Blue Ventures: Winner of the 2011 Buckminster Fuller Challenge

November 17, 2011 - 08:54:25 PM

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Blue Ventures (BV), led by Ashoka Fellow Alasdair Harris Ph.D, has developed a high-leverage scalable model that enables impoverished tropical fishing communities in the western Indian Ocean to quickly and dramatically raise their incomes while protecting the biodiversity of their coastal waters through the creation of community-run Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The approach integrates advanced marine conservation science with capacity-building and sound knowledge of fisheries economics in order to provide the necessary skills, incentives, and partnerships that can effect lasting change.

The core of the concept involves determining the recovery period for a fishery that is headed toward collapse, and convincing the fishers to stop fishing periodically to allow the target population to rebound, so that they can benefit from greatly increased fish catches on a sustainable basis. This translates to significantly higher income along the entire supply chain and the preservation of traditional coastal livelihoods as well as marine biodiversity. The recovery method has been scientifically verified and has been met with great local enthusiasm. Within 4 years the strategy has spread to dozens independent fishing villages, which have together created over 100 short term fisheries reserves along several hundred kilometres of Madagascar’s coastline. Management models have since diversified to create the largest community-managed MPA in the entire Indian Ocean.

As a social enterprise BV is imbued with an entrepreneurial community-led spirit that distinguishes it from most other conservation NGOs. Once established these MPAs stand on their economic merits rather than requiring continuous support from outside NGOs. Most of BV’s scientific research is funded by award-winning eco-tourism expeditions and supported by teams of volunteer researchers. As distinct from conventional ‘top down’ outsider approaches to conservation, community engagement and empowerment is the centerpiece of the BV strategy. This has resulted in local citizens taking control of the decisions that affect them and leading grassroots educational efforts that then help other villages replicate the model.

BV is also supporting a full range of community-based economic development initiatives. These include providing educational scholarships for illiterate children, building a reproductive health and family planning clinic now targeting communities in over 50 villages, developing water and sanitation programmes, pioneering alternative sources of income for women through sustainable aquaculture (such as commercial-scale community-managed sea-cucumber and seaweed farming) and developing an ambitious community-owned eco-tourism enterprise. These efforts extend far beyond the typical confines of science-based marine conservation but are critical to ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of BV’s strategy for grassroots conservation. BV’s comprehensive systems approach to conservation assumes that the survival of a natural habitat and the people whose lives depend on it are inseparable.

Already replicating its work in southeast Asia and the Caribbean, and advising governments and communities across several Indian Ocean countries, Blue Ventures’ innovative approach to coastal conservation and development is showing significant potential to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the coastal tropics who rely on threatened marine resources for their daily subsistence.

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