Winning hearts and minds

11 April 2011 | News story

Lalao Aigrette - Madagascar

For decades, biologists have campaigned for marine reserves, struggling with the mistrust or disapproval of fishermen. Lalao Aigrette, a dedicated Malagasy conservationist, is taking on this challenge amongst remote fishing communities in some of the most biodiverse regions of Madagascar. And she’s seeing some impressive results.

Lalao’s endeavours have been instrumental in turning the old approach of top-down marine resource management on its head. Through her tireless work with fishermen and women she has helped develop a novel bottom-up approach to community-based marine conservation, a model that has spread along more than 500 km of Madagascar’s coasts.

Lalao is Community Conservation Coordinator with NGO and IUCN Member organization Blue Ventures, a job that puts her on the front line of tackling some of the most important issues facing environmental sustainability in the western Indian Ocean. She constantly travels between fishing villages along the isolated Mozambique Channel coast of western Madagascar. For many villages in this arid region where agriculture is not an option, ensuring effective marine biodiversity conservation is quite simply a matter of survival.

“Lalao is no stranger to spending days on end at sea travelling between islands by dugout canoe, or enduring long days walking through mangrove swamps in 40 degree heat to train fishermen in community-based monitoring techniques. Her commitment to her work is a source of inspiration to friends and colleagues alike,” says Dr Alasdair Harris, Research Director for Blue Ventures Conservation.

“In a country with almost 6,000 kilometres of coastline and an estimated 60% of the population living along it—most of whom catch fish for a living—Lalao’s work has made an outstanding contribution to marine biodiversity conservation,” he adds.

Working with communities to develop alternative income sources helps to protect both biodiversity and traditional livelihoods. Lalao pioneered the world’s first community-managed sea cucumber farm, providing local women’s associations with a highly lucrative and ecologically-sustainable source of income. Her team enables community members to implement, manage and monitor their own conservation programmes.

A key focus of Lalao’s work is building local consensus to impose short-term restrictions on specific fisheries which brings benefits that can be quickly seen by communities. When communities see the tangible benefits of conservation they are often willing to support more ambitious, longer-term conservation action that covers more species. By building capacity at a community level, Lalao’s team is then able to hand the programmes over to local leaders and fishermen.

A pilot fisheries ‘no take’ zone developed in the village of Andavadoaka in 2004 proved so successful that it has been replicated by more than 100 times. The government of Madagascar even used the project as a model to create new fisheries legislation and seasonal bans across the country. These successes have resulted in a groundswell of community interest in developing broader marine conservation programmes targeting other fisheries and ecosystems. They have also inspired international exchanges by fishermen, community groups and NGOs, who have travelled from neighbouring Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros to learn from Lalao and her colleagues.

“That Lalao has been able to produce such impressive results whilst working amongst some of Africa's poorest and most resource-dependent coastal communities is a testament to her extraordinary motivation and strength of character, as well as her passion for conserving her country’s natural heritage and the traditional way of life of the Vezo people of western Madagascar,” says Dr Harris.


For more information contact Alasdair Harris
at: al@blueventures.org