Blue Ventures - Empowering communities for marine conservation and development

Competition Finalist

This entry has been selected as a finalist in the
Geotourism Challenge 2010: Places on the Edge - Saving Coastal and Freshwater Destinations competition.

Blue Ventures’ marine expeditions use innovative approaches to conserve fragile marine and coastal habitats, and create livelihoods to support the culture and traditions of the indigenous Vezo fishing people of Madagascar. This pioneering social enterprise demonstrates the scalable potential of geotourism to bring lasting benefits to people and biodiversity in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities.

About You

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Section 1: About You

First Name

Alasdair

Last Name

Harris

Organization

Blue Ventures

Country

Madagascar

Section 2: About Your Organization

Organization Name

Blue Ventures

Organization Website

Organization Phone

+44 207 359 1287

Organization Address

309a/b Aberdeen Studios, 22-24 Highbury Grove, London, N5 2EA

Is your organization a

Non‐profit/NGO/citizen sector organization

Organization Country

United Kingdom

Your idea

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Name Your Project

Blue Ventures - Empowering communities for marine conservation and development

Country your work focuses on

Madagascar

Describe Your Idea

Blue Ventures’ marine expeditions use innovative approaches to conserve fragile marine and coastal habitats, and create livelihoods to support the culture and traditions of the indigenous Vezo fishing people of Madagascar. This pioneering social enterprise demonstrates the scalable potential of geotourism to bring lasting benefits to people and biodiversity in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities.

Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

No

Innovation

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What makes your idea unique and innovative?

Blue Ventures’ creative multi-disciplinary approach to coastal conservation promotes local environmental stewardship and community profit-share social businesses to ensure that the benefits of its conservation work and geotourism enterprise are sustainable and accessible to local people. BV has supported the formation of a self-governing regional environmental management committee, comprising community members from 25 fishing villages in southern Madagascar. From this framework BV has implemented conservation, research and community development programmes (blueventures.org/community) including fisheries management, sea-cucumber aquaculture, tourist-subsidised solar stoves, schools scholarships, and a comprehensive reproductive health programme. This integrated model is now being replicated by Blue Ventures in dozens of other coastal communities nationwide, as well as being adopted by national government and used by another conservation NGOs throughout Madagascar and beyond.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact

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What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

Because our clients are welcomed into the heart of our partner communities they benefit from a truly authentic experience without the need for an artificial tourist-friendly cultural product. Consequently, our clients experience an invaluable connection with the Vezo people, which many choose to retain long after their return home from Madagascar; continuing to support and engage with our community projects from their home countries. Many of our former clients have changed the focus and direction of their careers as a direct result of their experiences with us, going on to study new subjects in order to start careers in marine conservation or international development. Blue Ventures’ creative approach to managing and spreading the benefits of tourism, our focus on integrating clients in all aspects of our work, and our concerted efforts to mitigate any potential adverse impacts – such as leakage, cultural erosion and environmental damage - have been repeatedly recognised and acclaimed for good practice (http://www.blueventures.org/newsroom/our-awards.html)

Problem

Southern Madagascar exhibits one of the largest and most biologically diverse coral reefs in the Indian Ocean, providing resources essential to food security, livelihoods and culture of the indigenous, sea-faring Vezo people. Despite the extreme dependence of coastal communities on healthy marine resources, the region’s coastal ecosystems - which underpin the coastal fishing economy - are facing unprecedented threats from growing human and climatic pressures. The rapid population growth poses huge pressures on fragile marine habitats that are already depleted as a result of climate change and commercialisation of traditional fisheries. Effective community-based conservation and sustainable management of these reefs is critical to the future of the Vezo, who are one of Africa’s most isolated and economically marginalised ethnic groups. To safeguard the unique cultural and environmental heritage of this spectacular coastline depends on scaling an integrated approach to conservation; including alternative livelihoodss, the establishment of community managed Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks, and public health services addressing families’ reproductive health needs.

Actions

By diversify social business models, from ecotourism to community-based aquaculture and carbon finance, as well as keeping community profit share at the core of each project and building local management capacity, BV ensures that its projects are sustainable, replicable and robust in the long-term.

BV’s conservation programmes focus on empowering communities for leadership in marine conservation. This mission for achieving local stewardship is achieved by working with all levels of partner communities, from women and children to village elders, on a broad range of initiatives that range from educational programmes to livelihood diversification and public health initiatives. These include:
-Pioneering and integral reproductive health and family planning services
-Creation of sustainable aquaculture initiatives
-Provision of intensive residential marine conservation training scholarships
-Creation of Velondriake- largest community managed marine protected area in the Indian Ocean
-Creation of Blue Ventures Carbon Offset programme
-Development of innovative fisheries research and conservation efforts over 500km of coastline, focusing on shark, turtle and reef fisheries.

Results

In just 7 years, Blue Ventures’ conservation work – driven by its underlying geotourism social business - has influenced the lives of over 50,000 people. It has worked with over 1000 international volunteers, led to the creation of more than 40 marine reserves, brought about new national fisheries legislation, built innovative community-owned aquaculture projects to diversify traditional livelihoods, empowered hundreds of women through creation of women’s associations, established health clinics meeting the reproductive health needs of over 10,000 people, funded hundreds of children to attend school and dozens of students to attend university and residential conservation training programmes. Above all Blue Ventures’ work in Madagascar has inspired a new movement for community-based coastal conservation in Madagascar and the western Indian Ocean region, with numerous other organisations, donors and institutions replicating models pioneered by Blue Ventures. As we move forward, we hope that the results of our work will help us to propose new ideas to benefit coastal communities everywhere.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

At the core of all of Blue Ventures’ projects is the organisation’s close partnership with the Vezo communities in which we work. Maintaining these partnerships, which are built on mutual support, trust and friendship, requires total commitment to the objectives of the organisation, which are to use geotourism and social enterprise to develop conservation and alternative income initiatives to protect biodiversity and coastal livelihoods. Our work also depends on the support of our clients, who join our programmes as volunteers, traveling from around the world to take part in our expedition programmes. Without the ongoing tireless commitment, passion and enthusiasm of Blue Ventures’ volunteers, none of the projects being developed in Madagascar or anywhere else in the world would be possible.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

In the last two years Blue Ventures has endured a military-backed coup in Madagascar, which has resulted in ongoing political unrest, and an almost complete breakdown in environmental governance throughout the country. For three months around the peak summer season in 2009 Blue Ventures had to cancel all programmes in Madagascar because of security concerns in the aftermath of civil unrest, resulting in a loss of over 50% of the year’s income. At a time when almost all other tourism operators in the country had to cut back on personnel in order to deal with the impacts of the political crisis, Blue Ventures’ London staff accepted 25% pay cuts in order that all conservation and development projects could continue in Madagascar without any personnel losses. Expeditions today have resumed, but in the face of the ongoing global financial crisis Blue Ventures – at its core a social business – remains vulnerable to the vagaries of international tourism markets. By ensuring that our expeditions remain the best marine geotourism experiences available worldwide, we strive to remain resilient to these market challenges, and to maintain our position as a global leader in marine geotourism, demonstrating that coastal conservation and community development can go hand in hand.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?

Yes

Sustainability

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

In what country?

Madagascar, TL

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

If yes, provide organization name.

Blue Ventures

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?

Yes

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Blue Ventures partnerships with communities are at the very heart of our work and have been key in our success to date. Our valuable relationship with the community of Andavadoaka was recognised by the UNDP Equator prize in 2007 and provided the drive behind the creation of the community-managed Velondriake network. Creating partnerships with industry has been crucial in establishing viable mariculture businesses and in our conservation work with octopus fisheries, an important source of income for Vezo fishers. Government partnerships have resulted in Blue Ventures' octopus fisheries management protocols being adopted nationwide. NGO networks have proved vital in sharing best practice, influencing change and, on occasion, pooling resources.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

Integrating our geotourism programme into all of our activities has ensured that we offer interesting and authentic travel experiences which develop and challenge both the tourist and the host community and foster understanding and friendship. The next stage of this is to develop a community eco-lodge, on land gifted by the Andavadoaka village elders, and ensure that the income generated by voluntourists and eco-tourists staying in the region and benefits the community as a whole. The eco-lodge will also give the geotourism business the capacity to grow, diversify and increase alternative livelihoods.

The expansion of the existing network of marine reserves is required in order to arrest damage and degradation of the marine resources and reduce the fishing pressures on areas where no management exists. Interconnected managed areas are required for reefs to recover.

Currently Blue Ventures family planning as sexual health programme is not reaching every family in the region and so expanding the project reach is important in having a significant impact on the population of the entire southwest of the country. Our sexual health information and clinical services are urgently required as there is a grave risk that HIV/AIDS infections will begin to accelerate in these vulnerable communities to the same levels seen in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

The Story

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What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Al Harris, founder of Blue Ventures, has had an unhealthy obsession with corals since an early age. In 1998, whilst working as volunteer in the Philippines, he witnessed the largest mortality of tropical marine life in human history – a mass mortality of coral reefs driven by an extreme El Nino event, linked to global climate change. In many parts of the Indian and Pacific oceans almost all corals bleached and then died in the space of a few short weeks, and the effects of this mass reef die-off can still be witnessed today.

Inspired to pursue a career in marine conservation, Al first traveled to Madagascar – the hottest of the hot global biodiversity hotspots - as a biology student in 2001, leading an expedition of scientists from Oxford and Edinburgh universities to monitor the largely unexplored reefs of the Mozambique Channel. Having read accounts of the region’s reefs written by scientists diving in the 1960s and 70s, Al and his colleagues were shocked by the levels of degradation that awaited them, and the extreme poverty trap into which many indigenous Vezo coastal communities were locked, through their economic dependence on over-exploiting dwindling coral reefs for their survival.

After witnessing further coral reef degradation linked to climate change, which had driven further massive Indian Ocean-wide coral bleaching events, Al’s commitment to science became a catalyst for conservation. Having spent long periods living and working with the Vezo, Al realised that the only possible path towards sustainability depended on engaging Vezo communities in conservation; empowering fishermen and women as custodians of their own ocean environment through responsible environmental stewardship. It was also clear that economic incentives were key to breaking the cycle of coastal poverty and resource degradation; ultimately communities needed to see the long term economic benefits of conservation.

This realisation became the key to innovation, and Al established Blue Ventures as a social enterprise to develop business-based solutions to marine biodiversity problems. First and foremost amongst these business models has been Blue Ventures’ geotourism expeditions programme, which has since been replicated in Fiji, Belize and Malaysia.

Ten years on, Dr. Al Harris is still living in Madagascar, never far from the Vezo and the coral reefs of the Mozambique Channel. Today Blue Ventures’ commitment to sustainable marine entrepreneurship is as strong as ever, having diversified to include aquaculture, carbon finance and a diverse range of community development programmes. Blue Ventures continues to inspire numerous other organisations throughout the Indian Ocean to tackle marine conservation issues, and tirelessly champions grassroots community-based conservation as a fundamental cornerstone of sustainable coastal development.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

A passionate conservationist and social entrepreneur, Al has spent the past decade researching and tackling marine environmental crises in tropical developing countries. Former chairman of Oxford University Exploration Society, his life-long obsession with corals led him to establish Blue Ventures, an international marine conservation organisation whose projects have received the prestigious United Nations Equator Prize and Seed Award, in recognition of their work in biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.

Al is a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas, recipient of the 2010 World Conservation Union’s Young Conservationist Award and winner of the 2009 Condé Nast Environment Award. Currently based in Madagascar, his work developing sustainable business approaches for financing conservation has twice been commended by UK former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the annual ‘Enterprising Young Brits’ awards.

For more information about Al, see http://www.dolectures.com/speakers/speakers-2010/al-harris

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Personal contact at Changemakers

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer

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169 weeks ago said: Al, I was part of a Blue Ventures expedition for my honeymoon back in 2008. Blue Ventures are an inspiration, and it is my hope that ... about this Competition Entry. - read more >
169 weeks ago said: Madagascar has been so ecologically degraded that it's good to see efforts to restore its environment, culture, and economy. about this Competition Entry. - read more >
177 weeks ago Alasdair Harris updated this Competition Entry.
177 weeks ago Alasdair Harris updated this Competition Entry.
177 weeks ago Alasdair Harris submitted this idea.