Mada at heart

They are 6 nature and ecology enthusiasts. The project of these UM students: to create a marine protected area on the island of Nosy Lava, an endangered jewel in the north of Madagascar. They set off on their adventure on June 4.

Welcome to Madagascar, 'Mada' to its friends. The fifth largest island in the world, it is home to many endemic plant and animal species. To the north of the Grande Terre lies Nosy Lava: at the entrance to Narinda Bay, this small island populated by fishermen is a paradise of biodiversity. But a threatened paradise...

Biodiversity in danger

In 2014, the island's inhabitants turned to Opti'Pousse Haie, an association specializing in sustainable local development. "The Sakalava population is in difficulty," explains Emilie Lucchese, the association's vice-president. Poaching, animal trading, destruction of mangroves, intensive fishing... This over-exploitation of resources is mainly the work of outsiders. It is tragic, because the local population, a small fishing community, is directly dependent on these natural resources".

At Montpellier's Faculty of Science, six students are getting involved. Marie, Ninon, Florine, Tiffany, Quentin and Gaël are ecology students, "passionate about nature, and eager to share their knowledge and skills". Their project: to help set up a marine protected area. Their project, which they have named Protect Mada, is financed by the Fonds de solidarité et de développement des initiatives étudiantes and supervised by the Opti'Pousse Haie association. But they know they have a long way to go...

Marine protected area

The first step is to gather the scientific data needed to put together a dossier. Not that this should scare the enthusiasts, who will be spending the next summer discovering Nosy Lava's extraordinary environment and the way of life of its inhabitants. The programme includes drawing up an inventory of the island's biodiversity, analysing its resources and, in short, " demonstrating the ecological and cultural value of the local environment".

Ninon, who will be taking part in the trip, is well aware of this: " We're going to meet the fishermen, try to understand their practices and their vision of the world. How do they fish? Do they have strategies for protecting resources? They'll have to accept us into their daily lives, aboard their boats. It's not an easy task!

Local population

Working in groups of 2, the students will attempt to gather the scientific data required for their project, each group being accompanied by a local resident. Their presence on the island also has another aim: to raise awareness of environmental conservation among the small local community, and enable them to become fully involved in the project.

Our association strives to include villagers in scientific studies," says Emilie Lucchese. By taking an active part, every member of the community has a say, and becomes a player in the destiny of their environment." At the end of the project, the marine protected area should be managed locally, by the villagers themselves.

Read the "paper" version of this article in LUM magazine.

The Fonds de solidarité et de développement des initiatives étudiantes (Student Solidarity and Initiative Development Fund)

The FSDIE is a tool of solidarity and student life, set up to help students finance their projects in a wide range of fields (culture, humanitarian aid, sport, solidarity, the environment, civic involvement, etc.). In conjunction with CROUS social workers, it also provides financial support for students in great difficulty or in precarious situations.