A step toward biodiversity conservation in a SIDS: Ecological and cartographic studies for protected marine and terrestrial areas in Comoros

By: Elisa Distefano

Photo 1: Programme areas

A recently completed GEF project, “Integrated Ecological Planning and Sustainable Land Management in Coastal Ecosystems in the Comoros” supported  long-term ecological restoration through the development and implementation of Integrated Ecosystem Management (IEM) plans in the three islands of Gran Comore, Anjouan and Moheli.
The grant was fully integrated into the IFAD National Sustainable Human Development Programme  (PNDHD), and has contributed to  reducing current  land degradation trends by putting 1,052 ha of land under sustainable land management practices, replanting 384 ha of degraded forest and 4.5 ha of mangroves in coastal areas.
”Both the environmental awareness raising and the implementation of 6 IEM plans, which included 43 villages, are in the  national interest and have had positive environmental and socio-economic impacts. Without the GEF intervention and the restoration of ecosystem services, the IFAD loan objectives would have been less sustainable,” said Mr Anllaouddine Abou Houmadi, GEF project Coordinator.
The GEF grant was also instrumental in commissioning a series of cartographic and feasibility studies for the creation of protected areas, to name a few:
The “Feasibility study for starting a locally managed marine Area (Anjouan)” provides a detailed ecological, socio-economic characterization of the  Sima/Bimbini peninsula, the identification of conservation targets and the delineation of  areas with potential alternative land use  options . The study also presents the benefits  and challenges  of  locally managing protected areas.  Key  recommendations include creating a legal framework that would  allow villages to act as managers of protected areas, along with  reinforcing  local organizations’ competencies. This exercise  was complemented by the “Ecological and Cartographic Study for the protection of the Bimbini peninsula” which not only proposes the  legislation and regulation of protected areas, but also presents a detailed environmental health and biodiversity status of the barrier reef, mangroves and sea grasses.

Photos 2,3: Current Marine reserve zoning and proposed PA zoning 

The “Delimitation, zoning and ecological characterization of the Kathala Forest (Grande Comore)” study presents a description of the floristic richness of the area, the altitudinal succession of plant associations, an ethnobotanic investigation, as well as an inventory of the most exploited species. The study concludes with a demarcation of  potential conservation zones, according to the IUCN protected area  categories.


Photos 4,5: Changes in forest cover across 1969-2010   Distribution of some endemic plants in the proposed PA

Similarly, the Ecological and Cartographic Study for the protection of the forest of La Grille (Gran Comore)” has carried out a socio-economic survey of neighboring villages, investigated the abundance and distribution of the most exploited tree species, and the taxonomic fauna and floristic richness. It is a useful tool to refine a protected area co-management plan for the area.

Photo 6: PA zoning
These studies will help UNDP to continue this important work in protected area development through the implementation of a new GEF project currently being launched[1].

[1] Development of a National Network of Terrestrial and Marine Protected Areas Representative of the Comoros Unique Natural Heritage and Co-managed with Local Village Communities