Ambodiletra, Masoala, Madagascar

Octopus drying in the sun is a very common sight in Ambodiletra
Small Acropora colonies recovering in the lagoon after the last Cyclone
Children in Ambodiletra in front of the school
Fishers going out in the lagoon on traditional dug out canoes

The Ambodiletra community is located at the tip of the Masoala Peninsula in north-eastern Madagascar. This is one of the richest areas in the country in terms of irreplaceable biodiversity, and the largest remaining lowland rainforest is found here. The Masoala National Park, together with five other rainforest national parks has been declared a World Heritage Site since June 2007. The endemic rate of species there is close to 80%, making this World Heritage site a unique area for its biodiversity. It is also one of the few remaining places in the world where pristine tropical rainforest is contiguous to a coral reef system. The Bay of Antongil is an important breeding area for whales and dolphins (and previously also dugongs).

Yet many local people live in poverty and few community members are aware of the universal value of their area – in spite of the fact that UNESCO puts a high premium on community involvement in World Heritage Sites. It has been shown elsewhere that local communities can derive considerable benefits from being custodians of World Heritage Sites, be it as guides or owning small accommodation facilities or other businesses. Or simply being part of the management of the site. Who knows, perhaps greater awareness and participation in the park at an early stage would have helped to avoid some of the destruction of the forest that has now reached unprecedented levels.

Since the beginning of the current political crisis in Madagascar, Marojejy and Masoala National Parks have been particularly subjected to intense illegal ransacking and trafficking of precious woods, including rose wood. According to reports provided to UNESCO and other organisations, armed and organized bands have settled in the parks and built temporary roads to transport wood outside these protected areas and then out of the country. There is open talk of certain politicians being involved. Many local people who are involved say that they would prefer to not participate in the destruction but at least can earn a little money through this.

There are three marine national parks on the Peninsula: Tampolo (on the west coast, the bay side), Cap Masoala (at the tip of the Masoala Peninsula where the village of Ambodiletra is located) and Tanjona (on the east coast that is fringed with coral reefs). Cap Masoala has significant indigenous knowledge systems and cultural sites, including the holiest point in northeastern Madagascar (making part of the lagoon a de facto fish refuge). The Cap Masoala Parc Marin was established in front of the Ambodiletra village and is part of the larger Parc Masoala. Everywhere in the region marine resources have become increasingly depleted over the last fifteen years, and the MPA is undoubtedly a significant fish refuge from where both sides of the peninsula can be restocked. Even so, shark fishing still occur commonly in the area although stocks have fallen dramatically.

Many people say that poverty on the peninsula is worse than ever before. For sure, over the last two decades it has become much harder to walk into the lagoon and gather enough protein to feed your family. People in Ambodiletra know they cannot rely on salvation coming from the outside; distances are too far and they are too small to warrant much attention. In this way the community typifies many other communities in deep rural areas. The demonstration site is trying out an innovative approach. A Convention de Partenariat was signed between the park system, the local community and EcoAfrica to establish a school that also functions as an action-oriented environmental education centre. It is hoped the initiative will lead to the creation of alternative livelihoods that can alleviate pressure on marine recourses. Students and parents are also establishing a garden to improve food security for the students and teachers.