Some 30km northeast of Fort Dauphin as the crow flies lies 4.3 square kilometres of precious littoral forest – humid coastal forest, swamp and grassland that thrives directly behind the seashore. It doesn’t sound much, but it’s a highly important area for some of southeastern Madagascar’s rarest endemic flora and fauna and contains within it the half-square-kilometre Sainte Luce Reserve, named after the huge bay to the north, whose name dates back to a group of seventeenth-century French settlers. As well as the forested area itself, meandering creeks ribbon their way from north to south, roughly parallel to the coast, as far south as the Baie de Lokaro, creating what is in effect a long, slug-shaped, inshore island of rare habitat. Managed on a shoestring by a local NGO coordinated by an Australian resident, the conservation work here benefits the district’s wildlife as well as the local fishers and farmers who live in the three villages of Ambandrika, Ampanasatomboky and Manafiafy, together known as Sainte Luce. If you’d like to make some positive contacts with local people, then a visit to Stitch Sainte Luce (w stitchsainteluce.yokaboo.com), an embroidery workshop set up by the NGO Azafady, is highly recommended.

Flora and fauna

The flora in and around the forest is dominated by buttress-rooted pandanus palms, and includes mangroves and the very rare Sainte Luce palm (Dypsis saintelucei) of which only around 100 mature individuals survive. These palms are critical to the survival of the jewel-like day gecko Phelsuma antanosy, which normally glues its two eggs to them. On the boggy grasslands on the shores of glassy Lac Ambanjika, and alongside the creeks (target of delightful boat trips from the Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge) live a variety of fascinating, acid-tolerant carnivorous plants, including pitcher plants (Nepenthes).

The S9 (“Ess-neuf”) forest, visited for walks by the lodge, is cut by easy-access, flat paths, and home to the large, diurnal red-collared brown lemur and nocturnal southern woolly (Avahi meridionalis) and rufous mouse lemurs (Microcebus rufus), among others. On a night walk, you’re also likely to see some very large sleeping warty chameleons (Furcifer verrucosus) and cute, roosting pygmy kingfishers (Corythornis madagascarensis), perched at the end of branches to protect themselves from snakes.

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