Unseen reefs: supporting community fishery management in Madagascar

Latest update September 3, 2019 Started on August 22, 2018

Since 2013, fishers in Sainte Luce, SE Madagascar, have been working to introduce sustainable, community-based lobster fishery management. The expedition will support the community's efforts by using cameras to explore beneath the waves.

August 22, 2018
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In The Field

Field testing II

The second stage of field testing in Greenland saw the ROV launched in the Ilulissat Icefjord, where we captured images from underneath icebergs nestling against the shore. A major challenge and important lesson for Madagascar, is that bright sunshine can make it hard to see the screen of our Android device when flying the ROV. A problem to work on for the next deployment…


Field testing I

Participation in a separate research project in Greenland gave the team the perfect opportunity to put the Trident ROV through its paces in the field. First we launched the ROV in a Arctic lake giving us a fish-eye view of the tiny fish hiding among the rocks.


Testing the ROV

Today we've been testing our Trident OpenROV at ZSL London Zoo. With help from ZSL's aquarium team we were able to test the ROV for the first time, getting great footage of the white blotched river stingrays (Potamotrygon leopoldi). The complex habitat of deadwood, rocks and tangled plants in this large tank provided an ideal testing ground. Despite being novice pilots we found the controls intuitive and the ROV to be highly maneuverable. We can't wait to deploy this in the field...

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Understanding the community…

Recently, the team at SEED Madagascar have been conducting research funded by the Darwin Initiative. One of the aims was to assess gender differences in terms of how involved community members feel in fishery management and decision making.

Lobster fishing in Sainte Luce is traditionally seen as a male-dominated activity. However, women also play an important, but often unrecognised, role before and after fishing take place. It is the women in the community who complete many of the tasks critical for a successful fishery. This includes making lobster pots, collecting bait, processing landings and trading the catch. These crucial activities are often undervalued and are seen more as an extension of domestic chores, rather than a vital part of the fishery.

SEED’s research has revealed that less women feel involved in marine management compared to men. One woman remarked that she could not be involved as she has no idea what her husband’s day involves, or what life is like beneath the waves. She spoke of how she dreams of one day going out and helping her husband fish.

Sharing video footage from the Trident OpenROV will provide a glimpse of life beneath the waves. It could be an invaluable tool for promoting the involvement of both men and women in marine management in Sainte Luce. In particular, this will offer the wider community insights into fishers’ lives at sea and the habitats they interact with - an experience that few women have previously been able to share. It is hoped this will contribute to increased representation of women within the fisheries management committee, making this truly community-based management.


Look what the postman brought...

Our brand new Trident OpenROV arrived in the post today. Within minutes we were able to set it up and get it running, using a smartphone as a controller. We can't wait to put this piece of kit through its paces in some pre-expedition tests...

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Introducing a new collaborator

The expedition team is excited to introduce a new collaborator, Jess! Jess and her colleagues at SEED have been undertaking research funded by the Darwin Initiative. This is part of the ongoing project to establish sustainable, community-based, fishery management in Sainte Luce and the neighboring communities. This research has yielded some really valuable insights, which we realised were directly relevant to developing our expedition. So we’re now delighted to announce that Jess has agreed to be part of the team. She’ll be sharing some of her findings and how that has helped develop the expedition, in a post shortly…


Exciting news...

Today we got some great news from the team at the S.E.E. Initiative who have agreed to support our expedition by providing a Trident OpenROV. The team, including our collaborators at SEED Madagascar can't wait to get our hands on this incredible tool and put it through its paces...

How will this help?

Since 2013, SEED have been working with the local community to support sustainable, community-based, lobster fishery management, in Sainte Luce, Madagascar. This has included setting up a management committee of local fishers and introducing a periodic no take zone (NTZ) for lobsters. Sainte Luce is now established as a locally managed marine area (LMMA) and an active participant in MIHARI, Madagascar's LMMA network.

However, a lack of diving infrastructure in this remote area, mean neither the community, nor SEED, have previously been beneath the waves to explore the reefs and wider marine ecosystem. The Trident OpenROV will enable the expedition team to do this for the first time. We hope to capture and share video, cementing existing support for marine management in Sainte Luce and catalyzing action in neighboring communities. We also hope to answer some scientific questions to support evidence-based management in the Sainte Luce LMMA. Watch this space...


Learning from past expeditions, Part II

This week we went to the Royal Geographical Society to check out a report in their expeditions archive. In 2001 the Edinburgh University Coral Awareness and Research Expedition (EUCARE), visited Sainte Luce, Madagascar. We wanted to find out what they discovered…

In July 2001 the expedition went to Sainte Luce, where they spent some time snorkelling inshore but they were unable to conduct dive surveys on the reefs in slightly deeper water. The team found that wind and rough conditions meant visibility was poor and diving potentially dangerous. An important recommendation was that future surveys or expeditions should be planned for the southern summer, when winds would be lighter, seas calmer and visibility greatly improved. The team did manage to dive a little further south in the more sheltered Bay of Lokaro. They found that obtaining and running dive equipment, such as reliable compressors, was a major headache in this remote context.

This report provided some really useful first-hand information to inform our planning. It confirms our initial thoughts around the importance of avoiding the windy season to ensure we can obtain the best quality imagery. It also demonstrates the value of employing an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) in this context. A tool like the Trident OpenROV is a self-contained solution, ideally for operating in isolated locations.

The appendices of the report provided information on the coral, fish and invertebrate communities observed in dive transects in the nearby Bay of Lokaro. This will serve as a helpful starting point for developing an expectation of what we might see and ultimately identifying taxa in any imagery we collect.

Finally, a key lesson from their expedition was the value of local knowledge. Fishers in the communities they visited were able to direct the team to the important areas of reef and provide information about how these were used. Building on our team’s existing relationships with fishers will be key to our expedition, working with the local community to see beneath the waves.

Hi Stephen! This expedition actually evolved into what is now Blue Ventures (whose field base is near Toliara, HQ in London), so they may have even more useful information for you.I was lucky enough to travel to Lokaro and nearby in 2004 also - such a beautiful place!

Learning from past expeditions

We've been exploring the Royal Geographical Society's expeditions database of over 10,000 past expeditions since 1965. Many of these would be hard or impossible to find elsewhere. Best of all the database provides links to expedition reports that can be accessed online, or you can visit the RGS in person to view a copy from their library. This is obviously a brilliant resource for anyone planning an expedition, learning lessons from similar projects, or finding out more about the target region.

It gets even better...

Guess what? We were excited to find that there was a record of an expedition to Sainte Luce from 2001. The record describes how a team from Edinburgh University aimed to survey marine biodiversity. As there is no online report available we're arranged to visit the Royal Geographical Society to view their hard copy. Watch this space...

Trident OpenROV

We've just submitted our application to the Science Exploration Education (S.E.E.) Initiative. Hopefully this will mean we are able to secure a Trident OpenROV to support our expedition. We'll keep you posted, fingers crossed...


Understanding the community

Working with communities is all about understanding how they work and what they want to achieve. That is why SEED Madagascar, an NGO with a long history working with Sainte Luce is a key partner.

To prepare for our expedition we've also been talking to Dr Peter Jones at University College London's Department of Geography. Peter's research explores what makes Marine Protected Area's (MPAs), including Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs), actually work.

Using his Marine Protected Area Goverance (MPAG) framework Peter has been working to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Sainte Luce LMMA. We're looking forward to the findings being published to help inform our expedtion.

Expedition Background

Out of sight, out of mind is an all too familiar problem when it comes to managing marine resources. Nevertheless, effective management is critical for marine ecosystems and the people that depend on them. This expedition will support the community’s effort in the Sainte Luce Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA), Madagascar, by helping them see beneath the waves for the first time…

Sainte Luce is an impoverished fishing community in the Deep South of Madagascar, by far the poorest region of the country. Here, 79% of households rely on fishing as their primary source of income, with spiny lobsters being the main target.

However, limited available data from the community and across the regional fishery has showed stocks are declining, likely due to over-exploitation, impacting incomes and the ecosystem.

In 2013, SEED Madagascar, a UK NGO, set out to establish community-based, sustainable lobster fishery management in Sainte Luce. The community established a Riaky (‘Sea’) Committee and introduced a number of management measures, including a 13km2 no take zone (NTZ), closed periodically. This was the first step towards establishing Sainte Luce as an LMMA and a member of MIHARI – Madagascar’s LMMA network. With support from the Darwin Initiative, the project continues and now aims to refine the model developed and scale it up to the neighbouring communities.

However, owing to the rough seas of Madagascar’s east coast and a lack of dive infrastructure in the region, important scientific questions about the lobster population and rocky coral reef ecosystem remain. Perhaps more importantly the community have never seen the ecosystem they have been working so hard to manage sustainable.

This expedition hopes to employ a Trident Open ROV to explore these previously unseen reefs for the first time. Working with the community and SEED Madagascar the expedition’s primary aim is educational. It is hoped revealing the ecosystem will be a powerful tool to inspire Sainte Luce and the neighbouring communities to continue their efforts. Further, we hope to answer some basic scientific questions to support evidence-based decision making.

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