Eighteen years after his first job as a temporary researcher for Blue Ventures, Gildas Andriamalala, originally from the coastal city of Tolagnaro, takes on new leadership position.
Blue Ventures is thrilled to announce the appointment of Gildas Andriamalala as Country Director for Madagascar. Gildas was one of the organisation’s first employees in the country 18 years ago, starting a career that has seen him go on to support community-led marine conservation efforts all over the world. After a decade supporting local fisheries management and marine protection work in Myanmar, Mozambique, Cameroon, and the Philippines, Gildas returns to his home country of Madagascar to lead the next chapter of Blue Ventures’ work on the island.
Gildas grew up on Madagascar’s coast, where the ocean is central to people’s livelihoods. However, his introduction to marine conservation was through a chance conversation with a friend who encouraged him to work as a temporary researcher with Blue Ventures during his university break, where he was studying law.
Gildas shared memories of his first assignment with Blue Ventures, “I only had one night to decide whether I was going to take the survey work. I said yes and jumped in the 4×4 in the morning, and we drove eight hours to Andavadoaka. At that point, Blue Ventures was very small, and there were just a few of us. I didn’t even speak English but was determined to finish the work despite the language challenges.”
He added that it was the first time he was exposed to the life of the Vezo fishers, a group of semi-nomadic fishing communities living on the country’s remote southwest coast, and how they live by and with the sea. This was where Gildas saw with his own eyes the critical importance of putting communities at the heart of decision making in ocean conservation.
The time he spent working alongside coastal communities with Blue Ventures had a huge impact on him, so when the organisation offered him a role as a full-time social research coordinator, he was more than happy to take it up.
Gildas said about his experience, “I was not a scientist. I fell in love with working with people. Like everyone else, I learnt on the job. We all learned from each other and from volunteers. We had to adapt and change things along the way, and I found it fascinating.”
Gildas played an instrumental role in the early days of Madagascar’s first locally managed marine area (LMMA), Velondriake, and led the Vezo Aho social marketing campaign, which built support for locally led conservation efforts by celebrating the rich traditions of the Vezo people as stewards of the sea and also focused on reducing the use of destructive fishing practices.
He was heavily involved in the growth of Blue Ventures’ Madagascar programme beyond Andavadoaka and in creating the MIHARI network, which provides LMMA communities with a space to share experiences and knowledge of local management, and to advocate for their rights to protect and manage their fisheries. His academic research has been instrumental in documenting communities’ experiences of using customary social codes in marine conservation, notably through dina, a set of rules found in customary law used to help govern marine protected areas.
Gildas shared how the team expanded Blue Ventures’ work in Madagascar, “we worked by spreading knowledge along the coast based on our research, findings, and trials. We gathered everything we learnt in one place and kept testing it in other areas while adapting along the way.”
In 2015, Gildas moved to the UK, where he joined The Zoological Society of London, providing technical support to organisations in Myanmar, Mozambique, Cameroon, and the Philippines on community-led marine conservation. He returned to Blue Ventures in 2021 as Global Technical Advisor for Governance and Capacity Building.
Gildas reflected on his time abroad, “I got to understand how other communities across the globe are developing resilient livelihoods, how they get funding, how they promote financial inclusion, and how they work with their governments to protect their marine areas. But I always wanted to go back home.”
In his new appointment, Gildas will lead, support, and help mentor a growing team of over 180 employees, representing Blue Ventures’ work nationally alongside partners in Government and across the conservation sector.
Gildas noted the achievements of the Madagascar team over the last few years, “I applaud the fantastic work my colleagues in Madagascar have been doing. Madagascar has always been a pioneer in human rights-based approaches to ocean conservation, and I hope I can inspire my colleagues to keep bringing that passion to their conservation efforts.
“There are some challenges that you embrace better than others, and this one will be one that I will embrace wholeheartedly.”
Will Stephens, Africa Regional Director for Blue Ventures, commented: “We are thrilled to be promoting Gildas into this pivotal position in the organisation’s leadership. Gildas was instrumental in shaping much of our early work and has since gained considerable experience in the wider sector. His promotion also demonstrates Blue Ventures’ commitment to developing internal talent and creating a more diverse and inclusive leadership for the future. A big thank you to Peter as he nears the end of his contract with us: he hands over to Gildas at a time of huge opportunity and great promise for BV in Madagascar. I am excited to be getting started with Gildas and the team on the next stage of our journey in the country: Thriving Fishers, Thriving Oceans!”