The village of Andavadoaka lies on Madagascar's south-west coast. The 1,500 Vezo tribes-people who live there are almost entirely dependent on the sea for their livelihood. Recent estimates show that fishing accounts for 90% of the village's economy. Each morning almost the entire male population take to the sea in traditional Vezo boats, known as pirogues.
Eighteen-year-old Michel Strongoff [wearing a red cap] and his friend Noary, who is seventeen, are shark fishermen. Strongoff left school when he was sixteen and turned to fishing as it was the only way he could see to make money. Each day they sail around 15km offshore in his brother's boat, Jamelia. "We fish every day except Sundays and religious festivals," says Strongoff.
The Vezo have a close relationship with the sea and they are excellent sailors. "Every Vezo knows how to sail but when there are storms we are all afraid," says Strongoff. "We're also afraid of sharks. The land is our home, but the sea is the shark's home. If God wants you to die, then the shark will get you. "But maybe the sharks are scared of us too!" he says, laughing.
The shark nets are left in the water for up to three months but Noary and Strongoff check them every day. "We decide where to leave the nets by dropping 100m long weighted line over the side. "If it makes a sharp sound on the bottom then it's rock. What we want is a place where the weight makes a soft sound which means a sandy bottom. "That's the best place for sharks."
Gift from the Gods
They have caught a juvenile hammerhead shark. "Most of the sharks we catch are small," says Noary, "but sometimes we catch a big one, maybe 2.5m long." They don't just catch sharks however. Other fish and even turtles get caught in the net. "The Vezo see turtle meat as a gift from the Gods," says marine biologist Volanirina Ramahery, who works in Andavadoaka. "Although turtle fishing is illegal here it is difficult to stop because you can't change people's attitudes."
Hung out to dry
Back on dry land the shark meat is salted and hung out to dry in the sun. "We can sell it at US$1 per two kilos," says Strongoff. "Some of it we keep ourselves, but I really don't like eating it because it smells so horrible."
The real money from shark fishing is made from the fins, which are sold to the Asian market.
A kilogram of the highest grade of shark fin can be sold for as much as US$100. "Sometimes we can make US$100 dollars in a week," says Strongoff, "but the man who owns the shark net takes a third of the money. The rest is split between the five crew members." The average daily wage in Madagascar is less than a dollar a day.
Because the sea is so important to the Vezo, many start sailing early. "I started fishing when I was sixteen," says Strongoff. "But some 10-year-old boys are already working on fishing boats. Before that we get given little model pirogues which are made in the village. It helps children learn about sailing."
Andavadoaka is 200km from the nearest big town, meaning that spares are virtually impossible to find. Instead Strongoff makes running repairs to the nets. "Shark fishing isn't a good job because I can't save any money. I don't want to do this forever, I want to find another job so I can improve my life. "The best would be to find a job on the land, but until then the sea is always here."
Andavadoaka's marine resource is under threat from factors like climate change and over-fishing. The village operates protected areas to allow fish stocks to replenish but commercial trawlers often ignore these restrictions. This is a major concern for the community because, as Strongoff puts it, "the sea is the most important thing in the world for the Vezo. For most of us, it's our only source of income."
Images copyright Dr Garth Cripps/Blue Ventures Conservation; Johnny Hogg. Original article published on the BBC News website.