Restoration of wet meadows to protect Madagascar’s pond heron in Mayotte

Restoration of wet meadows to protect Madagascar's pond heron in Mayotte

The Madagascar pond heron Ardeola idae is unique for its beige-brown plumage, which is striped black during the non-breeding season, and its beautiful white plumage with a bright blue beak during the breeding season. It only breeds on four islands in the world. Around 1,100 breeding birds lived on the islands of Madagascar, Aldabra and the two French islands of Europe and Mayotte off the east coast of Africa in 2016 (Rabarisoa & al., 2020).

Due to its low distribution and its population decline, the pond heron from Madagascar is classified as “Endangered” on the global red list of the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) and classified as “critically endangered” on the French red list. The loss and deterioration of wetlands, which provide ideal breeding and feeding sites for the bird, the poaching of eggs and chicks, and the disturbance of species threaten the survival of the Madagascar pond heron.

Of the four islands, Mayotte is a major breeding site with the second largest number of breeding pairs. In the 2019-2020 breeding season, 279 pairs were registered. In the northwest of Mayotte is the Ambato lagoon, an important feeding and nesting place for the Madagascar pond heron. Ambato has owned major bird colonies since 2015. However, the bird colonies have not settled since 2018 due to deterioration in their location, although the individuals continue to feed on the lagoon’s moist meadow.

Madagascar Pond Heron, Copyright Andrew Moon, from the Surfbirds Galleries

As a result, the Association for the Study and Protection of Birds in Mayotte (Groupe d’Etudes et de Protection des Oiseaux de Mayotte, GEPOMAY) began restoring this site in August 2020. Restoration work also focused on Malamani, an important wetland meadow west of Mayotte as part of the European LIFE BIODIV’OM project.

Wet meadows are important reservoirs for biodiversity and support many species of amphibians, reptiles, insects and birds, including the Madagascar pond heron. In Mayotte, wet meadows have declined due to pollution, infrastructure development, urbanization, unsustainable farming practices and invasive species, all of which affects vegetation growth and is critical to promoting biodiversity including birds.

Several environmental actors in Mayotte are involved in Ambato’s restoration efforts, subject to a prefectural biotope decree. GEPOMAY leads the implementation of the Life BIODIV’OM project on the island and is responsible for the implementation of protective measures to protect the pond herons in Madagascar. In collaboration with two local associations – Jardin de M’Tsangamouji and Mlezi Maore – initial restoration work was carried out in August 2020 to prevent the growth of taro (Colocasia esculenta), an invasive plant species. To date, almost 2,000 m2 – a quarter of the invaded area – has been restored.

Further restoration work has also been carried out on the Malamani meadow to remove invasive plant species, notably the Candle Bush (Senna alata) and Acacia Mangium plants. “These restoration measures were a success, as native plants quickly colonized the meadows in the weeks that followed,” says Emilien Dautrey, director of GEPOMAY. According to Emilien, this is just the beginning. “In the near future we plan to establish partnerships with breeders and set up a more regular rotation of the zebus in order to avoid undergrazing and overgrazing and to keep wet meadows in good ecological condition,” he continues.

In addition, Jardin de M’Tsangamouji and the departmental council will increase waste collection on the Ambato wet meadow. In addition, an educational body will be set up to give public presentations on the biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Ambato wetlands. In Malamani, the French Agency for Biodiversity will continue to monitor the site and issue tickets for environmental violations, particularly illegal embankments.

In December 2019, GEPOMAY brought in an employee of the French BirdLife partner ‘La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux’ (LPO) to take part in the first mission to mark Madagascar Pond-Herons, a world first. His experience in Mayotte and his knowledge of the species contributed to the successful completion of the mission, ”concludes Florent Bignon, international overseas project manager at LPO France. Further conservation efforts are being made in Mayotte to save the pond heron from Madagascar. By combining all of these multidirectional conservation efforts, it is hoped that the populations of this endangered bird can be protected.