Situated in the fokontany of Menalamba in the north-west of Andasibe Commune, the Torotorofotsy wetlands (together with its three branches Mokaranana, Ankahelava, and Ambasimbavy) serve as a large reservoir for water and host an array of water dwellers. Birds, frogs, lemurs and chameleons depend on the wetland just as much as the rural human population living close to it.
Torotorofotsy once was one of the last intact mid-altitudinal marshes in Madagascar. In recent years, human encroachment has unfortunately led to its increasing degradation as its wild form faces impending transformation into rice fields.Mitsinjo is working with the surrounding communities to raise awareness of the importance of preserving this unique wetland while teaching farmers how to use the land more efficiently to protect it for future generations.
The marshes and their surroundings are immensely rich in biodiversity. The herbaceous vegetation of the marshes is dominated by three plant families (Cyperaceae, Poaceae and Polypodiaceae) and contains the carnivorous plants of the genus Drosera. The marshes are home to the elusive Slender-Billed Flufftail (Sarothrura watersi), Greater Painted Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis) and aggregations of waterfowl such as Meller’s Duck (Anas melleri). Another bird, the Madagascar Scops Owl (Otus madagascariensis), was the namesake for the marshes. Called torotoroka in Malagasy, the scops owls of the region are believed have a white (fotsy) plumage which distinguishes them from their conspecifics occurring elsewhere.
At the marshes’ periphery, Pandanus pulcher is abundant. The ground between their inondated stems are the realm of the Golden Mantella (Mantella aurantiaca). Scattered in between the marshes are small islets of woody plants. Adjacent to the marshes grows rainforest that extends all the way into the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor. Here live other amphibian species, such as the Yellow Mantella (Mantella crocea) or the beautiful Painted Mantella (Mantella baroni).
These dense forests are exceptionally rich in giant bamboo, the staple of the critically endangered Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus). The coarse calls of the equally rare Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata) can also be heard in these forests.
Justified by its enormous biodiversity, and based on groundwork by Mitsinjo, Torotorofotsy was declared Madagascar’s 4th Ramsar site in 2005. However, legal protection under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the protection of wetlands of international importance, is weak. Mitsinjo therefore worked closely for years with the government and other partners to transform Torotofotsy into a new protected area. This goal was reached in May 2015. Torotorofotsy obtained official protection status. This will help guarantee the long-term survival of its biodiversity and the economic improvement of its human population through the sustainable use of its natural resources.
The local population (about 2,000 people) almost entirely depends on Torotorofotsy’s natural resources and the area has recently witnessed a further considerable influx of migrants that increased human pressure on the marshes. Pressures include drainage of the wetlands and turning the core areas into rice fields. Illegal timber extraction is also a grave threat. The proximity of Torotorofotsy to the Ambatovy nickel mine and the construction of a bisecting pipeline by the mining company are further challenges that Mitsinjo aspires to mitigate.
Torotorofotsy marsh is also a destination for tourist and researchers alike. In 2007, a population of one of the rarest lemurs in the world, Prolemur simus, was found in the Torotorfotsy area. It previously was thought to only exist in small populations in Ranomafana National Park, so the discovery of this Torotorofotsy population has lead to a deluge of scientists working in the area, hoping to find more populations.