How one woman has given her life to the cause, brav­ing in­cred­i­ble hard­ships, and even phys­i­cal dan­ger, to pro­tect the ocean and the peo­ple who rely on it

Scuba Diver Australasia - - Gear - By Images cour­tesy of ReefDoc­tor

As a child, my fond­est mem­o­ries are of the sum­mer hol­i­days at the coast seek­ing the trea­sures of the un­der­wa­ter world in deep rock pools. Th­ese ex­cur­sions into the mys­ter­ies of the ocean shaped my ca­reer and gave me an un­quench­able thirst to con­serve this unique en­vi­ron­ment. In 2004 I was of­fered a unique op­por­tu­nity to in­tern for the British NGO, ReefDoc­tor, based in south­west Mada­gas­car. That was 13 years ago and I never left.

LOS­ING PAR­ADISE

Mada­gas­car is a beau­ti­ful par­adise, en­com­pass­ing some of the most di­verse and abun­dant reef sys­tems of any In­dian Ocean coun­try, in­spir­ing some of David At­ten­bor­ough’s most re­mark­able doc­u­men­taries. Yet, Mada­gas­car is also one of the poor­est coun­tries on Earth and the de­ple­tion of the com­mu­nal re­sources of this unique en­vi­ron­ment is heart­break­ingly fast be­cause of the hor­rific poverty suf­fered by the ru­ral peo­ple. Poor in­fra­struc­ture, pe­ri­odic food short­ages, an in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion (dou­bling ev­ery 20 years), and lim­ited abil­ity to en­force en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion laws, are but a few of the is­sues we are cur­rently ad­dress­ing.

My first love is the ocean, but as I grew and de­vel­oped as a ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist I found my­self drawn to the com­plex in­ter­ac­tions of the ru­ral Mala­gasy fish­ing com­mu­nity’s re­la­tion­ship with the ocean. I started to de­sign ways to im­ple­ment projects that em­power com­mu­ni­ties to pro­tect their own re­sources.

TURN­ING THE TIDE FOR TUR­TLES

The first chal­lenge I de­cided to tackle was the poach­ing of ma­rine tur­tles; hun­dreds of thou­sands of ma­rine tur­tles were be­ing slaugh­tered ev­ery year for the meat trade. Hunt­ing tur­tles for con­sump­tion by the coastal com­mu­ni­ties of south­west Mada­gas­car was first

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