Marine Conservation in Madagascar: Community-Based Solutions to a Global Problem

When you walk into your local grocery store, you can easily find a variety of fresh and frozen fish. If you live near a bay or the ocean, some of it might be local, but it often comes from large-scale fisheries and seafood farms. With so many seafood options at our fingertips, it might be hard to believe that 500 million people worldwide depend on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods. These people mainly live in lower-income island and coastal communities, mostly in developing coastal states in the tropics.  Unfortunately, their livelihoods are threatened: 90% of global fish stocks are either overfished or fully fished, and less than 3% of the world’s oceans are protected.

About a decade ago, the Vezo community of southern Madagascar was experiencing this problem firsthand as the productivity of their fisheries declined. A team of marine biologists studying coral reefs in the area observed this problem and made a suggestion to the community: close off a small area of coastline used to catch octopus for a few months. When it reopened, there was a boom in octopus landings and fisher incomes. This generated so much interest in surrounding areas that it became the beginning of a larger movement to support and grow coastline communities, and Blue Ventures Conservation was born.

Blue Ventures’ Mission and Growth

Today, Blue Ventures has grown to be about much more than octopus. Through innovative programming and dedication to the communities they serve, Blue Ventures has “created the largest Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) in the Indian Ocean, proven new models for community-led fisheries management, built sustainable aquaculture businesses, and developed effective approaches for integrating community health services with marine conservation.” They also lead regular ecotourism trips to their field sites in Madagascar and Belize, which provides consistent support for their programming.

What makes Blue Ventures’ approach unique is their dedication to serving the needs of their communities—even if it does not seem directly related to preserving threatened marine biodiversity. In one Madagascar community, a lack of access to family planning services was negatively affecting the community. Blue Ventures worked with health agencies to incorporate family-planning service provision into its marine conservation initiatives, creating a holistic approach to community development in which the fisheries and communities could all meet their full potential. Through this innovative and thoughtful model, Blue Ventures Conservation has become a global leader in integrated tropical marine conservation and community development.

The Role of NGOsource

NGOsource aims to dramatically improve the efficiency of international grantmaking and inspire a significant increase in cross-border philanthropy by centralizing, streamlining, and standardizing the equivalency determination process for U.S. grantmakers. This process makes international giving significantly easier and positively impacts NGOs in many ways.

In 2014, Blue Ventures Conservation completed the equivalency determination (ED) process through NGOsource, which means that it is now established as equivalent to a U.S. public charity. By being certified through NGOsource, the grantmakers who give to Blue Ventures do not have to employ their own legal processes to certify that the NGO is equivalent to a public charity in the US. Since certification, Blue Ventures Conservation’s ED has been used by three different US grantmakers to give grants, proving the immense value both of Blue Ventures Conservation’s work and of being in the NGOsource repository. When asked about how becoming certified through NGOsource has benefitted their work, Blue Ventures’ Executive Director Alasdair Harris says:

“ED enables us to receive funds from US donors despite being UK-registered. This helps us broaden our donor support base and strengthen our reach.”

Blue Ventures’ Expanding Impact

Gaining the necessary support to strengthen their reach is particularly important for Blue Ventures right now—having reached 150,000 people so far, they’ve set an admirable goal for the next five years: “to reach at least three million people across the world’s tropical coastal regions by 2020.” With sustainability and conservation becoming an increasingly pressing global issue, it is even more important for them to achieve their goals in the coming years.

Blue Ventures Conservation has received the 2015 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the 2015 Outstanding Volunteer Project Award from Global Youth Travel Awards, and the 2014 St Andrews Prize for the Environment, among many others. Their impressive accomplishments and clear dedication to reaching their goals can inspire NGOs and grantmakers around the world to focus on both local and global needs in order to have meaningful impact when addressing the world’s most pressing problems.


Photo in this post © Garth Cripps, via blueventures.org

This post was written by Natasha Blackadar, a New Sector Alliance RISE Fellow with the NGOsource and Marketing teams at TechSoup.