The Wildlife Conservation Society congratulates Madagascar's Ministry of Fisheries and local communities around Ankarea Marine Protected Area (MPA) for working together to eliminate illegal sea cucumber harvesting from an area known for highest coral species richness in the Western Indian Ocean.
Authorities from Madagascar's Centre de Surveillance des Pêches or CSP, which is part of the Ministry of Fisheries, National Gendarmerie, National Navy, and the community of Nosy Mitsio banded together in October and early November to force out 80 divers who illegally entered Ankarea MPA to harvest sea cucumbers. Patrolling missions resulted in the confiscation of a speedboat, 48 dive tanks, 16 SCUBA diving regulators, and other equipment.
Sea cucumbers are sustainably harvested by local communities in Ankarea MPA, but are restricted from large-scale fishing operations including those that use oxygen tanks during the collection. Small scale, or traditional fishing, practiced without sophisticated gear, and generally done by accessing nearshore areas on foot or in small dugout canoes, is the primary source of subsistence and income for most of the local people.
"WCS congratulates national authorities, especially CSP, who were able, despite the current political and socioeconomic uncertainties in Madagascar, to conduct a very successful patrolling mission in Ankarea MPA," said WCS Director for Marine Programs Caleb McClennen. "This empowers the Nosy Mitsio community to continue to fully engage in the management of their marine resources."
WCS worked with the local communities to help establish the locally managed Ankarea MPA. One of the objectives of the MPA, as outlined by the community, elders, private operators, and local and national government officials, includes the conservation of resources that are heavily used in the area such as sea cucumbers.
Previously, such enforcement actions by CSP would have been difficult due to advance warning of patrols by more organized illegal fishing groups. However, the establishment of Ankarea MPA allowed for better coordination between local people and CSP.
According to official data from the ministry in charge of fisheries in Madagascar, sea cucumber fishery yield dropped by 80 percent during the last two decades. Sea cucumber harvesting in Madagascar started as hand gathering near shore. As stocks became depleted, fishers moved further offshore using snorkeling and SCUBA diving. Sea cucumber is not consumed locally and the majority of sea cucumber catch is exported in dried form to Asia.
At a local level, the arrival of many migrant divers from outside the community makes it impossible to use old methods (diving without oxygen) to gather sea cucumbers, and puts stresses on limited drinking water resources and subsistence food fisheries.
Ankarea MPA consists of a large island, Nosy Mitsio, and an archipelago of 16 neighboring islands. This remote region in northwestern Madagascar harbors a great diversity of marine ecosystems including mangroves, sandy and rocky intertidal zones, as well as fringing and patch coral reefs. An estimated 1,300 people live on Nosy Mitsio in approximately 25 small villages.
Ankarea MPA is in the northern Mozambique Channel, home of the world's second-most diverse coral population. Research by WCS has found that northwest Madagascar's high coral diversity and intact ecosystems are least likely to be undermined by climate disturbances in the near term. For this reason, these reefs are considered a high priority for increased management efforts that will reduce additional human disturbances, such as fishing, in order to improve the chances for their persistence.
WCS has been involved in the establishment of marine protected areas in northwest Madagascar for over a decade. WCS worked with Madagascar's Ministry of Environment to create Sahamalaza-Radama Islands National Park, and two large locally managed marine protected areas that safeguard critical marine habitats around Nosy Iranja -- Ankivonjy MPA and Ankarea MPA.
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