Inspired by early successes in marine conservation, locally controlled fisheries projects have expanded quickly along Madagascar’s 3,000-mile-long coastline over the past 15 years.Now that growth is poised to skyrocket, with rising interest in fisheries management and conservation from international donors, including a planned injection of more than $70 million by the World Bank.But the scale of funding for marine conservation has prompted concerns from both small NGOs that already work on fisheries and advocates of terrestrial conservation, who point to the uneven track record of locally controlled fisheries projects around the country.This is the fifth story in Mongabay’s multi-part series “Conservation in Madagascar.” BEHELOKE BAS, Madagascar — For a few days each year, fishermen here can travel back in time. When octopus season opens on a new part of the reef every three months, a single boat with three or four divers might catch as much as 200 pounds in a few hours. That, says Jean François, a fisherman who goes by the nickname Retsipa, is almost as good as the good old days. In the 1990s, wholesalers working with the French- and Malagasy-owned seafood company COPEFRITO regularly bought 3,000 pounds of octopus each time they came to the village. “Today, 400 pounds for the whole village is a good day,” said Retsipa, who serves as treasurer of Vezo Mitsinjo ny Ho Avy, or “Vezo, Look to the Future,” a fishermens’ association named for the local Vezo ethnic group. “It’s the same trend with lobsters, squid, fish: It’s not the same as before.” He shook his head. “Now, we have to choose the fish we eat — only the little ones, the fish we can’t sell…Before, the Vezo wouldn’t eat ‘fiandolo,’” Retsipa said, referring to the small, spiny striped eel catfish (Plotosus lineatus). “Now, we do.” Beheloke Bas is a village of a few hundred residents that sits on a stunning turquoise bay protected by a shallow reef about 40 miles south of the city of Toliara, in Madagascar’s arid southwest. The Vezo are fishermen through and through but they haven’t always lived here: Beheloke Bas served as a remote fishing camp until the 1980s, when the reefs closer to the city started showing signs of depletion. Twenty years later, the Vezo began to see the very same problem here. Since 2008, Retsipa and other members of the association have experimented with seasonal closures on the local octopus fishery, alternating between “no-take zones” where all fishing is prohibited for three months at a time to allow octopus time to spawn. While the strategy has clearly boosted octopus yields for a few days after each part of the reef is re-opened, Retsipa and his colleagues say it hasn’t changed the overall trajectory of the reef: fish are still getting smaller, and scarcer. And the association still hasn’t managed to crack down on people who don’t follow the rules. The seasonal or “partial closure” approach was pioneered in 2003 by the British NGO Blue Ventures with residents of the village Andavadoaka, 130 miles to the north. Their partnership led to the first of Madagascar’s Locally Managed Marine Areas, or LMMAs, where local communities control the scope and restrictions (equipment, fish size, and so forth) on use of natural resources in designated areas near their homes. The results brought worldwide attention: between 2004 and 2011, a Blue Ventures analysis published in the journal PLOS ONE showed that fishermen were able to maintain their income by relying on other areas during closures, but double their income in the month immediately afterwards. Octopus landings increased sevenfold in the 30-day periods after the seasonal closures that the paper analyzed. Fishing boats line the beach in the village of Beheloke Bas. Photo by Rowan Moore Gerety for Mongabay. That this is possible at all speaks to the marvels of marine biology. The big blue octopus (Octopus cyanea), the most important commercial species in southwest Madagascar, has a growth rate that defies belief. The “horita,” its Malagasy name, grows as much as 100-fold in just over a year, and converts its prey into protein with remarkable efficiency. For every two pounds of shrimp or crab a blue octopus eats, it can add more than a pound of octopus meat. As Alasdair Harris, Blue Ventures’ founder, put it, “Because of the speed with which fisheries species can recover, we can see returns on a conservation investment much more quickly and readily and visibly — you’re never going to see that rate of return on conservation in a terrestrial ecosystem in Madagascar, anywhere, period.” Hunt a terrestrial carnivore and its most important prey to the brink of elimination from a given patch of forest, and you could hardly expect it to make a noticeable recovery within six months. Even if it did, would you be able to sell the meat for export? The resilience of important marine species, and in the case of octopus, the tight links between conservation measures and potential profit (the global octopus market is worth close to a billion dollars a year), have helped to make marine conservation the subject of intense interest by NGOs and donors alike in Madagascar. Inspired by early successes like Blue Ventures’, LMMAs have grown to cover over 14 percent of Madagascar’s 3,000-mile coastline in just 15 years, and aquaculture initiatives have taken off as well. Next year, the World Bank plans to begin the Second South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Governance and Shared Growth Project, or SWIOFish2, which will inject more than $70 million into fisheries management and conservation in Madagascar by 2023. By way of comparison, the annual budget of Blue Ventures, whose marine programs have the largest footprint in Madagascar, was less than $3 million dollars last year, including programs in four other countries. NGOs also report increasing interest in marine management and conservation from bilateral donors like the U.S. and Germany. But existing marine conservation initiatives have an uneven track record. Massive new financing carries the risk of amplifying both successes and failures, and the potential of making it harder to fund worthy conservation initiatives on land.