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
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