ARMS Restore logo


November 21, 2022

Seo-Hyun Yoo, Harvard undergraduate, on her senior thesis on environment-human health interactions in the Bay of Ranobe

This summer, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to conduct fieldwork in southwestern Madagascar in the Bay of Ranobe for my undergraduate senior thesis at Harvard. Advised by Professor Christopher Golden, my project focused on the perceived changes in and interactions between coral degradation, fisheries catch, and seafood abundance. In the Ranobe area, most local people depend on fisheries for both livelihoods and nutrition. An ecological hotspot with major reef systems, the bay plays a critical role in the diversity of human nutrition and these people’s access to marine resources. However, coral reef degradation has worsened in the past decade driven by fishing pressure, leading to a vicious cycle of degrading health for both people and the reefs. As such, it is a critical area of study to better understand environment-health interactions around reef ecosystems.

My survey this summer focused on ecological and nutritional changes, local understanding and adaptations, and the perceived reasons for these changes. I interviewed fishers, gleaners, and local people in three villages around Ranobe—Ifaty, Madiorano, and Ambalaboy. These three villages were chosen based on population size and proximity, with one village of nearly 500 households, and two of smaller population sizes. Two of the three villages lie in close proximity to allow me to investigate the impact of their different population sizes compared to location since fishers from these villages depend on similar areas of reef. The two villages of smaller and similar population size lie further away from each other such that fishers from these villages depend on different areas of reef. Using these, I can investigate the impact of location without population size as a confounding factor. 

Each survey focused on the participant’s perception and knowledge of changes in their surrounding ecosystem between 10 years and the present time. Subjects focused on coral degradation, solutions and adaptations, and consumption of seafood items. My key research questions encompassed: 

  1. What have been the locally perceived changes in coral reef health and extent? What characterizes local understanding of coral reef health?
  2. What have been the observed changes in species diversity/seafood abundance?
  3. What have been the perceived reasons for these changes (environmental, social, gear/technology, etc.)?
  4. How have people been adapting to these changes?

The survey format was a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions, which I asked with the assistance of my Malagasy translator. Ultimately, I completed 97 surveys across the three villages with a fairly even mix of demographic groups across age, sex, and occupation. Utilizing this information, I plan to create a dataset for analysis through coding themes of qualitative responses and combining them with quantitative responses. 

My time conducting field work in Madagascar was incredibly rewarding, giving me the chance to connect with and learn closely from people experiencing the impacts of reef degradation in their daily lives. Every person I spoke with brought a unique perspective, with each interview providing a learning experience for me both as a researcher and as a person. I’m excited to analyze the data and continue grappling with this topic as I develop my thesis through next spring. Thank you to Professor Golden, Hervet Randriamady, Aroniaina Falinirina, and everyone on the ARMS team who made this experience possible!