Mobilising Freshwater Biodiversity Information for Better Representation within Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands Hotspot


Location: Madagascar, Archipelagos of Mauritius, Comoros, Seychelles, La Réunion and the Scattered Islands of the Western Indian Ocean.

Status: Completed.

Implementing Partner: Missouri Botanical Garden – Madagascar.

Missouri Botanical GardensPhoto: Missouri Botanical Gardens

Project Donor: This project was generously funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF), a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, European Union, Global Environment Facility, Government of Japan, MacArthur Foundation and World Bank. 

Additional financial support has also been received from the France-IUCN partnership framework

Partner LogosPhoto: Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and Partenariat France_UICN Nature et Developpement


The inland waters of Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands hotspot support a high diversity of threatened aquatic species, a large proportion of which is unique to this hotspot, with many of these species providing direct and indirect benefits to people such as through fisheries and water purification and supporting local economies and livelihoods. Freshwater habitats and their associated species are, however, being lost and degraded at an alarming rate. Protected areas represent a potentially powerful tool for their conservation, but freshwater biodiversity remains poorly represented within the existing national protected areas networks across the hotspot. 

Project objectives:

The objective of this project was to improve the conservation of freshwater biodiversity throughout the hotspot, in particular through improved representation within protected areas designed for conservation of freshwater species. The project report provides the most up-to-date information on the conservation status and distribution of freshwater species and sites for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands, serving as a cornerstone in guiding conservation policy and development planning to safeguard these unique and overlooked freshwater species.

The data on selected taxon groups broadly representing freshwater biodiversity presented in recognised and respected formats such as the IUCN Red List and Key Biodiversity Areas, provide important tools to: a) raise awareness of freshwater species and sites in need of protection; and b) inform decision making in relation to conservation and development planning to better represent the future of inland wetlands and the services they provide for Madagascar’s rural poor in particular.

Project Components:

  1. IUCN Red List Assessments: Six hundred and fifty-three species of freshwater fishes, molluscs, dragonflies, crabs, crayfishes, shrimps, and aquatic plants were mapped and assessed for their risk of extinction using the IUCN Red ListTM Categories and Criteria. This represents the most comprehensive assessment of freshwater biodiversity at the species level for the hotspot. Given the wide range of trophic levels and ecological roles encompassed within these taxonomic groups, it is proposed that information on their distributions and conservation status, when combined, will provide a useful indication for the overall status of the associated wetland ecosystems.
  2. Freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs): KBAs are internationally recognised sites of importance for the global persistence of biodiversity. Through this project 23 important river, lake and wetlands systems were identified, mapped and validated as freshwater KBAs in Madagascar. Ten of these site also qualify as Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) sites – sites that each hold close to the en entire global populations of Critically Endangered or Endangered species. Thirty-four potential Site Champions have been identified as individuals and organisations best placed to raise awareness and to help implement the required actions to safeguard these globally important KBAs.
  3. Dissemination/awareness raising: Project results were widely disseminated through a news release and the publication of a policy brief and a peer-reviewed report which were presented at formal launch event in Antananarivo in February 2018. In addition, the results were made available to all relevant stakeholders, including the government, private sector, universities and conservation NGOs through a dedicated dissemination mission to Madagascar. The Red List assessments are now freely available that IUCN Red List. The freshwater KBAs will be shortly be available at the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) and the new Key Biodiversity Areas Database managed by Birdlife International on behalf of the KBA partnership (currently under development). Basic training has been provided in accessing information through each of these tools. 

Key Findings:

  • 43% percent of freshwater species in the hotspot are threatened with extinction. This level of threat significantly exceeds that recorded for continental Africa. Without immediate action much of this unique biodiversity will be lost and the livelihoods of many people will be impacted.
  • Freshwater biodiversity is significantly underrepresented within protected areas in Madagascar, where protected areas are primarily delineated for terrestrial species and fail to include targeted management and protection for species living in freshwater habitats. It is therefore recommended that protected areas be designated and managed for conservation and sustainable use of freshwater species.
  • The 23 Freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) identified here represent a network of sites critical for the persistence of freshwater biodiversity in this hotspot. These sites serve to inform strategies for improved representation of freshwater biodiversity within the National Protected Areas System of Madagascar (SAPM) and other sites for conservation and sustainable use. The information presented here represents the start of a process to ensure long-term protection and management of freshwater biodiversity in KBAs. KBA national focal points and a national KBA Coordination Group must now be established to build upon this foundation for site-based protection of freshwater species.
  • Management of water resources must account for the requirements of freshwater biodiversity. Implementation of Integrated River Basin Management and Environmental Flows methodologies are crucial to maintain the quality, quantity and timing of water flows required to sustain healthy freshwater ecosystems.
  • Periodic update and monitoring of this baseline of IUCN species Red List assessments and KBAs will enable tracking of trends in the status of freshwater species through calculation of a Red List Index for freshwater species. This index will, in turn, inform managers on the effectiveness of their management interventions.
  • The new information presented here, combined with political will and subsequent action by the governments of the hotspot, can help to ensure the long-term survival of freshwater species and dependent human livelihoods.

The full report is available through the IUCN Library
For further information please contact: [email protected] 


Madagascar MapPhoto: CI/CABS

Go to top