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A message from our executive
director: COVID-19

From Dr Alasdair Harris

June 2020

We are already seeing the profound and growing impact of COVID-19 on coastal communities and their way of life. This emergency will have far-reaching repercussions beyond human health. Already the pandemic has underscored the urgent need to empower communities to withstand shocks, and build lasting solutions to the root causes of poverty and environmental collapse.

Small-scale fishers who rely on the ocean for food security and their way of life are already disproportionately impacted by a web of interconnected challenges, including poverty, climate breakdown and destructive industrial fishing. For these communities − many isolated from basic services − COVID-19 is the latest test of their ability to adapt and survive.

Our teams have a long-established presence within coastal communities throughout the tropics, and are well-positioned to respond to new challenges as a result of the pandemic. Alongside our community level partners, we have pivoted our core activities to meet the emerging needs caused by the pandemic, head on.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on international seafood markets and the tourism industry. Our work to establish alternative livelihoods, including through aquaculture and blue carbon and the establishment of savings schemes is helping families to build financial resilience. These efforts are particularly important for women who are empowered to challenge gender inequalities and gain economic independence. Only a few months ago the Women’s Association in the fishing village of Andavadoaka in Madagascar was serving thousands of meals to tourists every month.  Now these women have relaunched their collective action to establish a new source of income – making and selling face masks to help reduce community transmission.

In hard-to-reach locations where healthcare is limited and families often live in crowded conditions, our trained community health workers are continuing to provide essential healthcare and distribute essential medicines. These trusted women are a vital source of public health information, supporting communities to prepare for the arrival of the coronavirus and ensuring all households have access to handwashing facilities. As the virus spreads, these health workers are poised to refer patients to government COVID-19 response teams, help shield the vulnerable, and ensure patients self isolate and undertake contact tracing.

Access to reliable public health information is critical. Through community outreach programmes, colleagues are creating music videos and radio programmes to share public health messaging in remote communities.

From Belize to Timor-Leste, our community partners are embracing virtual solutions to convene and train community organisations, working to find creative ways within communities to raise awareness and combat the pandemic.

We believe that the hard fought lessons of this global crisis will underline the critical importance of our mission, and the value of our approach. By tackling the underlying causes of poverty and building community resilience we enable individuals to conserve their environment and prepare for the storms to come.

Around the world, individuals, families and communities are rallying to face the COVID-19 pandemic. From Tanzania to Timor-Leste, Blue Ventures’ own mission and operations are being shaken by this unprecedented disruption. Nevertheless, our energies are focused on preparing and protecting the communities that we strive to support.

Despite the immense scale of the challenge, the BV family has navigated turbulent times before, from devastating cyclones and infectious outbreaks to prolonged political unrest and conflict. For nearly two decades we’ve worked to increase the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities, many of whom live in precarious conditions lacking access to basic services and reliant on fishing for survival. We have learnt that by listening to communities and offering our expertise to co-design practical locally led solutions, we can help them to overcome the challenges they face.

With field teams living and working alongside under-served communities throughout the coastal tropics, we’re fortunate to be in a frontline position to respond to this new challenge and find ways to support these communities.

As I write, our team is working hard to repurpose our grassroots community health programme in Madagascar, and mobilise partners to assist in providing a rapid response to prepare people for the difficulties they will face as the pandemic spreads.

In addition to the gravity of this public health emergency, the economic impact for small-scale fishers dependent on volatile global seafood markets is hard to overstate. We’re doing all we can to enable communities to diversify their incomes, reduce dependence on fishing, and gain access to better, fairer markets in this changing world.

We’re humbled that our staff and partners in hundreds of communities across 14 countries are mobilising to use their expertise to meet and overcome the current crisis.

We will all have our way of life profoundly changed by this pandemic. For those who live on the frontline of other crises −  climate breakdown and the depletion of fisheries upon which their livelihoods depend − this global pandemic is yet another shock. It reminds us all why we must take action to cooperate at local and global scales to tackle the issues that make marginalised coastal communities amongst the most vulnerable on the planet.

I am moved by the bravery, determination and resolve of our colleagues, supporters and partners who enable us to help coastal communities to find practical ways to meet the challenges they face now and in the months to come.

Alasdair Harris, PhD
Executive Director, Blue Ventures

Find out more about our response to COVID-19

For conservationists working at the interface of poverty and environmental degradation, the coronavirus tragedy underscores why we must take urgent action. 

With our partners, we are mobilising around the world to help support locally led conservation efforts against the current crisis, safeguarding food security and livelihoods for coastal communities in this turbulent time.

Updates and resources gathered to provide a focal point for our partners to find reliable and useful information while navigating the Covid-19 pandemic.

For conservationists working at the interface of poverty and environmental degradation, the coronavirus tragedy underscores why we must take urgent action. 

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