surveys done by the marine staff and volunteers to examine everything from the comings and goings of the resident turtle population, to documenting and counting the invasive species on the reef. Surveys are performed near daily with the more experienced and knowledgeable volunteers going on the more difficult transect surveys. These surveys are performed on a twenty-meter line where every fish, coral, and urchin are counted to see how the diversity of marine life is changing over time, both in and out of the MPA. The data from these surveys has been shared with several other research organizations and also presented at several conferences. Several papers are also being written utilizing this survey data that will be submitted to scientific journals!
But there is much more being done than these surveys. Newer volunteers who are still learning about the marine life of Nosy Komba can assist in nudibranch hunts, coral bleaching studies, turtle surveys, and even the monitoring of our artificial reefs. Additionally, in the past few months baseline surveys have been performed around most of Nosy Komba. These surveys are performed opportunistically but allow volunteers to see more spots around Madagascar and help the team get a more complete understanding of the oceans health around northern Madagascar. Through this multitude of surveys, the marine team at MRCI has established itself as a trusted and reputable source of data and research.
But the marine program has more going on than only surveying. Recently, in an effort to add to the already existing three artificial reefs, the volunteers and staff worked together to design and build another artificial reef. Plans have only recently been finalized, but updates on the building and implementation will follow. The previous artificial reefs have already had an impressive proliferation of life come to them with the latest survey reporting back hundreds of oysters and clams, abundant algae and coral, and almost 1500 fish spread across 5 rebar pyramids. With this new artificial reef and lessons learned from previous designs we can only hope for a greater degree of success and information gained from their study.
Lastly, in a sign of good things to come, two medium size Napoleon or Humphead wrasse were seen this week. This species of fish is usually one of the first fish that will be eradicated in heavily fished areas and are also a great indicator or reef health. Their return to the reef not only shows that our MPA has been effective in restoring the health of the reef, but that it has reached a state that it can support these mammoth-like 6 feet long fish. Ever day volunteers are coming back seeing more and more different species of marine life and keystone predators like barracudas and jacks. A welcome sign that the MPA has had the restorative effects that were hoped for, and that the reef is beginning to flourish like it once did.
Read More About Our Marine Conservation Program