Coral reefs are imperiled all over the world. They are hotspots for biodiversity and are a critical part of the ocean ecosystem, but more than 60 percent are under threat and corals are dying off all over the world.
Blue Ventures is working to help conserve coral reefs and coastal communities and is a World Challenge 2010 finalist. Your vote could help them win the grand prize and help support coral reef preservation on a local level in Madagascar. Please vote to say these precious marine resources.
Shawn Peabody is working for Blue Ventures in Madagascar to help protect one of the world’s largest coral reefs. He stopped by our blog to answer some questions about why coral reefs are so important and what we can do to protect them:
Why are coral reefs important?
Coral reefs are important because of their crucial role in the global marine environment; 90 percent of marine animals depend directly or indirectly on coral reefs for their survival. Additionally, millions of people rely on coral reefs for their daily subsistence.
People are familiar with Madagascar’s great biodiversity, but many don’t realize that it has one of the largest coral reef systems in the world. How are Madagascar’s marine resources unique and why are they worth protecting?
The coral reef system of the west coast of Madagascar is the fourth largest in the world. Madagascar’s coral reefs are home to hundreds of endemic species of coral, reef fish, and other animals. They play a crucial role in supporting pelagic species such as whales, sharks, and turtles.
Additionally, the west coast is home to the Vezo, semi-nomadic tribespeople of Madagascar who, due the aridity and poor soil quality of the west coast rely almost entirely on the sea for their food and income. As the reefs of Madagascar degrade, these people, who number more than 50,000 are having a harder and harder time making a living.
What are the biggest threats to coral reefs in Madagascar?
The largest threat to coral reefs in Madagascar is overfishing, both industrial and traditional. The structure of the reefs is switching from coral dominated to algae dominated as more and more fish, turtles and urchins are removed from the system. There are virtually no fishery management systems in place and enforcement of fishery laws is very weak. Additionally, destructive fishing practices such as beach seining with mosquito nets (200 meters long) and poison fishing practiced by some fisherman, especially migrants from inland are further exacerbating the problem.
Climate change is another problem, as major bleaching events have occurred at least four times since 1995. Except for climate change, the main drive of all these threats is the skyrocketing local population, with each woman having an average of 6.8 children in her lifetime.
How are you and Blue Venture’s working to address those issues?
In the Andavadoaka region, we have supported the creation of a local management association, called Velondriaka (Those who live with the sea), that is made up of 25 Vezo fishing villages. We are addressing overfishing by supporting the Velondriake Association to put in place local marine management systems that include coral, mangrove, and seagrass reserves and by developing alternative livelihood projects such as sea cucumber and sea weed aquaculture. We are also helping Velondriake to improve community enforcement of village laws on marine management to end destructive fishing in the region. Finally, we are carrying out an intensive population, health, and environment program that is having great success in increasing the uptake of family planning.
Blue Ventures and Rare are working together on a Pride campaign to promote sustainable fisheries off the Andavadoaka Coast. Why is better social marketing and communication needed to help protect the coral reef and fisheries there and fisheries around the world?
Social marketing is key to everything we do. Local management simply doesn’t work without an effective communications strategy. Behavior changes by large segments of the population are needed in order to stop destructive fishing, strengthen community management, enable the development of alternative livelihoods, and slow the tremendous population growth rate that is overstitching the resource base.
The Velondriake region is characterized by a rather homogenous population of fisherman, most of whom are tied together with family bonds. However, education levels, perceptions of marine resources, and knowledge of marine management vary greatly within the population. Social marketing allows for targeted messaging to specific segments of the population, giving them the knowledge that they need, pushing the attitudes necessary for conservation, and removing barriers to change that eventually leads to behavior change.
How big of an issue is a lack of knowledge of the status of coral reefs and fisheries?
Lack of knowledge of the status of coral reefs and fisheries is not a problem at the local level. The fisherman all know and understand that the reefs are degrading and that the fishery is overstretched. At a regional level, this is understood clearly by government officials as well. On a national level, however, there are still some in the government and private sector who have yet to realize that Madagascar’s marine resources are in crisis.
Part of promoting sustainable fisheries isn’t just about raising the populations of fish, but also about ensuring that local communities have fish to eat in the future. How do you go about convincing local fishermen and residents that their fish stocks are declining at an unsustainable rate and that they may lose a source of food and income if they don’t fish in a sustainable manner?
Again, there’s no need to convince anyone at the local level that fish stocks are crashing. People understand this intuitively. The older generation remembers a tremendous abundance of fishery output and the quality of the reefs in the past. Our main challenge has not been to convince people of decline, but to convince them that there are solutions that can stabilize, and eventually bring about a return in productivity to the fishery.
How difficult is it to convince people of the facts of marine science?
In the very beginning, it was hard to convince people that conservation could bring about fisheries gains. However, after the first temporary octopus closure in 2004, which resulted in many more and larger octopus caught in the opening days, people were easily convinced. Since this trial closure, the idea for temporary closures spread throughout the region and then to the entire southwest of Madagascar and the Rodrigues Islands. Building on the success of this experience, it wasn’t too difficult to get people excited about permanent reserve closures on reef habitat as a way of protecting fish stocks and safeguarding high quality habitat.
Blue Venture’s is a finalist The World Challenge. Why should people vote to protect coral reefs in Madagascar and what would winning this competition mean?
People should vote for this project to draw more attention to the plight of the Vezo and the great efforts that are being made in the Velondriake region to turn things around. And secondly, to draw attention to the community management model. Traditional fishing communities are already the de-facto managers of the world’s coral reefs; voting for this project will encourage similar projects around the world to support local people to gain the skills, knowledge, and power to manage their own resources sustainably — for their sake and for all of us.