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To Live with the Sea

In an inaccessible and remote part of Madagascar where the state has virtually no presence, the local Vezo community has set up a marine protected area (MPA) to take control of its sole economic resource - the ocean.

Their holistic approach covers everything from sea-cucumber farming to family planning and strict regulations to control fishing activities, all backed up by locally made laws and justice system and managed by a democratically elected association. This association of 32 mostly illiterate villages, with the support of Blue Ventures, an experimental British NGO, and Toliara University, has achieved what governments around the world are still struggling to do - protecting the ocean through a sense of shared responsibility and managing to improve local livelihoods at the same time.

In one of the MPAs, Velondriake, which means 'to live by the sea', is MPA) where everyone has a role to play, from the octopus catchers who now collect and process data to monitor population levels, to the guards who protect the sea-cucumber fields, to the activists who travel to far flung villages to spread the idea. The governance model has spread rapidly across the country with similar community-run systems now covering 13% of the entire coastline of Madagascar.

This portrait series looks at all the different individuals playing their part in protecting the community's most important resource. Humans are exploiting our marine resources at a rate that cannot continue at the current pace. Sustainable use of the sea is a matter of survival in this part of the world and these Madagascan villages have laid down a template for how coastal communities around the world can do that.

Tommy Trenchard and Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville visited the remote coast of Madagascar and met the villagers working in unison with nature.
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