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Scientific stopovers on the coastline of the Indian Ocean 4/4 - A better management of coastal areas

Hotels off the coast of Mauritius. The island welcomes every year more than 900 000 tourists. ©IRD

Observations and monitoring of coastal ecosystems currently carried out by scientists show their gradual degradation, due to sometimes natural, but often human-induced threats.

Go to previous stop of the journey.

The coasts of Reunion Island are for example subject to an unprecedented erosion. The coral reef, which surrounds them and protects them against this phenomenon, is degrading more rapidly than the normal rate, following chronic anthropogenic impacts accentuated by increasingly frequent extreme events (increased temperature of surface water, cyclones, etc.).

In Kenya, scientists estimate mangroves have shrunk by around 20% from 1985 to 2009. The deltas plunging into the Indian Ocean are also changing rapidly due to significant alterations in the flow of fresh water from upstream rivers, such as deforestation of watersheds, large-scale freshwater debiting for agriculture and construction of dams.

Preservation of resources

Based on these observations and coastal monitoring systems, IRD researchers and their partners implement research projects that act directly for the preservation of the resources provided by the region's coastal ecosystems, and their fair distribution. Faced with the complexity of the common challenges to all countries, they provide the necessary information and data for large-scale conservation policies.

Scientists have a great deal of data and knowledge about natural environments and their vulnerabilities. However, public policies only partially take them into account,” explains Stéphanie Duvail, an IRD geographer we met during our stopover in Mozambique. She is the co-leader of the DiDEM project, a regional initiative launched in July 2020 and dedicated the inclusion of scientific knowledge and user needs in decision-making in the management of coastal and marine areas of the western Indian Ocean. The idea is to support key stakeholders in making informed decisions, that are respectful of environmental dynamics and that would encourage a fair distribution of resources.

Tools to help decision-makers

On the basis of research already carried out in the area, the project partners wish to develop innovative methodologies and tools to help decision-makers; train experts who can advise local decision-makers; and involve civil society through the education of young people and the support for multi-actor partnership dynamics. The project will take place in seven countries in the area and will focus on three study topics: islands and archipelagos, deltas and high seas.

This project is supported by the “young team associated with IRD” working on the governance of natural resources in Mozambique, ITANGO-MOZ. The team is working on defining tools and innovative approaches. Dinis Juizo, hydrological engineer from Eduardo Mondlane University, coordinates the project: "our interdisciplinary studies aim to reconcile environmental protection and the fight against poverty, through new approaches presented to decision-makers".

Aware and committed citizens

The public also has a role to play concerning the threats faced by coastal ecosystems. Many research projects thus include actions to use scientific knowledge to inform citizens about the health status of the coastlines they inhabit and to raise awareness about the actions they can undertake to make a difference.

The PAREO project, carried out in Réunion, Mauritius and the Seychelles, is one of them. Thanks to new technologies and the MARECO educational kit, dozens of children from each of these countries follow a fun and interactive program that increase their knowledge of the importance of coral reefs.

Citizens of tomorrow.

Children are the citizens of tomorrow,” comments Lola Massé, project leader. “After this programme, they become the reefs ambassadors. They are part of the change and can then educate their families, who in turn influence public policies."

Jean-Pascal Torréton, IRD representative in Southern Africa, concludes: “Informing the public and decision-makers on the basis of scientific research is at the heart of our mission. This contributes to safeguarding the coasts of the region."

This paper has first been published by IRD.

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