Barren Is., Madagascar -- Research Opportunity

Gregor Hodgson gregorh at
Tue Oct 10 23:47:42 EDT 2000

The following is an inquiry from a travel writer planning a reef trip to
Madagascar and seeks partners. Do not hit reply -- please respond
directly to him:

Alan Downing <downing at>

I am a writer researching a travel book.  I visited the
Barren Islands in June this year, and once spent some time
on Juan de Nova. I am preparing a report on both areas which
might be of interest to your organisation.

I am returning to the area in late November/December this
year, and would be glad to make interested scientists  aware
of the opportunity to reach the otherwise inaccessible reefs
and islands of this unknown region. I have secured secured a
berth on a 20m dive catamaran on passage between Dar es
Salaam and Rio de Janiero, which will be sailing from Nosy
Bé to Maintirano and Morondava from around November 27 to
December 12,  calling in on west Madagascar reefs, including
Chesterfield (St. Christophe), Juan de Nova, Nosy Vao and
the Barren Islands. The M/Y Inula is dive equipped and
served as the vessel for the 1999 Aldabra Marine programme.

I understand that there are two or three berths available
for the west Madagascar stretch on Inula. I must stress that
I am not an agent for this boat, but feel that  preliminary
observations of these reefs (no time for elaborate
transects), could open the area to scientific enquiry.

If you know of any marine biologists interested in this
area, I should be most obliged if you could put them into
contact with me at downing at

I wonder if you could help me? I  am trying to contact
coral-reef biologists interested in doing a preliminary
survey of  unvisited reefs off the West coast of Madagascar,
notably the Barren Islands and Juan de Nova — two reference
sites for marine biologists.

The Barren Islands (lat. 18°S ) are a group of 8 small coral
cays on a 20-30m deep plateau extending 15-30 miles into the
Mozambique channel southwest of Maintirano. The most
southerly islands are sheltered by fringing reefs to
seaward, beyond which the plateau drops to 150-160 metres.
The plateau features numerous coral heads and coral and sand
banks. A brief look in June this year revealed healthy  and
undamaged corals, a variety of indicator species and no
evidence of bleaching. Chelonia Mydas turtles are fairly
abundant. Marked zones of turbidity and salinity extend to
about 8 miles off the mangrove-estuarine coast.

The Barren Islands are particularly significant for
scientists interested in anthropogenic influences and
sustainable exploitation of coral environments. As the
domain of the semi-nomadic Vezo subsistence fishermen, who
still use non-aggressive fishing methods, they could be
considered a reference site for artisanal coral-reef
exploitation. However the Barren islands have recently been
invaded by Holothuria (sea-cucumber) fishermen operated by
Chinese interests, and there is a growing commercial demand
for shark's fins.  The status and ownership of these islands
is currently in limbo.

Juan de Nova, which belongs to France,  must be considered
one of the most suitable reference sites of the Mozambique
channel. About 120 miles northwest of  Maintirano, the 5 km2
island is fringed to the south by a barrier reef enclosing a
lagoon. A coral  plateau 10-15m extends about 5 miles north.
Juan de Nova's marine environment has been virtually
untouched since 1972, when phosphate (guano) mining  on the
island was abandoned. Since then, a small detachment of
French troops has garrisoned the island. Juan de Nova is
extremely rich in coral and fish species, generating a rich
soup of eggs and larvae. It is a minor nesting site for
Chelonia turtles and an important breeding site for
migrating antarctic sterns. Several wrecks will provide data
on the effects of, and recovery from, ship groundings.

I believe that the mid-west Madagascar coast has suffered no
great temperature anomalies and that the coral reefs of the
area have been so far spared the bleaching affecting such
northern Mozambique Channel islands as the Glorieuse,
Mayotte and Nosy Bé.

Because of their inaccessibility, there have, to my
knowledge been no studies on the Barren Islands,  Juan de
Nova or on any of the reefs off the mid-west coast of
Madagascar. Juan de Nova would be an ideal site for a
permanent coral-reef monitoring station.  Commercial
pressures  encroaching on the Barren Islands, would make
them suitable for some form of protected status, similar,
perhaps, to that of the Bazaruto Archipelago (Mozambique).

Yours sincerely,

Alan Downing
Downing Editorial
19, rue Saint-Victor
1227 Carouge,
Geneva — Switzerland
Tel ++41 22 - 343 16 70.
inula at

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