There are six Emerald Sea islands: Nosy Antaly Be, Nosy Diego, Nosy Suarez (continues to be called Nosy Lava be), Nosy Kombero, Nosy Voro and Nosy Antaly Kely. The population, located on the mainland, mainly lives from touristic activities and traditional fishing activities in this area. Nosy Antaly Be island is a sacred site for part of the population because it hosts ancestral tombs.
The Emerald Sea is located North-East of Madagascar, near Diego Suarez, and is approximately 36 km2. The average depth of the lagoon is 3 meters and the seabed is mainly sandy.
The six islands are accessible by boat: one hour away from Ramena Beach and 1.5 hour from Diego Suarez. Antaly Be is the largest of the three islands bordering the Emerald Sea. These limestone islands host small-sized fauna and flora.
The Emerald Sea is a touristic site, known for its nautical sports hotspots, such as kitesurfing. Tourists are usually brought by fishermen to an equipped beach on Suarez. A much smaller number of tourists go to other islands. Beyond tourism, the site also constitutes a traditional fishing spot.
The site is held sacred for part of the population due to the ancestral tombs on Antaly Be. This religious particularity leads to a number of prohibitions (called “fady”). Whistling and shouting are prohibited in order to respect the ancestors; rats and chickens are considered as the guardians of the islands, and cannot be killed or hurt.
Access to the Emerald Sea islands is regulated. The tourist office implemented a ticket system which costs 10,000 Malagasy Ariary (approximately 3 €) for tourists, and 2,000 Malagasy Ariary (approximately 0.5 €) for residents. The tourist office currently employs several “Emerald Sea agents” to collect an entry tax, maintain and watch the site and ensure the enforcement of these measures. These agents have difficulty fulfilling their mission.
The touristic exploitation of this site represents an important source of income for the local population (the transport coupled with a meal offer costs 60,000 Malagasy Ariary/person without including the pre-entry ticket, so approximately 18 €, while the minimum monthly wage is around 130,000/year). The site does not only benefit the transporters: other sectors of the economy have been developed (restaurants, bars, hotels, taxi, massages, well-being). This entails positive economic spinoffs for the local population.
The Emerald Sea is ecologically very rich. The lagoon is composed of corals, marine grass and a few mangrove areas. It hosts many species such as the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), or the Dugong (Dugong dugon). Several endemic bird species of Madagascar and Aldabra populate these islands, among which the White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus), the Malagasy Coucal (Centropus toulou), the white-throated rail (Drolmnias cuvieri) and the Malagasy kestler (Falco newtoni).
The island ecosystem, a dry tropical climate, is distinct due to two micro habitats. The first one, bordering the beach and the forest, is home to small shrubs and dry halophilic grass on a sandy soil. Rocks and floated wood can be found there too. The second one, at the centre of the islands, is composed of a dense shrubby forest on a calcareous-sandy soil.
The Emerald Sea islands are facing large tourist flows that require infrastructures, management, and awareness-raising among visitors concerning the environmental challenges. Infrastructures have been implemented on the Suarez Island (welcoming centre, information signs, etc.).The site management was given to Diego Suarez Tourist Office, which mobilises several agents for the surveillance and access to the Emerald Sea. Current marine and terrestrial naturalist knowledge is not sufficient to assess the biodiversity evolution in the area. One of the major challenge is therefore to improve that knowledge in order to observe humans’ impact, notably on fishing resources. Actions targeted to invasive mammals and biodiversity preservation could be reinforced.