Madagascar's Waters

Antogil Photo
In view of Masoala National Park’s coastline, humpback whales swim in Antongil Bay, where they breed and rear their calves.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS
People Photo
WCS works to sustain Malagasy fisheries, which are integral to livelihoods of many local communities.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Sunset Photo
Located in the western Indian Ocean, the island of Madagascar has a coastline of 3,100 miles.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS

Coral reefs, sea grass beds, islands, mangroves, creeks, estuaries, and coastal forests link Madagascar’s land and seas. The island nation sits in the western Indian Ocean, which stretches to the mainland states of eastern Africa and supports important marine species like endangered dugongs, sea turtles, and sharks. Madagascar's long coastline (3,100 miles) and “upstream” location from eastern and southern Africa make its aquatic ecosystems among the region’s greatest conservation priorities.

The Malagasy economy depends on its coastal resources to support important fisheries, tourism, and shipping industries. However, effectively managing those resources has proven difficult. Environmental threats such as overfishing have greatly depleted marine populations to extents that some fish stocks may never recover and many species could face extinction. The effects of climate change also take a toll on the coastal ecosystems.

Fast Facts

  • Among the inhabitants of Madagascar’s marine environment are 34 species of cetaceans, 5 species of marine turtles, 56 shark species, 300 types of hard corals, and 1,300 kinds of bony fish.
  • Masoala National Park includes three marine reserves designed to protect the peninsula’s coral reef systems. In view of the park’s coastline, humpback whales swim the nearby Antongil Bay, which they use to breed and rear their calves.
  • Half of Madagascar’s known plant species are found in the Antongil Bay region.


Population growth is exacerbating the effects of destructive and shortsighted fishing practices and management systems cannot adequately sustain the region’s fisheries. Further threatening Madagascar’s coastal environments are industrial trawling within the shallow, continental shelf seas and seamounts, the hunting or incidental capture of large marine fauna (dugong, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and sawfish), and the extirpation of high-value species such as sea cucumbers. Coastal development can degrade local waters, by creating run-off and sedimentation. Madagascar’s coral reefs are also threatened by the impacts of climate change, which can cause them to become sickly and bleach. In the Antongil Bay region, rising unemployment and insufficient facilities for rice cultivation are causing local residents to turn to fishing, putting further pressure on marine plants and animals.

WCS Responds

WCS has been helping to conserve marine ecosystems in Madagascar since 1991. Our conservationists lead seascape programs in Toliar Barrier Reef and Antongil Bay, where we helped create the nation’s first law overseeing whale-watching operations. The law aims to ensure the region’s burgeoning ecotourism industry generates revenue for local residents and is safe for humpbacks and other whale species. Working with local leaders and government groups, we have protected sensitive whale nursery areas and eliminated shark finning and other unsustainable practices. We have also trained local residents in marine conservation and management, helping them to develop sustainable fishing and farming practices.

WCS is also helping to manage the Sahamalaza/Radama Marine Biosphere Reserve on the northwest coast of Madagascar. This new protected area, which contains important coral, mangrove, and forest ecosystems, is used by local people for fishing crab and shrimp. WCS is promoting sustainable development in this coastal region, to protect both local livelihoods and precious marine life.

From the Newsroom

Helping Corals Survive a Changing ClimateApril 22, 2013

Coral reef fisheries expert Dr. Tim McClanahan highlights the resilience of coral reefs and the conservation efforts that will help them adapt to changing conditions.

Madagascar Gets 'Roadmap' To Conserving Marine LifeFebruary 27, 2012

A study by WCS and partners presents a novel approach for establishing new large-scale protected areas in Madagascar’s waters.

Same Ocean, Different SongsFebruary 2, 2012

Researchers from WCS, Columbia University, and other institutions find an unusual divide in song themes sung by humpback whales in Madagascar and Western Australia.

Marine Mammals on the MenuJanuary 24, 2012

A newly released study finds that people are increasingly consuming marine mammals—including some very rare species, like the Fraser’s dolphin—in more than 100 countries around the world.

Fishing Communities Put the Heat on Climate Change TalksDecember 8, 2011

As global leaders convene in Durban, South Africa to tackle climate change, WCS coral reef fisheries expert Dr. Tim McClanahan and his colleague Dr. Joshua Cinner urge action on behalf of the world’s fishing communities dependent upon the increasingly threatened bounty of warming tropical seas.


~/media/Images/wcs org/forms/please donate to help conservation.png
Stay in touch with WCS and receive the latest news.

Saving Wild Places