For small-scale fishers who face a web of interconnected challenges including food insecurity, unmet basic health needs, a rapidly degrading marine environment and looming climate change, finding ways to increase their ability to withstand these challenges is vital.

These same people are heavily reliant on their marine environment for their survival as a source of food, income and cultural identity.

For nearly twenty years we have worked shoulder to shoulder with small-scale fishers around the world’s coastal tropics, designing practical, durable ways to help communities to conserve their greatest resource: the ocean and its rich biodiversity of life.

Community-led management

Our organisation has trialled and honed effective ways to support communities to take over the management of their own fisheries. This community-led approach empowers local people to pioneer marine conservation initiatives that respond to their needs and enable them to protect the natural resources on which they depend for generations to come.

We work with local people to plan and implement the closures of fisheries so that people don’t fish in certain areas for a set period of time. Upon reopening these areas, community members benefit from increased catches of fish – which boosts food security and incomes – in the knowledge that their resources are being sustainably managed and that marine biodiversity is being protected.

The community-led closures approach, which Blue Ventures first successfully trialled in southwest Madagascar in 2006, has now become a way in which many small-scale fishing communities around the world lead their own marine conservation efforts. It has recently been shown that that community-led marine conservation can increase the size of fish populations which is a key part of conservation work to protect life-giving coral reefs.

Diversifying income

We have also learnt that delivering training which allows communities to diversify their livelihoods away from traditional fishing activities helps to build the financial resilience of coastal people, meaning that they are better able to meet the challenges they face (the current Covid-19 crisis being the most recent and potentially the most devastating).

In southwest Madagascar, fishers are being trained in aquaculture activities including seaweed and sea cucumber farming, as well as in apiculture (beekeeping). Blue Ventures has also facilitated the world’s largest community-managed mangrove conservation or blue forest project in southwest Madagascar called Tahiry Honko which provides income for local communities. These alternative sources of income cut reliance on dwindling fish stocks and transform household incomes. The Covid-19 crisis has severely impacted the international market for fish and these non-traditional sources of income are proving themselves as financial lifelines.

Working holistically to unlock conservation

The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of meeting our basic needs, but for Blue Ventures, this has long been a part of our philosophy when it comes to supporting coastal communities. We work to understand, and help to overcome, the barriers that make conservation a lower priority amongst these communities, by meeting other unmet needs.

For communities who live in remote locations in Madagascar, there is a lack of basic healthcare provision. The charity supports the training of local women to become community health workers who are helping families to gain basic health support.

Being based at the grassroots over many years means that Blue Ventures’ trusted staff, including community health workers, have become a vital source of reliable public health information in hard to reach locations. The charity’s team are sharing information on how to establish handwashing stations to improve basic hygiene and reduce community transmission of the virus.

Blue Ventures is utilising its proximity, networks, knowledge and skills to find practical solutions to meet not only the latest crisis to face our natural world but also to tackle head-on the urgent work to protect our ocean and the communities who rely on it to survive.

We have learnt from our proven practical approaches in Madagascar and are now replicating these effective responses in other locations around the coastal tropics to share community-led marine conservation that works. Covid-19 has reminded us all of how interconnected our world is and that the practical solutions can be shared to create a tide of conservation change.

About Blue Ventures

Blue Ventures  is one of Triodos Bank UK's charity partners, and it is developing locally led approaches to marine management that benefit people and nature alike. By listening and responding to basic needs, they design their models to catalyse and sustain marine conservation, unlocking the potential of coastal communities to manage their resources. They work in places where the ocean is vital to local cultures and economies, and are committed to advancing the rights of small-scale fishers throughout the coastal tropics.

You can support Blue Ventures's Covid-19 response.