One of the biggest reef complexes in the world extends 458 kilometers between Androaka and Morombe in the southwest of Madagascar. The Toliara reef system is made up of barrier and fringing reefs, shallow lagoons, and abyssal slopes. It is one of very few places in the world inhabited by the coelacanth, a 400-million-year-old species of fish.Nearly 5,500 different species living in this complex have been identified, including at least thirteen species of shark, four species of marine turtles and eleven species of cetaceans.
WCS research on cetaceans has indicated that this region is active breeding habitat for humpback whales (equivalent in importance to the Antongil Bay region), hosts the highest diversity of cetacean species documented anywhere in Madagascar, and there are rare reports of critically endangered blue whales in near-shore waters. The Vezo people who live in this coastal region practice a traditional lifestyle that is almost entirely dependent on the coral reefs and relied on fishing on near-shore coral reefs as their sole source of income.
With 400,000 inhabitants and almost half of Madagascar’s traditional fishers living along the coastline, human pressure on this seascape has increased dramatically in recent years through population growth, growing market demand for marine products (octopus, sea cucumbers, shark fins etc.), and long-term deficiencies in governance, law enforcement, and resource management.
The combination of these factors has contributed to overexploitation across the seascape of Toliara, deteriorating the living standards of fishing communities. Compounding these challenges, the reefs of southwest Madagascar are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, hence improvements in fisheries management are critical to boost both social and ecological resilience. Also, in the southwest of Madagascar, traditional Vezo fishermen opportunistically hunt protected species such as marine turtles and coastal dolphins for local consumption and sale of meat or turtle shell.
WCS’s overall objective in Toliara seascape is to improve fisheries management and promote conservation measures that are essential for the survival of the reef complexes and ensure that the livelihoods of the village communities that depend on it are sustainable. From 2003 to 2008, WCS has been supporting, with other partners such as Blue Ventures and Madagascar’s Institute of Marine Sciences (IHSM), the implementation of the first community based marine protected area of Madagascar around Andavadoaka (Velondriake MPA). In addition the Ministry of Fisheries consulted this project results in creating new fisheries legislation for an annual six - week closed season for octopus fishing across the southwest of Madagascar country starting in December 2005.
Since 2008 WCS replicate Velondriake model for community-centered marine and coastal conservation planning within the municipalities of Manombo and Saint Augustin, where 18 short-term closures marine reserves were established (covering around 20km2), formalized through local traditional law (DINA) and managed by local association Soariake in Manombo and the local association Tahosoa in Saint Augustin. To complement the range of tools available for sustainable management of the fishery in the Manombo area, and to promote integrated coastal management through the involvement of all stakeholders, WCS, with other partners such as WWF, is currently leading the creation of a new community-based 450 square kilometer marine protected area in Salary Bay named Soariake MPA.
Also, through a series of workshops and conservation actions since 2007to address dolphin hunting threat, WCS facilitated the establishment of the community-based Anakao Association for the Protection of Whales and Dolphins (the FMTF, a Malagasy acronym), the development of local traditional laws (DINA) related to cetacean conservation, and the creation of an education and awareness raising program in the local villages.