This is the fourth in an ongoing series on wildlife conservation. For the rest of the series, click here.
Alasdair Harris is embracing ecotourism to help coastal villages, specifically the Vezo people in Madagascar, develop a way to boost local economies and livelihoods while promoting marine conservation. His company, Blue Ventures, was inspired by a research trip to Madagascar during his time at university. It was through his studies that he began thinking about ways to help boost marine life, a topic that is often ignored because it is hidden underwater.
Ecotourism is a controversial topic, but he felt it was the best option to get Blue Ventures up and running. Harris was a recent graduate when he decided to officially launch his company, but didn’t have enough money or funding prospects. Ecotourism, however, ensured a steady flow of income to support projects and programs, and a pool of eager staff and volunteers that genuinely cared about the work.
Fishing is an important activity for people living along the coastline of a developing country. It acts as a “lifeline underpinning cultures, food security and livelihoods.” Without access to adequate fishing, families would go hungry, or not earn enough money to meet basic living standards.
Working with Locals
Blue Ventures strives to work with coastal communities to improve and sustain marine conservation. By getting locals involved, they not only feel empowered, but become actively involved in a project that directly benefits them, indirectly benefits marine life as a whole, and ensures sustainability.
Ensuring that local communities partake in time-efficient projects is also a priority for Blue Ventures. Waiting months or years for fish populations to grow is often not an option. Finding a local species that also grew quickly was key to ensuring success for the first project in Madagascar. Enter, the reef octopus. This species is native to the Indian Ocean, and has a lifespan of roughly 1.5 years, making it ideal to breed, catch and sell quickly.
For their initial pilot project, a 200 hectare area was isolated, and octopi were left alone to grow. Once it reopened for public fishing, there was an abundance to be caught and sold. After seeing this success, many local began copying the model. A rotating cycle is used so that populations have enough time to grow, while other areas are being fished.
According to Harris, humans “understand tragically little about so much of our oceans, and marine biodiversity is being lost before we even know it exists.” Marine conservation is not only about helping marine life strive: it is also important because healthy, abundant waters mean that people have the necessary resources to operate successful fisheries and boost their overall livelihoods.
Conservation at a Human Level
Blue Ventures’ work is important because “marine conservation can only be sustainably enacted by working closely with those who depend on the sea, helping them to recognize the importance of conservation at a human level.”
Their projects are currently focused in Madagascar, but offices are beginning to spread worldwide, and there are new project advisory sites in various countries that will hopefully allow for their projects to grow.
Last month Blue Ventures was awarded the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, 2015. They have also received a number of other awards for their innovative work, including the St. Andrews Prize for the Environment (2014), Tusk Award for Conservation (2013), and a United Nations SEED Award (2005). A full list of their awards, which shows the success of their work, here.