Farming Sea Cucumbers in Madagascar…for Economic Hope and Conservation

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Look at a map and find Madagascar, which is the fourth biggest island on Earth, off the coast of east Africa. Focus on the dry southwest and find the town of Toliara, capital of this impoverished region.
 
Now imagine a drive northwards through the searing heat along a bumpy, sandy trail. You’re hugging the coast, flanking the peculiar yet alluring Spiny Forest. one of the planet’s most threatened forest ecosystems. You hold on tight as your 4×4 surges forward over rocks and becomes planted in the deep, fine sand.
 

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To the west lie crystal clear emerald waters and vast lagoons fringed by one of the Indian Ocean’s largest. Yet least known coral reefs. So, you continue like this for eight hours! thus jaw gaping at the exaggerated color and beauty of untouched beaches around you.
 
Finally, you arrive in the village of Andavadoaka, the heart of Velondriake. One of the Indian Ocean’s largest community managed marine conservation areas. So, the people here, are true experts in conservation. In fact, they have been taking care of their marine environment since 2006. A remarkable feat given how they depend on the ocean – for basic survival. And the Vezo are amongst Madagascar’s poorest.
 
Velondriake’s Vezo have created permanent and temporary marine reserves. And even have an official governing body with elected representatives from 25 villages. responsible for making decisions that forbid destructive fishing practices like poison fishing. Although these laws are imperative for marine health. They are not enough to combat future environmental degradation. Given high population growth in the region. The creation of new, inventive sources of income that don’t depend on fishing are crucial.
 
That’s easier said than done in such an inhospitable and underdeveloped region. So what do these people do if they want to scale back fishing? How can they feed their families and make a living without overexploiting the sea? You can find the answer in a curious marine invertebrate. Enter the remarkable –  yet uncharismatic –  sea cucumber.
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FARMING SEA CUCUMBERS. PHOTOGRAPH BY ANTOINE ROUGIER, COURTESY BLUE VENTURES
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