Fisheries are considered a major driver of population declines for many marine vertebrate species, and yet for some, data on the levels of direct catch are lacking, often due to the logistical challenges in assessing artisanal fisheries in remote and developing regions.
Using community members to collect data can provide access to a greater wealth of information than that obtained by local or foreign researchers, often at a reduced financial cost.
We monitored the harvest of marine turtles at 12 major villages in Madagascar using community members as data collectors (sous collecteurs) from each village, at a total cost of < US$3000 for 1 year. Community members were trained to collect biological and fisheries data on turtles landed and to use digital cameras to provide a visual record of each turtle catch recorded.
A total of 699 marine turtle landings were documented, including four species, with by far the majority being green turtles Chelonia mydas (93.6%). When we contextualize our data with those of previous studies elsewhere in the region, we conservatively estimate that the annual turtle catch in the south-western province of Madagascar is between 10 000 and 16 000.
Although turtle hunting is illegal under national law, there are currently no government initiatives to manage the fishery. This study is the first direct assessment of the level of exploitation of turtles in Madagascar, made possible through the use of community members as data collectors and has broad applicability towards similar data-gathering efforts in other artisanal fisheries.