On a white sandy Madagascan beach, surrounded by a forest of baobabs, young men launch a dugout canoe into the turquoise water. The calm sea laps gently into shore as women wade through the shallows, occasionally plunging their hands under the surface. This picturesque scene belies a stark reality: this is the frontline of climate change impact.

A team of young men onboard a pirogue, or dugout canoe, head out to sea.

A team of young men onboard a pirogue, or dugout canoe, head out to sea.

Stories from their ancestors remind the Vezo people of Southwestern Madagascar that the sea has provided for over 1000 years. Vezo, meaning “to paddle”, learn to fish from childhood and rely on the ocean for their food with 80% of families employed in small-scale fishing. Today, however, this dependency places them at risk. As climate change warms the ocean, alters ocean currents and the bleaches corals reefs that juvenile fish rely on, the Vezo way of life is under threat.

“Once, fish were plentiful close to the shore. Now, they are gone,” laments a Vezo elder, capturing the essence of the crisis.

At the heart of understanding and addressing this crisis are researchers from the University of Edinburgh like Amber Carter and her colleague Symphorien, a young Vezo filmmaker and conservationist using media to educate his community. Their project, ‘Voices of the Vezo’, empowers local youth to document the experiences of their communities through participatory video – a method enabling people to speak for themselves and share their stories through film.

Amber (right) during a practice sessions for participating filmmakers

Amber (right) during a practice sessions for participating filmmakers.

“The participatory films bring the real experiences of climate change impact on the ocean, and how this is impacting Vezo lives,” Amber explains. “The films not only document the challenges but provides [the Vezo] with the skills and motivation to protect the ocean” Symphorien emphasises.

Children sit captivated during a film screening with Symphorien (right)

Children sit captivated during a film screening with Symphorien (right).

Elders speak of less rain and more frequent, destructive cyclones – observations echoed in Amber’s research using climate data. This convergence of local knowledge and scientific data paints an alarming picture of a drying region battered by extreme weather with cascading effects on livelihoods and marine ecosystems.

But what can we do thousands of miles away in Edinburgh? One answer lies in our everyday choices. When buying fish, consider the source. Overfishing and climate change are intertwined challenges facing fish and the people that rely most on them. Choose sustainably caught fish, as recommended by the Good Fish Guide or the Marine Stewardship Council. This helps alleviate pressure on fish stocks over-harvested by industrial fishing. This choice directly impacts small-scale fishing communities like the Vezo, as our interconnected oceans mean that what we do here has consequences elsewhere.

By making informed decisions about our seafood, we can contribute to a solution that extends from Edinburgh to Madagascar, providing more space for communities like the Vezo to adapt to the many challenges brought by climate change.

The sun sets on another day. What will tomorrow bring?

The sun sets on another day. What will tomorrow bring?

If you want to find out more, see voicesofthevezo.org to watch and share the films, or find out more about organisations working to support the Vezo.

Read the academic publication about Amber’s and Symphorien’s work.

Amber’s research is funded and supported by NERC through an E4 DTP studentship (NE/S007407/1) at the University of Edinburgh, Blue Ventures Conservation and the Scientific Exploration Society (2022 Sir Charles Blois Award).