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Report from Madagascar

As cute as things may look in the children's film Madagascar Two, the reality is far from pretty.

Human over-population and over exploitation of natural resources is turning this once lush semi-tropical paradise into a wasteland.

And as bad as things are on land, the conditions are far more dire in the surrounding seas.

All along the coasts of Madagascar, there has been a dramatic decrease in all marine life. It was a decline that began in 2000 and is now rapidly escalating. Thanks to excessive demand from China, the sea cucumbers have disappeared and octopus populations have been severely impacted. Many fish species have simply disappeared.

Yet the fishing continues and will continue until nothing is left because people cannot afford to discontinue their exploitation even in the face of total certain collapse.

Roger Samba, a villager from Andavadoaka, in Toliara Province, recently told the media, "It is difficult to catch enough fish to sell. People go far away, fishing from early in the morning until late at night, to catch not even 10kg or 20kg of fish - just 5kg."

Shark populations have been severely effected as natives slaughter every shark they can find to feed the lucrative shark fin market.

The coral reef system along Madagascar's southwestern coast at 500km long is one of the largest in the world. Every month these reefs become more and more barren. In short they are dying.

The fishermen argue that they are so poor that they cannot stop fishing yet if they continue they will be forced to stop with nothing left and the ecological and sociological consequences will be enormous and devastating.

Demand for shark fin in China, where the meat is considered a delicacy, and for sea cucumbers, which are believed to be an aphrodisiac, have become major sources of income in Madagascar, which exports up to 20 tonnes of shark fins every year. A kilogram can fetch as much as 140,000 ariary ($56) on local markets, and up to $1,000 in China.

Alibaba seafoods, the company owned by Yahoo is one of the leading corporations responsible for diminishing shark populations.

"It's a strange world, where an internet company like Yahoo is responsible for the destruction of the world's shark populations," said Captain Paul Watson.

Madagascar has very little enforcement.

"The laws regarding the exploitation of marine resources are not implemented here in Madagascar," said Man Wai Rabenevanana, director of the Institute of Marine Science in Toliara. "The state doesn't invest enough in managing marine resources and capacity building to allow them to manage resources effectively."

Madagascar has a long way to go in protecting its marine resources. "It is very difficult to stop fishermen from catching shark and collecting sea cucumbers," said Rabenevanana. "These fishermen are poor and the attraction of fishing for sharks and sea cucumbers is huge. If we truly want to protect our resources we must address the market. We must do more to discourage the Chinese from eating shark fin soup; perhaps we can even find an alternative."

The decline of the primary predator could unbalance the entire marine food chain. Studies in the Caribbean have shown that too few sharks mean other carnivorous species increase and eat too many other useful fish, such as those keeping algae on the coral in check, which can eventually endanger the entire reef ecosystem.

"The disappearance of sharks would have devastating impacts on marine habitats and the local communities that depend on these," Frances Humber, a marine biologist studying shark populations in southern and western Madagascar with the British conservation organisation, Blue Ventures, told IRIN.

"A collapse in the shark fishing industry could threaten the economic stability of the region, and would mean the loss of livelihoods for thousands of fisherman."

Clarisse, a sea cucumber and octopus supplier in Belavenoke said: "Life is getting harder all the time here, because there is no way of earning money except from fishing. It is only the sea that gives us money, but the fish are fewer and fewer, and I am worried about this."

But not it seems, so worried as to do anything about it.

Source: IRIN
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