Using tourism as a conservation tool to protect people and nature

Using tourism as a conservation tool to protect people and nature

London, Madagascar
Project Summary
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Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Blue Ventures is an award-winning not-for-profit that partners with local communities to conserve threatened marine habitats and resources for the betterment of people and nature. Funded almost entirely through ecotourism revenue, Blue Ventures brings paying volunteers to project sites and trains them in scientific research, community outreach and on-the-ground conservation. Blue Ventures believes that environmental protection and economic development can – and must – go hand-in-hand. Since 2003, we have partnered with the remote fishing villages along Madagascar’s southwest coast in an effort to protect the marine habitats locals rely upon for survival.

In 2004, Blue Ventures and ...

About You
Contact Information


First name


Last name


Your job title

Director of Scientific Research

Name of your organization

Blue Ventures Conservation

Organization type

Business operating as not-for-profit

Annual budget/currency


Mailing address

2D Aberdeen Studios, 22-24 Highbury Grove, London

Telephone number

+44 203 176 0548

Postal/Zip Code

N5 2EA

Email address
Alternative email address

Alternative email address

Your idea
This will be the address used to plot your entry on the map.
Street Address

2D Aberdeen Studios, 22-24 Highbury Grove



Postal/Zip Code

N5 2EA

Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of tourist experience and educational benefit to tourists , Quality of benefit to residents for the destination , Quality of stewardship of the destination.

Organization size

Small (1 to 100 employees)

Indicate sector in which you principally work

Conservation/Preservation organization

Year innovation began


Indicate sector in which you principally work


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What is the goal of your innovation? Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

Using tourism as a tool to protect threatened marine resources for the betterment of both people and nature.

Please write an overview of your project. Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the map located on the competition homepage.

Blue Ventures is an award-winning not-for-profit that partners with local communities to conserve threatened marine habitats and resources for the betterment of people and nature. Funded almost entirely through ecotourism revenue, Blue Ventures brings paying volunteers to project sites and trains them in scientific research, community outreach and on-the-ground conservation. Blue Ventures believes that environmental protection and economic development can – and must – go hand-in-hand. Since 2003, we have partnered with the remote fishing villages along Madagascar’s southwest coast in an effort to protect the marine habitats locals rely upon for survival.

In 2004, Blue Ventures and the village of Andavadoaka established the world’s first community- run marine protected area for octopus. The project not only ensures the long-term survival of octopus, but results in greater yields for local fishermen. Blue Ventures is now working with 25 villages across the region to create a vast network of marine and coastal protected areas spanning 800 square-kilometres, benefiting more than 10,000 people and protecting coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves and other threatened habitats. Along with traditional conservation strategies, Blue Ventures is developing sustainable alternative livelihoods, such as algae, seagrass and sea cucumber mariculture businesses, which are relevant to the indigenous people living in the region and compliments their traditional values and way of life. We are building an ecotourism lodge in Andavadoaka that will be fully owned and managed by local villagers, giving incentive for local site stewardship, building management capacity and piloting the use of clean solar and wind energy fin the region.

Explain in detail why your approach is innovative

Blue Ventures uses eco-tourism to generate funding and manpower for conservation and the research and implementation of culturally appropriate alternative livelihoods . We lead expeditions to threatened marine systems along Madagascar’s southwest coast. This region harbours some of the world's highest levels of marine biodiversity, but also faces threats from climate change, pollution and overfishing. Only a small percentage of these reefs have ever been explored and even fewer have been scientifically studied to determine their health and conservation needs. With the assistance of paying volunteers and the funding generated by the expeditions, Blue Ventures has catalogued hundreds of marine species over the last five years, including many that are endangered and several that are believed to be new to science. The information is used to implement conservation plans across the region and is shared with government agencies to assist national conservation and fisheries policy. Blue Ventures’ partners with local villagers, raising awareness about the benefits of conservation and strengthening their capacity to effectively protect natural resources in the long term. We incorporate traditional knowledge, customs and socio- economic needs to ensure locals support and benefit from conservation and tourism activities. A management body of local people representating 25 villages in the region participate in planning, researching, implementation and monitoring. Our approach to community stewardship is now being shared with fishing communities in Rodrigues and the volunteer programme has been successfully replicated in Fiji.

Describe the degree of success you have had to date. How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism? How does your approach minimize negative impacts?

In 2004, Blue Ventures and its volunteers worked with the village of Andavadoaka to develop the world’s first community-run marine protected area for octopus – the village’s primary source of income. Seasonal closures were implemented to allow octopus to grow in size and number. The strategy not only ensures the long-term survival of octopus, but results in greater yields, 13 fold increases for fishermen, when closed areas are reopened. The project proved so successful that the Malagasy government it as a model in 2005 to implement similar closures across the country in order to improve octopus populations and fisheries. The Vezo people are defined by their way of life, living with the sea. In addition to ecological monitoring and research, socio-economic studies are conducted across the region by internationally trained researchers to measure the impact of conservation projects on community incomes, attitudes and lifestyles. Our programme in Fiji has been adapted to work with island communities who would like to diversify their fishing activities and set up authentic, alternative tourism which compliments rather than detracts from the traditional way of life. Blue Ventures are working closely with these communities to plan the impacts of opening the area to more tourism, communicating the heritage sometimes overlooked by other tourism programmes and ensuring the benefits are shared amongst all parts of the communities.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

All conservation activities are planned and implemented in coordination with local villages through monthly meetings and workshops. More than a dozen local villagers are employed by Blue Ventures, working as tour leaders, boat drivers and dive masters. We incorporate traditional knowledge and socio-economic needs into all conservation planning to ensure locals receive tangible benefits. Conservation projects have proven so successful that neighbouring villages have asked Blue Ventures to implement similar strategies in their communities.. In 2008, Andavadoaka village president and Blue Ventures’ employee, Mr Roger Samba was awarded the WWF J.Paul Getty award for conservation leadership for his work with the Velondriake management of octopus fisheries. Our innovation is now being replicated in Fiji and a similar strategy of stakeholder consultation and community-led goals are being implemented with regular meetings and feedback sessions with village representatives.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

Our volunteers participate in daily lessons on local habitats and species, and are taught the customs and language of the local community. In the first week of each expedition, volunteers are given tours of the local village, and are introduced to the elders who govern the community. Volunteers interact daily with locals, teaching English to school children, participating in traditional festivals and taking cooking lessons from village women. Such emersion in the local culture and ecology promotes enthusiasm for the conservation mission and activities. In our new Fiji programme volunteers will be working closely with community members in planning and implementing tourism activities and long-term alternative livelihoods.

Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area's cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues.

Blue Venture volunteers are trained in conservation science and marine research skills. By living and working alongside local villagers, volunteers see first hand the critical role healthy marine habitats play in the survival of human communities. Once volunteers return from expeditions, we regularly send them updates on marine issues and conservation activities. For local communities, Blue Ventures holds monthly workshops on environmental issues. We train locals in conservation science and monitoring, and hire them to survey habitats and species. The data they collect not only is vital for conservation scientists, but also raises awareness among villagers of environmental issues.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

Funding for our conservation activities is generated from our tourism revenue. While we are a non-profit conservation organisation, we use a business model to finance our conservation work. We employ five full-time staff in our London headquarters and 40 full and part-time staff in the field in Madagascar and Fiji. Our expeditions generate approximately £200,000 each year.

Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? Is there a potential demand for your innovation?

Funding for our conservation work is generated by our tourism business. Studies have shown that more and more people are looking for holidays that are not only fun, but also leave them with a sense of personal fulfillment, and early industry indicators show that, through world recession, many are looking at cost effective longer term breaks and experiences which benefit a new career or give a competitive edge. Younger travelers – those in their 20s and 30s who are becoming today’s business leaders with disposable incomes – are particularly interested in travel adventures that have a positive impact on the world around them. The number of people attending our expeditions continues to grow, providing us with a sustainable source of income. During the recent political crisis in Madagascar Blue Ventures continued to support our research staff and maintained our committment to the community of Andavadoaka despite the suspension of our volunteer programme.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

Financial resources is the main barrier to expanding our work. Because we are dependent on revenue generated by our eco-tourism expeditions, we must work within a set budget. As the popularity of our expeditions grows each year, however, we have been able to expand our conservation success and outreach and replicated our innovation on the islands of Leleuvia and Moturiki in the Heart of Fiji.

What is your plan to expand or further develop your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

We are currently working to expand our conservation work beyond our current field headquarters in the village of Andavadoaka. We are about to launch a massive network of marine and coastal protected areas that will span 800 square-kilometres along the southwest coast of Madagascar. The project will benefit more than 10,000 local people and be one of the largest community-run protected areas in the Western Indian Ocean. We are also looking to expand our tourism expeditions to other areas in Madagascar. Our programme has been replicated and adapted to the islands of Moturiki and Leleuvia, a currently unprotected region home to fishing communities. With the success and immediate impact of this growing programme, Blue Ventures would like to work with other coastal communities in developing nations.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.

The motivation for launching our marine expedition business was to conserve the natural resources coastal villages in Madagascar rely upon for survival and empower these communities to manage the local habitats, preserving their indigenous way of life and reducing their reliance on unsustainable practices. Blue Ventures brings groups of paying volunteers to marine expeditions in Madagascar every six weeks, teaching them SCUBA diving, marine research and conservation science. During daily dives through threatened coral reefs, expedition members monitor marine habitats and species. They also work along side trained scientists to implement conservation strategies. Volunteers on our expeditions not only supply the man power needed to protect threatened natural resources, but all profits generated by the expeditions go back into on-the-ground conservation. All conservation planning is done in coordination with local villages to ensure communities in the regions benefit from the conservation projects. Additionally, expedition volunteers learn about the important role oceans play in the global environment, helping to create a conservation ethic that they will hopefully carry with them in their daily lives.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Alasdair Harris, founder and Director of Scientific Research: Since studying for a Masters degree in coastal management and ecological economics, Alasdair has endeavored to combine environmental protection with community development. While in school, Alasdair established a society to promote marine conservation in the developing world. Partnering with governments of Indian Ocean countries, he organised a series of underwater research expeditions, providing critical data to local institutions that did not have the resources to undertake such work themselves. Upon earning his Masters in 2003, Al founded Blue Ventures.

Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.

Blue Ventures volunteers experience first hand the rich, unique culture of Madagascar derived from a Malayo-Polynesian and African anthropology and influenced by French colonisation. As well as living in a Vezo fishing community and working alongside the residents, volunteers learn about the complex system of beliefs and taboos which influence the people of this region. The highlight for volunteers is often taking part in village ‘fombas’, intricate celebrations which involve traditional ceremonies, dancing, food, song, theatre and drinking customs unique to the region, clan or family group. The village of Andavadoaka hold an event with the ‘Nahodas’ (village elders) and the Women’s Association to welcome new Blue Ventures volunteers. Volunteers to our new Fiji programme also take part in local customs, with volunteers invited to take part in a traditional ‘sevu sevu’ kava drinking ceremony. Volunteers where given the opportunity to visit the cheifly island of Bau , a rare honour for non-Fijians, where ceremonial permission was sought for our programme. Blue Ventures' close relationships with our hosts give access to these authentic experiences which are often 'closed' to independent tourists.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

Blue Ventures is constantly reaching out to additional villages in the region to encourage increased conservation of local natural resources. With a new programme in Fiji we are adapting our work to the challenges faced by island communities. We regularly hold educational workshops aimed at increasing the skills and knowledge locals need to protect their own natural resources. We would ideally like to partner with other developing nations, communities and agencies and provide them with expanded educational programmes that target their specific conservation needs. Partners with an understanding of the need for community-led solutions and stewardship as well as an emphasis on capacity building for long term management would benefit the expansion of our innovation to other coastal and island communities in developing nations.