In this week’s guest blog we meet Olivier Raynaud, the Maintirano & Barren Isles Project Coordinator for Blue Ventures. Blue Ventures is an award-winning social enterprise that works with local communities to conserve threatened marine and coastal environments, both protecting biodiversity and alleviating poverty.The Barren Isles project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs whilst ensuring the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods, by establishing a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar.
Hi Oliver, welcome to the ARKive blog! Can you tell us a little bit about your scientific background?
My academic background is centred on engineering and the management of public environmental issues (such as the design and coordination of local initiatives to regulate natural resources exploitation), but my practical scientific know-how mainly results from various field experiences in the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean. It includes ecological monitoring, research on threatened species (seabirds, turtles, sharks…), invasive species control and eradication, and socio-economic research.
Why do you do what you do?
The money! No just kidding, I do it because I enjoy myself. This is a totally personal judgement, but to my knowledge, conservation is the only field that has enhanced my motivation and implication in a way that permits me to work in an efficient manner. My passion for nature and my somewhat subconscious need to spend time on issues that I find ethically rewarding, have catalyzed my involvement. At the moment I can’t imagine being as stimulated as I currently am, if I was working on any other mission than one aiming for the conservation of species, habitats and traditional livelihoods.
Why is scientific research important?
Whatever project it is that you are working on, success and achievements will be linked to the notion of progress. The trick is that progress cannot be assessed unless you are in some way measuring, determining and analysing all relevant parameters. Scientific research allows you to justify and elaborate result-oriented, pertinent strategies to start with, but more importantly it gives you the information necessary to evaluate the progress being made. Hence scientific research provides the knowledge necessary to steer and adjust action plans and strategies to ensure their efficiency.
Tell us a bit about the project you are currently working on and what the end result will be…
The project aims to protect some of Madagascar’s healthiest and most diverse coral reefs, and ensure the sustainability of local and traditional livelihoods. Our strategy is based on the establishment of a Locally Managed Marine Area in the Barren Isles, on the West coast of Madagascar, and expected outcomes include the preservation of pelagic fish stocks and ecosystem services, local capacity building in conservation, development of alternative and durable livelihoods, and the obliteration of illegal, destructive practices.
In our quest for a durable and efficient management configuration, in order to preserve and organise the utilisation of the Barren Isles’ precious ecosystems, Blue Ventures has had to address local overexploitation and unsustainable practices, but also considerable outside threats. These threats include the presence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels, mining interests targeting the islands for guano extraction, and illegal dive teams using scuba gear to collect sea cucumbers.
These external pressures are so conspicuous they are likely to discourage any conservation efforts made by the local fishermen, and in the long term may constitute a threat to community conservation. In order to avoid such a perilous start, and simultaneously take in hand all the issues, the community-based management of the area will need to be based on a primary legal status, an official Marine Protected Area.
What is the process for creating a Marine Protected Area in the Barren Isles?
In order to design and request a Temporary Protection Status that is relevant and tailored to the needs of the local communities, we embarked on a journey to consult each and every one of the 6 coastal villages and 8 islands connected with the project, all the way down to Soahany, 75 km south of Maintirano.
This was our brand new motorised pirogue’s first trip, and it consisted of a busy and demanding two weeks, which introduced the boat to the great variety of waterways in the area; unpredictable open sea swells, coastal breaking waves, meandering mangrove channels, and idyllic lagoons.
As the public meetings were held in the first weeks of November – before migrant communities head back south to their home towns for the rainy season – the great majority of the fishing communities participated in discussions on resource use initiatives in each location. They proposed regulations and drew outlines for a perimeter of the MPA, according to the conservation targets, and with regard to their preferred fishing zones.
Following this trip, a large meeting was held in Maintirano on December 5th and 6th, co-organised by the Direction Regionale de l’Environnement et des Forets and Blue Ventures. It gathered together representatives from local communities, regional authorities, and other stakeholders for creation of an Atelier Scientifique. This is where the conservation targets are identified, and an Atelier de Concertation is also made – where the stakeholders’ desire for MPA creation is formalised in an engagement document. The assembly agreed on proposing a perimeter that delimits a huge area; the proposed MPA includes all of the Barren Isles, 100 kilometres of coastline and numerous remote reefs, for a total area of over 5,000 square kilometres!
As the MPA has now been approved by stakeholders on the regional scale, the project now needs to be brought to the national level with another Atelier de Concertation to be held in Antananarivo in January – then the Temporary Protection Status can officially be requested to the environmental government entities. In the meantime, the proposed delimitation may be an issue for some national stakeholders, such as shrimp fishery representatives, and hence maybe subject to change.
However, what does remain certain is that stakeholder and community participation has driven this project a long way in the past weeks. This steady wind has propelled all of us at a steady pace through a rather smooth first leg of a very long LMMA trip!
What is the best and worst thing about being a conservation scientist?
It seems to me that the advantages and drawbacks of this profession are related to the feeling of working on legitimate, essential and challenging issues. The best thing of the job is motivation; being aware how pertinent your tasks are, and realizing how this wonderful occupation is significant in light of worldwide issues and future generations.
The worst thing of the job is frustration; realizing that despite knowing it makes sense to invest time in effort in such genuine and rightful cause, some other project stakeholders do not understand the need and critical importance of these issues.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
What I enjoy the most is being out there! It’s a combination of simply enjoying personal interests and working on public interest issues on the spot. Because you’re constantly confronted to the local reality, some days you’re disappointed by unreasonable behaviours, cupidity of individuals or lack of concern in long term public interests, but that’s only some days. The rest of the time your reaction to events is predominantly paced by YES, WOW, or RIGHT ON!
What is your favourite species or group of species and why?
Recently, my favourite encounters have been with rays. Meeting with these majestic creatures makes any snorkelling/diving sessions wonderful; whether they’re spotted eagles, mantas or devil rays, observing these massive bird-like shapes smoothly fly through the water is quite a show. My admiration is also due to their very social behaviour: how crazy is it that when you scream underwater, one of these beautiful rays may turn around, and circle you slowly before it slowly moves away? One of rare wild animals that seems to show respect and politely say “Hi” to humans despite our generally reprehensible behaviour!
Taking inspiration from Team WILD, what would your science superhero power be?
It’d have to be the ability to travel in time, or more precisely to send other people in time! See, what constitutes the greatest asset in the Barren Isles is the current good health of ecosystems and the affluence of marine resources. It’s an asset but it also brings major difficulties; how do you get people to adhere to conservation initiatives when today there are plenty of resources for everyone?
Being a superhero, I’d send a few community leaders to the Barren Isles in 2050, to make them realize that 2013’s prolific natural resources were exploited in a way that did not allow the regeneration of stocks. If we could make local communities realize the impacts that current practices potentially engender on the long term, that’d be a game changer for conservation and our project!
Thanks for Oliver! Do keep us posted on progress with the Barren Isles project.
Learn more about Blue Ventures and the Barren Isles project.