A workshop for “The adoption of a management and conservation plan for marine turtles in Madagascar” was held in Antananarivo, Madagascar, from 7-9 February 2011. The workshop was borne out of a request from Madagascar for technical support from the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia (IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU). This is a non-binding framework, initiated under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), through which States of the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia, as well as other concerned States and partners, collaborate to protect, conserve, replenish and recover marine turtles and their habitats.
The overall aim of the workshop was to strengthen marine turtle research and conservation in Madagascar so as to achieve the country’s IOSEA programme objectives. Specific objectives of the workshop included:
To identify the main threats to marine turtles in Madagascar;
To highlight the gaps in research and understanding as well as the most practical and effective methods to fill these gaps;
To support the most effective conservation efforts to reduce threats to marine turtles;
To discuss and plan as how to implement the best practice initiatives in conservation in the whole country of Madagascar;
To develop a national action plan or strategy setting out the most significant priorities and/or the most practical and feasible actions identified during the workshop.
Five of the seven species of marine turtles found globally occur in the waters of Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean (WIO): Green Chelonia mydas, Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata, Loggerhead Caretta caretta, Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea, and Olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea. All five species are categorised globally as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List; and all are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species.
The first day of the workshop focused on a review of the objectives and role of the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU, threats to marine turtle populations, and current activities and ongoing programmes by the government, research institutions and NGOs in Madagascar. Various stakeholders from different organisations working on marine turtle research and conservation -- including WWF, CSP, IHSM, SWIOFP, Blue Ventures, ReefDoctor and MHNG -- presented their activities, objectives, results and future prospects. The presentations and discussions that followed gave rise to two main conclusions of the day: firstly that the main threat in Madagascar to marine turtles was unmanaged traditional fishing and its potential to lead to overexploitation; and secondly, that there was no clear consensus on the status of the laws and the relevant legal texts in regard to marine turtles.
The second day of the workshop focussed on practical approaches to conservation and research on marine turtles in Madagascar. The main objectives were to identify and prioritise the major conservation actions needed for the conservation of marine turtles in Madagascar and to identify practical actions that could be implemented by the different actors, ranging from local governments to local communities.
Five main issues were highlighted. It was noted that a lack of communication was linked to all of the major issues. ‘Agenda point: Strategic Directions’ were proposed in relation to the five main issues identified by the meeting, during an open discussion involving all participants.
1. Lack of scientific and empirical knowledge
The conservation of turtles should be integrated into current management sites, however it was noted that marine turtle habitat located outside MPAs may pose a challenge. Collaboration and sharing of expertise nationally was considered vital, and organisations were encouraged to exchange “lessons-learned”, especially among those working within the same region. In general, better coordination and conduct of research with practical application was needed. NGOs with offices in other countries should utilize their networks to identify knowledge and studies that might be transferrable or suitable for adaptation in the Madagascar context.
2. Regulations are not understood or applied
To deal with the issues surrounding marine turtle legislation in Madagascar, there is a need: 1) to identify and review the efficacy of existing legislation; and 2) to educate all stakeholders including local communities on the applicable regulations as well as the socio-economic benefits of utilizing turtles sustainably.
It was generally agreed that the current laws were insufficient for the protection of marine turtles in Madagascar. It was proposed that the marine turtle legislation in Madagascar should aim: 1) to stop commercial trade in turtles and 2) to find a way to accommodate personal consumption by the Vezo and other traditional fishers. The opportunity to invoke the use of Dina in marine turtle conservation was highlighted, while noting that such an instrument must comply with the prevailing national legislation.
It was pointed out that any review or amendment of legislation should technically be led by the Ministry of Fisheries, but it was suggested that other ministries be involved, perhaps through an inter-ministerial body such as the existing GIZC committee (Comité National pour la Gestion Intégrée des Zones Côtières et Marines).
3. Importance of involving local communities
It was considered vital to involve local communities directly in the monitoring and research of marine turtles, as well as the perpetuation of useful traditional knowledge and practices. Village- level agreements could be effective tools for self-monitoring of the turtle fishery. However, 2 community integration would be effective only if activities were not seen as being imposed by outsiders and if community ownership of projects was instilled so that the community became the primary beneficiary. However, the support that NGOs could provide to communities was encouraged because they were able to work in remote locations.
The importance of using existing structures and organizations, in particular community-based associations, to efficiently implement future action plans was highlighted. Marine turtle conservation should be integrated into local documents and activity/action plans. The use of the Dina in Madagascar was potentially a very important tool in view of the fact that they were enacted and respected by the local communities. With all organisations, marine turtle conservation should not be considered as a separate issue but should be integrated as one part of overall activity plans.
4. Regional cooperation
Greater cooperation is needed to establish or strengthen national and regional networks, and to integrate them into all sectors relevant to marine turtle conservation.
The meeting considered how the different actors in Madagascar could cooperate more effectively than at present in order to more forward over the next 1-2 years, as well as the most efficient arrangement to ensure continuity from the workshop. Several alternatives were put forward for the formation of a national working group on marine turtles:
Create a new dedicated working group within the GIZC committee;
Add to responsibilities of the existing GIZC subgroup on ecosystem management;
Integrate the IOSEA Focal Point functions into the GIZC subgroup.
It was suggested that as CNRE is already a member of the GIZC and that as marine turtles already figured in prior GIZC discussions, formal integration of marine turtle concerns into the subgroup on ecosystem management would be the most practical option. It would be important also to include local communities as well as NGOs and research centres in any national network.
Regional cooperation was also considered to be of paramount importance given the migratory nature of marine turtles. Experts were available within the WIO region who could share expertise and knowledge in relation to scientific research. Many were members of the WIO Marine Turtle Task Force which served to support implementation of the regional IOSEA Conservation and Management Plan. Successful efforts within the WIO region could be used to guide best practice, and stakeholders were encouraged to utilize existing funded workshops to collaborate regionally (e.g. WIO-MTTF, WIOMSA).
5. Political problems
Participants noted that it would be difficult to work on long-term conservation initiatives without an improvement of the economic, political and organisational situation in Madagascar, and that it could be difficult to implement new legislation under the present circumstances.
Concluding the workshop, it was agreed that CNRE and GIZC should continue their consultations, taking into account the many useful ideas that had been expressed.
The workshop’s identification of important issues, coupled with the constructive interventions that were made in the spirit of addressing fundamental problems, should help Madagascar move closer to refining and adopting a management plan with the involvement of interested stakeholders. The workshop was hosted by Madagascar's Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique with financial support provided by the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU, through a grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Marine Turtle Conservation Fund). The workshop was co-organised by the Centre National de Recherches sur l'Environnment (CNRE) and Blue Ventures.