Network of Women in Marine Science

Inspiring women in ocean Science: Ando Rabearisoa

Mrs Ando Rabearisoa is a renowned conservationist working on marine ecosystem conservation in Madagascar. She specializes in studying the involvement of local communities in the design and implementation of marine conservation efforts through the system of Locally Managed Marine Areas.

Mrs Rabearisoa is currently a Ph.D. Student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) with a Designated Emphasis in Coastal Science and Policy. She worked for Conservation International for ten (10) years, where she was in charge of managing the Marine Conservation Program and the development of Marine Policy in Madagascar. She is an award-winner with publications in top journals such as Nature, Science, and PNAS. She commits to finding integrated solutions to achieve social development that promotes natural resources management and conservation. She is a passionate practitioner and highly engaged researcher, convinced that an economic system respectful of social and conservation issues is the key solution for sustainable development in developing countries.

What led you to pursue a career in marine/ocean science?

Madagascar is well known as a global biodiversity “hotspot.” I am native to Madagascar, but unlike many Malagasy people, I have had the opportunity to travel and live in various places across the country. These experiences gave me a deep appreciation for the majesty and diversity of my native country and convinced me that my future would be working in conservation. As an islander who lives close to the ocean, I’m too aware on a daily basis of increasing human impacts. Communities once supported by rich fisheries are now struggling. Beaches that once stretched far from the high-tide mark are now reduced to narrow strips, trees toppling in the wake of advancing tides, and coastal roads regularly sprayed with sand and shingle as the ocean comes ever closer. During my graduate studies at the University of Antananarivo, I discovered that local communities play an important role in marine conservation in Madagascar. This belief was confirmed when Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on community-based management worldwide. Now, I’m a marine conservationist specializing in community-based management or LMMAs.  The PhD and the Coastal Science and Policy Program at UCSC prepares students to identify, innovate, and implement scalable and socially just solutions. Through this program, I aim to expand my knowledge of conservation ecology and coastal sustainability and develop feasible solutions for sustainable development in African countries.

As a marine/ocean professional, what three critical lessons have you learned? Share your insights and experience with others who aspire to become experts in this field.

I am convinced that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to conserving biodiversity in a poor country. We need to ensure that all diverse stakeholders are included in the conservation solutions that will generate equitable benefits and will not harm adjacent ecosystems and ideally benefit them. I am convinced that marine ecosystem conservation is an important area to work on the complicated ecological/social interactions between human societies and nature and between the marine and terrestrial environments. However, this can only happen by increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in developing local solutions for local communities in Madagascar. Personally, being a female marine conservationist is an uncommon career path in Madagascar and other countries in the Western Indian Ocean Region. I aim to serve as a role model in expanding the role women play in African conservation while sharing my knowledge of conservation ecology and biology with women in local communities.  Ultimately, this will enable me to develop equitable, diverse, and inclusive solutions for sustainable development in Madagascar and other countries in the Western Indian Ocean Region.

In celebration of International Women’s Day theme “Invest in Women; accelerate progress”, what progress do you envision for women in the Western Indian Ocean region?

Women have an important place in marine conservation in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Region. Women’s involvement is essential for the success of marine conservation initiatives such as LMMAs and MPAs. I see an increase in the women’s leadership ability in Madagascar and the WIO Region. Ultimately, I hope that women will reinforce their leadership capacities within academic institutions in the WIO Region so that they can promote their institutions and train a new generation of native female students in marine conservation and resources management. For that, we need to conduct collaborative research in marine conservation in the Region through the involvement of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association and expand the WIO region’s expertise in marine science to the global level. Through the women’s involvement in marine science, the WIO region could be a global leader in developing a sustainable blue economy and help achieve the goals of the United Nations for the Ocean Decade.