more fish in the seaCommunity-led marine conservation works for people and nature

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New research published in Ocean and Coastal Management shows that reserves (areas protected from fishing) managed by communities improve fish populations. Highlighting the amazing potential of locally-led conservation…

Marine scientists and volunteers from Blue Ventures surveyed five community-managed reserves and five fished reefs, in the Velondriake locally managed marine area (LMMA) southwest Madagascar.


They surveyed each site annually, looking at fish biomass − a measure that uses abundance and length of fish to estimate the weight of fish found per unit area.

Reserves covered between 120ha to 1000ha of coral reef habitat.


Reserves were placed and managed by the Velondriake Association, with the objective that, freed from fishing pressure, fish within these areas would get bigger and produce more offspring, leading to a ‘spillover effect’ improving catches in other reefs.

Fish biomass started to improve just two years after reserves were established.

Reserves showed 189% more fish biomass than fished areas after six years of protection.


One reserve had a staggering 555% more fish biomass after four years of protection than the fished control reef.

“The idea that protecting areas from fishing can improve fish populations isn’t new − it’s been around for generations. However very little evidence supports the idea that fishing communities themselves − not governments or outside authorities − can manage the oceans in a way that leads to healthier reefs.”

Hannah Gilchrist, the study’s lead author

Other studies have found that marine protected areas using top-down approaches have an average of 82% more biomass than fished sites. When compared with the 189% seen in this research, the community-managed approach seems favourable…

… and these results have occurred against a backdrop of severe resource depletion – biomass of fished reefs in Velondriake average at 241kg/ha compared with the 581kg/ha average for the Western Indian Ocean region.

The introduction of Velondriake’s permanent reserves followed years of consultation with local communities, for whom fishing is the mainstay of food security and income.

Sharing research findings is vital for supporting effective community-led conservation and in Velondriake, the results of this new study are already sparking discussions for adapting and expanding conservation efforts.

Global marine conservation targets are not being met, and many government-led marine protected areas are failing to achieve any kind of conservation outcomes.

This research demonstrates compelling evidence of the effectiveness of community-led conservation, and the critical role fishing communities can play in achieving conservation outcomes through a human rights-based approach.

To achieve global conservation goals and rebuild depleted fisheries, fishing communities should be empowered to choose conservation measures that work in their interests; to preserve coral reef ecosystems along these biodiverse coastlines, and more importantly, to sustain fishing livelihoods for generations to come.  

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