G+ YouTube Pinterest Instagram
The Gap Year Blog

Science Reports 2020: Madagascar Conservation

10 Jun 2020 09:00 AM

Frontier's scientific research is a crucial part of our organisation, and the spring reports are a culmination of all the data collection our awesome project teams have been doing from January - March this year.  We're so proud of the important work our staff and volunteers do, and we can't wait to share their latest findings with you.


Project Background

The Republic of Madagascar is an island country around 400 miles off the coast of East Africa. The Frontier Team are based on Nosy Be, which is Madagascar’s largest offshore island.

Madagascar has a unique evolutionary history, largely thanks to its isolated location. This, alongside its varied landscape and climate, has resulted in high levels of biodiversity. The island is home to many endemic species, the best-known of which is the lemur. 

However, Madagascar’s forests and coastlines have been severely damaged in the past and continue to face threats to this day. The impact of colonialism in the early 20th century, as well as cash cropping and slash and burn agricultural practices, have all resulted in the island losing about 80% of its original forest.

Similarly, Madagascar’s coral reefs are threatened by climate change, overfishing and pollution. It is predicted that up to 60% of coral reefs worldwide could be lost by 2030.


The Importance of Our Work

The Frontier Team carry out biological surveys in the forests of Madagascar to establish how different types of forest are able to support different species. This involves comparing biodiversity levels in primary forest (native forest with little disturbance), secondary forest (a mix of native and planted trees) and degraded forest (high level of human disturbance, mostly open land).

Within these habitats, the team measure the presence of primates, amphibians, reptiles and birds. These studies are incredibly useful, as due to a global trend in biodiversity loss, it is increasingly important to monitor and compare different habitats.

Our results can also be used to predict similar trends in other countries affected by deforestation and habitat loss, as well as giving a wider indication of the health of the island’s eco-systems.

Another aim of the Frontier Madagascar Team is to monitor the health of the coral reef, specifically be measuring the decline of hard coral cover. Providing data on the reef is important because only 2% of coral reefs in Madagascar are in protected areas, and most of the island’s fisheries are unsustainable. It’s therefore vital that we track the ability of the reef to recover and adapt to extreme weather and human activity.



Research and Conservation Aims

Aside from measuring hard coral cover, the team wanted to determine if whether the abundance of several different species varied according to habitat type. They also wanted to measure whether sportive lemur encounter rate is related to moon phase.


What Were Our Key Findings?

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic meant that most of the team had to leave the island, so we were unable to analyse some data we collected during this period. However, they have instead reviewed their research methods, and have come up with some improvements going forward.


  • Average hard coral cover within the Home Reef in Nosy Be has halved between 2011 and 2019. This is likely due to coral bleaching and the global temperature rise. 


  • It appears that lunar phase has no significant effect on the number of lemur encounters


  • A low number of snake sightings suggests a need for additional methods such as searching under rocks (with caution!)


  • All volunteers should wear headlamps with floodlight beams during night surveys, as they increase the likelihood of seeing snakes


  • Improved bird monitoring tactics could include canopy watching, tape recording bird calls, or flushing them out by walking through the forest


  • We have decided that measuring lunar phase alone may not be the best way to assess lemur behaviour, and we should also use cloud cover to calculate a nocturnal luminosity index


The Role of Frontier Volunteers

After being trained in scientific methods and specific identification, volunteers in Madagascar help to carry out research by performing biological surveys.

‘On most dives now I recognise almost every fish I see, and this makes me even more motivated to want to be able to try and protect these fish and their surroundings. Conservation and being a part of a project that is challenging but also rewarding is incredible, and I couldn’t stress enough how important the work is.’ – Chloe, Frontier Madagascar Volunteer



Volunteers also help to run environmental education days, as well as participating in beach cleans to help raise awareness about pollution.

However, life in Nosy-Be isn’t all work, as Madagascar Volunteer Alex Delamer explains:

‘Free time is a time to chat, read, lose repeatedly at volleyball and get to know other people far better than is probably good for us. The atmosphere in camp is a reflection of the atmosphere of Madagascar as a whole; relaxed and easy going, with an understanding that everything will still happen as needed.’

There are also plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful island of Nosy Be, participate in local festivities and get to know the community.



Find out about volunteering in Madagascar here.

Read the full science reports here.


By Ella T Smith - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial and marine conservationcommunity and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!