The reef octopus, like any other organism within an ecosystem, ideally plays a role as a food source for another organism’s diet and is itself a predator that can ensure that the balance between a variety of species remains stable. In many coastal communities, such as those in Madagascar, locals recognize the reef octopus as a major source of livelihood; as both a means of sustenance as well as an economic benefit. In recent years, the growing market demand for the reef octopus has led to occurrences of over-exploitation of the species, directly resulting in huge environmental impacts (Dasgupta 2015).
So, in an economic climate dependent on these creatures, how do you convince the hunters to cut back on hunting?
Thomas Oliver (of Blue Ventures Conservation) believed that communities are more likely to participate in a task when the benefits are greater than the costs and therefore proposed to these coastal communities the concept of periodic octopus fishery closures (Oliver 2015). These periodic closures are conservation practices that involve temporarily banning all fishers from harvesting reef octopus in specific areas along the coast (Oliver 2015).
By temporarily closing off only specific portions of octopus-harvesting grounds each year, the closure period allowed the coastal communities of Madagascar to:
During the periodic closures, since the local community had other areas and species to harvest from, productivity and revenue went unaffected and therefore the villagers didn’t experience any loss (Oliver 2015).
However, after the periodic closures, fishers in the coastal communities observed reef octopus harvests containing octopi at significantly larger sizes and in much greater quantity than was previously observed (Oliver 2015). Economically, these octopi are valued at a much higher rate than previous sales. This meant that, as a result of the closures, not only had yield and quality of the catch increased but net income in the community had also improved. These octopi, having been harvested after the closure period, were given the required time to fully mature and reproduce in nature undisturbed before being harvested. Since these species of octopi grow quickly and reproduce at high proportions (Oliver 2015), the offspring of the harvested generation would themselves be able to develop, mature, and reproduce undisturbed and the cycle would repeat for the years ahead continuously replenishing the octopi that had been removed from the ecosystem while simultaneously accumulating more octopi to the growing population within the closed region.
Since the success of the preliminary research and application of periodic octopus closures, neighboring Madagascar communities have implemented the same conservation practices in an area currently known as the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA). This protected region in Madagascar encompasses approximately 386 square miles and is highly regulated and overseen by a local governing body that serves to enforce the ban on reef octopi during the closure period (Oliver 2015). This strategy ultimately made it possible for coastal communities to provide for themselves year-round and later be able to generate significantly higher revenue, by simply allowing a small percentage of the overall reef octopus population in the area the required time to replenish themselves in nature. The coastal communities recognized the importance of conservation efforts not only in keeping the ecosystem balanced and healthy but also in the role that conservation efforts play in yielding better catches and greatly improving the economic gains of the local community. The positive results gathered from the research are indicative of the possible future implications that periodic fishery closures can have for coastal management on a broader scale.