Madagascar’s southwest coast supports some of the largest coral reef systems in the western Indian Ocean. These reefs not only provide critical habitat to thousands of marine species but also are essential to the survival of the indigenous Vezo people who rely on healthy marine resources for food, transport, cultural identity and income. However, coastal populations are growing rapidly and international fisheries companies have begun exploiting the region’s waters through a sophisticated collection network to supply an expanding export market. In recent years local fishers have begun reporting declines in the size and number of their catches.
Building on the success of a pilot marine no take zone launched three years ago in the remote fishing village of Andavadoaka, Blue Ventures Conservation (BV), Madagascar’s Institute of Marine Sciences (Institut Halieutique et des Sciences Marines – IHSM) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are now working with 21 neighbouring villages, and fisheries collection and export companies to develop a network of community-run marine and coastal protected areas that will
span more than 800 km 2, aiming to benefit more than 10,000 people and protect coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and other threatened habitats along Madagascar’s southwest coast. The villages, grouped into three constituent geographic regions, have established a management committee which serves as a liaison between conservation scientists and community members, providing input and insight into all phases of conservation planning, from research activities to implementation of management plans. The management committee also selected a unifying name for the network: Velondriake, which means “to live with the Sea.”
Along with protecting biodiversity and livelihoods, the network is working to increase environmental awareness among communities, expand local and national capacity for biodiversity conservation and serve as a model for other community conservation, economic development, and governance initiatives across Madagascar and elsewhere. Velondriake aims to benefit villages within the network by empowering members
of the local communities as managers of their own natural resources, enabling communities to contribute directly to the development of sustainable resource management systems to support local culture and livelihoods. Additional benefits are being brought to local partner organisations and institutions through the capacity building resulting from involvement of their staff in the project and the improved availability of data, lessons learned and best practice guidelines.