By Shawn Peabody, Conservation Coordinator, Toliara, Madagascar. In September, I left the dramatic ocean sunsets, gently lapping ocean waves, and starry, breezy nights of BV’s Andavadoaka field site for the dust, noise, and stagnant air of the city of Toliara. I’ve given up day-to-day management of the Andavadoaka site, for a more sedentary desk job that affords me more inter-personal interaction with rickshaw drivers than traditional Vezo fisherman.
It isn’t all bad, however. I’ve now got a “high speed” internet connection, 24/7 electricity, a refrigerator and the occasional possibility of an interruption-free Sunday. Moreover, I’ve got more responsibilities and I get to work on the “big picture” stuff.
My new role is Conservation Coordinator. A new position within Blue Ventures, I am in charge of our conservation programmes (as opposed to the science and volunteer programmes) in our two current sites, Belo-Sur-Mer and Andavadoaka. Also I will be leading the set-up of a new, third site that will be in Maintirano and the Barren Isles (NW Madagascar). At the same time, I’m trying to jump-start the creation of a country-wide peer-to-peer sharing network for locally managed marine areas (LMMAs). It’ll be a bit like Napster, except instead of trading pirated music, community members will trade best practices, lessons learned, and social and biological data about their LMMAs. The exchanges will happen on-line through an online database, forums, and shared resources as well as off-line through community exchange trips and the distribution of educational films and technical handbooks.
It’s an exciting time to be working on marine conservation in Madagascar. Community management of marine resources, once unheard of or actively resisted by some government authorities, is now, following the early success of our Andavadoaka project and the Velondriake LMMA, quickly becoming the norm. At the end of last year, the Government announced provisional protection for the Velondriake locally managed area, as well as two other locally managed protected areas in the south west. The remaining area of the SW was designated as high priority for subsequent protection through local management. So, the idea has really caught on and the marine conservation sector is blossoming. I also feel that here with Blue Ventures, with our cutting edge marine science, growing expertise in developing alternative livelihoods for traditional fishers, and unique approach to population, health and environment, I am in exactly the right place.
So while I spend far too much time waiting in line at the bank, shuffling through folders for receipts, and staring at my gmail browser, I am happy to be here in Toliara, eating ice cream and working on “big picture” stuff.