Southwest Madagascar’s remote Toliara region contains some of the most biodiverse coral habitats in the Indian Ocean, but also supports Madagascar’s largest traditional fishery, with 20,000 fishers operating in the province. Artisanal fishing is one of the primary causes of direct reef damage (Nadon et al., 2007; Ahamada et al., 2008) and unsustainable biomass removal but is also the principal source of income for the indigenous Vezo coastal communities. Protecting the region’s biodiversity is therefore inextricably linked to promoting more sustainable resource use. Blue Ventures Conservation and the local community are currently leading efforts to protect and manage marine turtle fisheries in the region.
Five species of marine turtle inhabit Madagascar’s coastal waters, green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtles. The Vezo population of southwest Madagascar actively fish for and consume all five. Decline in turtle populations in this region has been documented previously by Rakotonirina (1987), who reports declines in numbers of nesting green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles. The fishers exploit both the nesting populations as well as the foraging aggregations.
Turtle hunting is considered an important cultural Vezo activity and has several associated ancestral rituals. Traditionally turtle fishing had several restrictions that had to be observed by the hunters in order to catch turtles, although many of the rituals related to the preparation of the meat. Whilst some still observe the traditions or parts of them, there has also been a relaxation of traditions and restrictions, especially where new methods have been used. There are also currently no conservation strategies in place to monitor or manage the traditional subsistence turtle fishery.
In October 2006 the first phase of turtle research and conservation programme was initiated in Andavadoaka region, 200 km north of Toliara.
The project objectives are to:
1. Profile the regional turtle fishery;
2. Locate and monitor any nesting sites in the region;
3. Increase awareness of marine turtle conservation issues;
4. Evaluate current awareness of turtle protection legislation;
5. Determine the importance of the turtle fishery to the community;
6. Develop community-led management strategies for turtle conservation.
a. A community meeting with the village of Lamboara, near Andavadoaka, to discuss the protection of the nesting beach.
b. The community marks the nesting beach with a flag and performs traditional rituals to their ancestors.
c. Sign constructed to inform other fishers that the longer permitted.
Photos: Blue Ventures Conservation, 2008
The research programme has seen widespread support and now monitors the turtle fisheries in 24 villages in Andavadoaka and expanded to the Morondava region, a further 200 km north of Andavadoaka. Turtle fishermen voluntarily report their catch to local fishermen that act as data collectors for the project. The first two years of the project has yielded significant achievements in accurately profiling the extent of the turtle fishery within the region and in starting to promote the idea of management of the traditional fishery. As a result of awareness-raising work, two green turtle nests were protected and successfully hatched – the first known to have done so in the region since 2003 – and led to the community-led protection of the nesting beach.
Blue Ventures is also working to coordinate the implementation of a community-run network of marine protected areas in the Andavadoaka beach is protected and that overnight camping is no (Velondriake community marine protected area) and Morondava regions (Kirindy Mite National Park) and this project aims to integrate a local framework for turtle fisheries conservation and management into both. The success of this project will contribute to several themes of the IUCN Global Strategy for the Conservation of Marine Turtles, as well as enhancing understanding of the marine turtle populations in southwest Madagascar feeding into regional and global conservation strategies. However, the most substantial and long lasting contribution that the project will make to nature conservation is through a shift in the attitudes towards the marine turtle fishery amongst the Vezo people. There has already been the first step in community-led management strategies through the protection of a nesting beach and the next steps must now be taken to promote sustainable exploitation.
Blue Ventures Conservation (www.blueventures. org) is a UK-based NGO dedicated to facilitating marine conservation and research. Based in southwest Madagascar, Blue Ventures Conservation aims to establish a sustainable and community-led approach to marine conservation by steering ecological research towards goals that aid the socio-economic development of the region. Blue Ventures collaborates with the Marine Turtle Research Group (www.seaturtle.org/mtrg) at the University of Exeter on its turtle research and conservation program.
For more information please contact Frances Humber (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Ahamada, S., J. Bijoux, B. Cauvin, A.B. Hagan, A. Harris, M. Koonjul, S. Meunier & J-P Quod. 2008. Status of the Coral Reefs of the South-West Indian Ocean Island State: Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles. In: Status of the Coral Reefs of the World (ed. C.R. Wilkinson), pp 73-79.
Nadon, M-O, D. Griffiths, E. Doherty & A. Harris. 2007. The Status of Coral Reefs in the Remote Region of Andavadoaka, Southwest Madagascar. Western Indian Ocean Journal of Marine Science 6: 207–218.
Rakotonirina. 1987. Les Tortues marines dans le Sud de Madagascar: Etude Bibliographique et enquêtes auprés des pêcheurs. Recherche sur la biomêtrie et l’alimentation de la tourtue verte, Chelonia mydas Linnaeus. Mémoire de DEA d’Océanographie Appliquée, Université de Toliara, 70p.
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