Editor’s note: Kame Westerman is coordinator of the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area on the southwest coast of Madagascar. She works for Blue Ventures Conservation, an NGO.

By Kame Westerman

The Western Indian Ocean (WIO) is home to a rapidly growing number of local marine conservation activities. In Madagascar, for example, new community-based coastal management initiatives have been established along the country’s southern, western, and northern coasts with the support of communities and conservation NGOs. Likewise in Kenya, 13 locally managed marine areas of differing management types have been designated since 2006.

Many efforts in the region, however, have been implemented in relative isolation due in great part to the lack of an information-sharing platform. Communication about activities, successes, and challenges within these disparate initiatives should be a priority for continued support and expansion of community-based marine conservation within the WIO.

The emergence of local alternatives for marine conservation

The remarkable marine and coastal biodiversity of the Western Indian Ocean supports vital ecosystem services and local coastal livelihoods, as well as international fisheries markets. Yet, as in many developing countries worldwide, government agencies often lack the finances and resources to effectively manage the region’s vast coastlines.

The growth of locally managed marine areas, or LMMAs, is filling that position. Locally managed marine area is a broad term, often defined as an area of nearshore waters and coastal resources that is largely or wholly managed at a local level. The management may be conducted by coastal communities, land-owning groups, partner organizations, and/or collaborative government representatives who reside or are based in the immediate area. As such, most community-based marine conservation initiatives can be described as some form of LMMA.

Creating a network

Sharing experiences – both challenges and successes – in community-based coastal conservation and development is essential to protecting the critical biodiversity and marine ecosystems upon which coastal livelihoods and cultures depend. In the Pacific and southeast Asian regions, where the LMMA model has proven highly successful for many years, the Pacific LMMA Network has evolved to provide a monitoring and support platform to grassroots marine conservation initiatives (www.LMMAnetwork.org).

As LMMAs become more widespread in the WIO region, creating similar opportunities to collaborate and share relevant knowledge with other management bodies becomes even more essential. Much of the expansion of LMMAs on the southwest coast of Madagascar, for example, has come about through information sharing and community exchanges – most notably an expansion of temporary octopus closures to more than 50 villages over the last five years. While these physical community exchanges are useful, they are not often feasible for financial or other reasons, and therefore other forms of communication and information sharing must be explored and developed.

A side event on LMMAs at the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association symposium in October 2011, attended by over 60 marine conservation practitioners, aimed to begin building these communication connections across the region. It will be done by developing a WIO LMMA directory and kickstarting much-needed dialogue on issues related to community-based management. Using a website dedicated to community marine conservation in the WIO (www.livewiththesea.org), the directory will connect practitioners and help them to facilitate information sharing and collaboration. The directory will be available on the website a few months from now. In addition, through connecting community members, LMMA practitioners can expect improved peer-to-peer learning and better community engagement and ownership of projects.

For the moment, the WIO LMMA network will remain informal and concentrate on linking people and information. However, if it develops significant momentum in the future, a more formalized network similar to the Pacific LMMA Network could evolve.

For more information:

Kame Westerman, Blue Ventures Conservation, Madagascar. E-mail: kame@blueventures.org; Web: www.blueventures.org

To be added to the WIO LMMA directory, e-mail Shawn Peabody at shawn@blueventures.org.