Greg Stone: "The Savior of the Seas"
recalled Stone, who is now Chief Scientist for Oceans at Conservation International. “Suddenly, I saw a world that I had never seen before in the ocean. Schools of fish that were so dense they dulled the penetration of sunlight from the surface. Coral reefs that were continuous, and solid, and colorful. Large fish everywhere, manta rays. It was an ecosystem.”
Stone describes Kiribati as the one nation that controls most of the equatorial waters of the central Pacific Ocean. But, at the same time, one that is in dire danger: at risk of rising sea levels and damage to biodiversity from thermal expansion.
The other thing to know is that Kiribati is a very poor country. (This Micronesian country is so poor that its national airline – two small turboprops – cannot afford air links between its two most populous islands.) Kiribati, and its 100,000 inhabitants, traditionally gained revenue by selling fishing licenses to foreign nations, because Kiribati lacked the capacity to harvest the fish itself.
The typical contract saw Kiribati receiving five percent of the extracted value. So, on a $1 million fishing harvest, Kiribati would receive just $50,000. In order to protect the islands, Greg Stone partnered with then-new President Anote Tong, to invent a “reverse fishing license.”
The unique "reverse fishing license" financing program is a mechanism by which Kiribati's government is reimbursed by a third party for foregoing fishing in the established Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), instead of the usual arrangement of being reimbursed for authorizing fishing access.
PIPA has become an exemplary marine protected area (MPA). It is the second-largest MPA in the world, as well as one of the most pristine, having quickly recovered from severe coral bleaching which killed around 60 percent of the coral.
Kirbati's private sector approach leveraged market forces, essentially disincentivizing fishing, to protect its natural resources and become less dependent on resource exploitation and consumption. The long term goals for Stone and the PIPA Trust are to “use the PIPA as a platform for appropriate ecotourism and research that will produce additional revenues and employment opportunities in Kiribati.”
The Phoenix Islands have succeeded in presenting a focused, effective model for economical conservation. But the socio-environmental impact is only realized on a small scale. In order for such a model to have system-changing impact, it must be scaled.
Stone realizes this and will continue to encourage local, sustainable economic development rather than the destruction of local community livelihoods.
“We have to look at the ocean at its entirety and make a network of MPAs across the Pacific Ocean so that we have the world’s largest ocean protected and self-sustaining over time.”
Greg Stone: Saving the ocean one island at a time
Ashoka Changemakers, National Geographic and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) are launching a search for innovative solutions for coastal, waterway, and island destinations that protect the environment and strengthen the heritage and livelihoods of local residents: The Geotourism Challenge 2010: Places on the Edge - Saving Coastal and Freshwater Destinations. Enter or nominate solutions today!