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Africa Geographic
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Written by: Hugo Greenhalgh

A UK-based social enterprise helping to rebuild tropical fisheries and fight poverty in Africa has had its work recognised by the biggest award of its sector. Blue Ventures will receive the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, worth US$1.25 million, at a ceremony in Oxford on Thursday (16th April 2015) for its work supporting coastal communities on the Indian Ocean in Madagascar to manage their marine resources sustainably.

© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


The organisation, which has been praised by renowned British naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, said that receiving the award would enable it to expand its scope to help three million people globally by 2020.

Currently 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries are fully fished or overfished, negatively impacting the 1.5 billion people who live around tropical coasts. This includes 500 million people directly dependent on small-scale fishing, many of whom are among the world’s poorest. Blue Ventures’ work focuses on developing locally-managed marine conservation areas, to allow fish stocks to recover and create self-sustaining seas that protect people’s livelihoods.

© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


This is combined with efforts to reduce community dependence on fishing through environmentally sustainable seaweed and sea cucumber farming, and family planning services to empower women to take control of their reproductive health and get more involved in marine management.

Seaweed farming
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


The organisation’s holistic approach to conservation has been so successful that in Madagascar, communities witnessing the benefits of sustainable fisheries management have been keen to replicate this approach. From nothing ten years ago, now 11% of Madagascar’s coastal waters are within conservation areas managed by local communities.

Fishing madagascar
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


Seeing the impact that locally led conservation is bringing to some of the poorest people in his country, Madagascar’s President, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, has committed to triple the country’s marine protected areas with a focus on local governance.

© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


Dr Alasdair Harris, Executive Director of Blue Ventures, said, “We are delighted to have received this recognition from the Skoll Foundation, which has the potential to completely transform the scale of our impact. We’re committed to protecting marine biodiversity in ways that benefit coastal people. We work in places where the ocean is vital to local cultures and economies. All too often, forgoing fishing in protected areas represents a severe economic sacrifice for coastal communities, and the promised ‘spill­-over’ benefits of marine protection can be slow to accrue. Our models work by demonstrating that conservation can yield meaningful benefits for communities in realistic timescales. Only by making this connection can marine conservation be sustained and scaled beyond its current limited scope.”

Sea cucumber farmers
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


One Malagasy woman who has benefitted is 23-year-old married mother-of-two Narinza. She said, “Seaweed and sea cucumber farming is providing me with a new opportunity to earn money. I have learned how to manage and save money, and can now send my children to school.”

Seaweed farmer
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


Key facts:

· Blue Ventures supported a single village in southwest Madagascar to organise a temporary octopus fishery closure in 2004. This boosted octopus landings and fisher incomes.

octopus fishing
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


· The model has since been replicated more than 250 times by local communities, applied to mangrove crabs and spiny lobster, and sparked a grassroots marine conservation revolution around Madagascar and beyond.

· Blue Ventures’ work has led to the establishment of five Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) along Madagascar’s west coast. These, together with other LMMAs, now cover over 11,000km2 – around 11% of Madagascar’s continental shelf – up from zero 10 years ago.

· Blue Ventures’ aquaculture specialists have trained over 700 people to farm sea cucumbers and red seaweed as a way of generating new income and reducing fishing pressure.

Sea cucumber farm from the air
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


· Blue Ventures is supporting local women to provide family planning services in their villages; this has led to a more than fivefold increase in contraceptive use from 10% in 2007 to 55% in 2013 in Madagascar’s first LMMA

Fisherwoman madagascar
© Garth Cripps / Blue Ventures


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