For the first week in August, the distant splashes of the whales form a spectacular backdrop to a landmark event for marine conservation planning, when 35 marine conservationists working around the island continent have converged on the remote coastal village of Andavadoaka in the southwest of the country for an unprecedented symposium to discuss marine and coastal management.
The conservationists, together responsible for managing all of Blue Ventures' conservation programmes in the south and west of Madagascar, are meeting to exchange information and updates on progress made in marine conservation in the region. All conservation projects being developed by Blue Ventures in Madagascar, ranging from schools scholarship programmes to migratory studies of nomadic fishermen, are being reviewed during an ambitious series of presentations and workshops designed to develop the organisation's strategic plan for the year ahead.
The remote Vezo fishing village of Andavadoaka is a fitting venue for the symposium, having hosted Blue Ventures since 2003, and today forming the geographical and administrative centre of Velondriake, the Indian Ocean's largest community-managed marine reserve.
Samba Roger, elected President of the Velondriake Management Committee, remarked: "This is an exciting time for coastal communities in Madagascar. Velondriake is three years old now, and local management here is working for our fishermen and their families."
Lalao Aigrette, Blue Ventures' natural resource monitoring manager, traveled to the workshop from Belo-sur-Mer, an isolated village several hundred kilometres north of Andavadoaka. In Belo, Blue Ventures is responsible for providing support to Madagascar's national parks service in developing an ambitious new marine protected area in the Mozambique Channel modeled on Velondriake's successes.
"This workshop is an incredible opportunity for us to share what we've learned in community-based marine conservation so far" said Lalao. "We're here to make plans for how best to share this information with our partners around Madagascar and the Indian Ocean."
Blue Ventures has recently been selected as a finalist for the BBC World Challenge 2010 award, a global competition celebrating innovative grass-roots enterprise solutions to environmental and development challenges.
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Notes to editors
* The locally managed marine reserve in Madagascar, called Velondriake – a local Malagasy word meaning “to live with the sea” – spans 1145km2, benefits more than 10,000 people in 25 villages and protects coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds, baobab forests and other threatened habitats. Local villagers worked with Blue Ventures to define the borders of Velondriake and identify which habitats to protect. Villagers are being trained in conservation science and planning, and have established a management board, the Velondriake Association, that oversees the implementation, management and monitoring of the reserve. Along with traditional conservation strategies such as seasonal no-take zones and permanent reserves, the villagers living within and around Velondriake are benefiting from a variety of sustainable development activities created by Blue Ventures, including sea cucumber farming, algae farming and eco-tourism.
*To increase national capacity for conservation success across Madagascar, Blue Ventures is also running a variety of environmental education programmes for local communities – including children’s environmental clubs, conservation scholarship programmes and training workshops.
*For more information about Blue Ventures research, please see http://www.blueventures.org/research.html
*For more information about BBC World Challenge, please see http://www.theworldchallenge.co.uk/