Some of you may be familiar with the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” This statement is accurate for Malagasy life in Southwestern Madagascar. In my previous post, Oh The PLaces You’ll Go!, I discussed what “Voluntouring” was, why it’s important and some of the “Voluntouring” I will be participating in with in a few months time, supporting the reefs off the coast and the Vezo people who depend on them for survival. I’d like to take an opportunity to introduce you to this Malagasy tribe and show you what makes them such a beautiful and inspiring culture.
- Who Are Vezo?
The term Vezo is defined as, “the people who fish.” It’s the term used to describe the semi-nomadic people of Southwestern Madagascar that have adapted to a life of depending on the sea for food. It’s also important to note that the term Vezo is not intended to identify an ethnicity, but rather a way of life. The ocean is important to their survival. Since they are less an ethnicity and more of a culture, it’s impossible to know their numbers and so their populations are estimated by the number of dugout canoes found along the shorelines.
Family and tradition are both important to Vezo culture. Typically they depend on the strong and healthy to take care of the old, sick and dying. Family is important because it’s how Vezo pass on knowledge of fishing areas, access to resources and equipment. Ancestry is also important to their livelihood, as it is ancestors whom are responsible for the success and failure of obtaining a good catch so it’s very important to give appropriate thanks through ceremony when a catch has been particularly favorable, especially when catching rare species like shark, dolphin or whale.
Vezo not only depend on the ocean for food, but as means for sale and trade. Typically the men will spend their time on the water in search of fish and the women will harvest the sand flats for invertebrates as well as sell or trade the catches the men have brought to them.
- Why do Vezo need support?
Over fishing is something that affects all of the world’s oceans. Regulation is hard to enforce around the world and although many first world countries have developed fishing regulations, Madagascar is still developing as a nation and doesn’t have many similar regulations and rarely enforces them.
Vezo have been the main navigators of the channel that separates mainland Africa from Madagascar, but currently more and more commercial boats are showing up to reap the benefits of these waters that are home to a diverse collection of marine life. As such, Vezo have had to adapt their fishing methods to better compete. Sometimes these methods can deteriorate the family and community culture as many Vezo will to isolate themselves & families to find fishing space not dominated by commercial fisheries or other locals. Sometimes these fishing practices are unsustainable.
Unsustainable fishing means fishing practices that will be unable to sustain themselves if they continue moving forward the same way they have been practiced. Currently unsustainable fishing practices, local and commercial, are having an affect to the marine life in Southwestern Madagascar. These negative affects are seen in the devastation of coral reef systems, the platform of which entire ecosystems are based. The negative effects are also seen in the dwindling numbers of species that have a hard time repopulating themselves. Species like Sea Turtles, Sharks, fish and even invertebrates.
Enjoy this video of an interview with a local Vezo talking about why marine conservation is important to him. Videos like this provide great perspective, which is important because with perspective we provide a basis of fair and balanced judgement. Not judgement of others but judgement of our actions and how we can best serve these world cultures, the lifestyles that sustain them and the ecosystems that sustain us and them.
- How can I support Vezo and the ecosystems they depend on?
ReefDoctor is a non-profit organization in Madagascar that is working to educate Vezo on sustainable fishing methods and how to respect the populations of these species so they can continue to provide food for their communities. Through conducting water quality and fish population research as well as cutting edge artificial reef restoration techniques and their education efforts, Reef Doctor is a major contributor to the marine conservation of the area while still preserving the culture of the people who live there.
You can support ReefDoctor through the support of those that wish to volunteer their time and energy on these initiatives. One of the reasons I will be heading there is that I know my volunteer fee will support the operation costs of their organization and the work I will do with them will compliment these costs. Please take the time to head to my fundraising page below and check out what I am fundraising for and some of the rewards granted to those supporters. Or you can simply share this blog or my fundraising page in your circle of influence if this is work that you feel passionate about supporting.
Another way you can support Vezo and their food sources from another corner of the world, is through sustainable seafood choices. For example, the Vancouver Aquarium is another non-profit organization that started a program in Canada and the surrounding United States called Oceanwise Through labeling menu and marketplace seafood items with it’s logo, diner’s know that what they are choosing to eat is seafood that was caught sustainably. It also provides a cohesive list of seafood choices on it’s website and Apple App that lets browsers know what seafood species are sustainable or not, empowering people with the knowledge to support marine conservation and still enjoy the food they love.
Life on this planet starts and ends with the world’s oceans and the better we take care of those oceans the better we can preserve the life that lives in them and the life that depends on it for survival, which includes us.