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Avoiding a COP out

Dr Alasdair Harris, Executive Director

Super cyclones, stunning sea surface temperatures, devastating droughts, the hottest year ever recorded, and a mega El Niño in the offing. These are just some of the mind boggling extremes that we have lived through in recent months. 

This year’s tally of weather anomalies makes unusually grim reading. As I write this in Timor-Leste, the poorest country in Asia, the rainy season is months late; fields lie bare in withering heat. Across the Indo-Pacific in Madagascar, where Blue Ventures has supported communities for over two decades, record-breaking heatwaves and the longest lived tropical cyclone ever recorded have taken their toll. These events would have been virtually impossible without human-caused global heating. Reliant on rain-fed agriculture, both these countries grapple with food insecurity as a result of recurrent droughts, with Madagascar still recovering from its last famine. And the mercury is still rising: ocean temperatures in the southern hemisphere won’t peak until the new year as the summer months progress. 

Across the world our colleagues and partners are witnessing weather systems in disarray. From as far afield as Guinea Bissau and Mindanao we see extremes: drought, rain, wind, supercharged storms and − everywhere − heat. Our organisation supports more than 800 communities in fifteen tropical coastal countries. Most of these countries are poor, and some are among the poorest on earth. Many of our partner communities report weather patterns that no one has experienced in living memory. Weather patterns which are disrupting species migrations and breeding seasons. Heat stress which is decimating entire ecosystems. Day in, day out we are bearing witness to the reality of life in uncharted climatic territory. 

These extremes are typical of the reality faced by billions living across the tropics and subtropics. They have contributed very little to climate breakdown, both today and in the past. Their per capita emissions are a tiny fraction of my own in the UK. 

Blue Ventures will be participating in COP28 to ensure that these experiences do not go unheard and unnoticed. We will be standing with community leaders from across the world to see to it that those with the power to turn the tide bear witness to the reality of life on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Our message to governments is threefold. 

Firstly, communities experiencing the devastation of global heating are not passive bystanders to the climate emergency. In the case of oceans, they are frontline defenders with the local knowledge needed to adapt and build resilience. Our oceans can significantly buffer the worst impacts of climate change, absorbing human-induced carbon dioxide emissions and heat from the atmosphere. Coastal communities are best placed to develop so-called nature based solutions like mangrove carbon projects that can protect coastlines, bolster livelihoods and lock away vital blue carbon. And they are the only group that can mobilise at the global scale demanded by this planetary emergency.  

Secondly, communities can only act if they have the legal rights and recognition to do so. Coastal communities rarely have legal rights to the waters they depend on. They are widely marginalised by unjust policies that favour more powerful and environmentally damaging sectors, like industrial fishing. Securing local tenure rights can be the catalyst we need to create movements of change: for example giving coastal fishers power to protect carbon-rich seagrass beds from bottom trawling, enabling a community to register a carbon project to restore a coastal mangrove forest, or giving a population legal rights to access compensation when their coral reef dies from heat stress.  With secure tenure rights − to land, sea and carbon − communities can meaningfully protect themselves from this climate of growing instability.  

Thirdly, while community-based climate action is far more affordable than other nature-based solutions, delivering it at a global scale will need wealthier nations who have historically been the largest emitters to dig deep to finance it properly. While the agreement to create a fund for addressing loss and damage was a welcome surprise at last year’s COP, we urgently need far greater clarity on how it will work, and how much funding richer countries will provide.

Donors must also play their part, by reimagining how aid reaches communities, breaking the stranglehold of inefficient development finance, and delivering cash to where it’s needed most. Progressive new funding mechanisms like our Frontline Community Fund are built to do just this — funding frontline community organisations flexibly and for the long term to restore marine life, boost catches and find ways to adapt.

This year’s climate talks convene in a city that owes its existence to the perverse profitability of the fossil carbon economy that has created this crisis. We need governments to confront the injustice of climate change unflinchingly, and redirect those profits to those who are already incurring an unacceptable cost. 


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Senegal

Fishing and the collection of shellfish is central to the lives of most coastal dwellers in Senegal, and seafood is part of almost every meal in Senegal. Massive overfishing by both industrial and artisanal fleets, as well as an increasing export of fish meal for aquaculture, is threatening a way of life and food security in the country, as fish stocks dwindle.

The work of Blue Ventures in Senegal is focused mainly in the southern Casamance region of the country, home to hundreds of thousands of hectares of fish-rich mangroves. We have teamed with Kawawana, Senegal’s oldest LMMA, to help protect the 15,000 hectares of mangroves under its community management, and to help monitor and manage the rich fisheries and oyster collection in the mangroves. We are also working with other communities to put in place community-based fisheries management systems, focusing particularly on the oyster and shellfish collection that is a primary economic activity for many women in Casamance.

Guinea-Bissau

The West African country of Guinea-Bissau is home to the unique Bijagos archipelago, a network of some ninety mangrove-fringed offshore islands and extensive mudflats supporting large amounts of migratory bird species, as well as megafauna such as manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles. The Bijagos people continue to live a very traditional lifestyle, where the collection of marine invertebrates plays an important role in food security and cultural traditions. The country is also home to extensive mangrove-fringed river systems that support rich fisheries.

Blue Ventures is working with Tiniguena, one of the oldest conservation groups in Guinea-Bissau, in supporting the first community-led MPA in the country, UROK, in the Bijagos islands. Together with Tiniguena, we are also supporting the establishment of new community-led conservation initiatives in the Rio Grande de Buba, a vast mangrove ecosystem with a long history of community-led fisheries management. Our focus is on data-driven community-led management of fisheries, which are of enormous importance to coastal communities, in particular women.

Thailand

Thailand’s small-scale fisheries are the cornerstone of social, economic and nutritional health for the communities living along the majority of the country’s nearly 3,000 kilometre coastline.

In the southernmost Trang province we are supporting communities reliant on nearshore fisheries − in particular for crab, shrimp and squid − in partnership with the Save Andaman Network (SAN). The region is renowned for its vibrant seagrass meadows and vast mangrove forests, which provide essential ecosystem services to coastal communities.  We’re providing training and tools to aid community- led fisheries monitoring and ecosystem management, and building community-owned social enterprises that fund and sustain local conservation efforts.

Timor-Leste

Since 2016, our work in Timor-Leste has evolved into a dynamic movement supporting community-led marine management and coastal livelihood diversification in Asia’s newest country. From our origins on Atauro Island, considered to harbour the most diverse coral reefs on earth, we’re now working with numerous communities on the island and the mainland to help improve management of critical coral reefs and seagrass ecosystems.

We’re helping communities reinvigorate traditional community governance practices − known as Tara Bandu − to support marine conservation, in particular through the use of temporary and permanent fishing closures, and community-led monitoring of marine ecosystems and fisheries.

We’re helping communities come together to exchange their experiences of conservation across their shared coastline, building a new movement of local support for systems change in the management and conservation of Timor-Leste’s coastal waters.

Alongside our community conservation efforts, we have also pioneered Timor-Leste’s first homestay association, which has provided income from visiting ecotourists on Atauro Island.

Our team in Timor-Leste’s capital Dili works closely with government, civil society organisations and NGO partners.

Tanzania

Like its neighbours within the Northern Mozambique Channel marine biodiversity hotspot, Tanzania harbours some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Indian Ocean. These habitats are facing unprecedented challenges from overfishing and climate change.

Our Tanzanian team has worked with communities and local organisations to support locally-led marine conservation since 2016. Our work has expanded from Zanzibar to mainland regions of Tanga, Lindi and Kilwa where our technicians work with local partners to help communities strengthen co-management systems, working through beach management units (BMUs), Shehia Fishing Committees (SFCs), marine parks and Collaborative Fisheries Management Areas (CFMAs).

Our partners Mwambao Coastal Community Network and Sea Sense have spearheaded a remarkable acceleration in the uptake of community-based fisheries management and conservation in recent years, notably through the use of short term fisheries closures to catalyse broader community conservation.

In Kilwa we are working with Songosongo BMU to manage octopus closures and marketing, with the district authorities and NYAMANJISOPJA CFMA to help BMUs strengthen financial management capacity, and with Kilwa BMU Network to revive and expand the network.

Following the conclusion of the SWIOFish project in 2021, we are working with partners on a follow-up initiative to support the establishment and functioning of a fisheries co-management forum. The forum will facilitate engagement between national and local government authorities and NGOs involved in fisheries co-management initiatives along the Tanzania mainland coast, with the aim of enhancing networking and strengthening management and governance.

Somalia

With one of Africa’s longest coastlines, Somalia’s diverse marine environment supports enormously productive coastal and offshore fisheries.  Decades of conflict have undermined the country’s capacity for fisheries management, with many foreign industrial vessels fishing with impunity, and little regard for the critical importance of Somalia’s coastal fisheries for local livelihoods and food security.

A period of relative political and social stability unprecedented in recent decades is now presenting new opportunities to address past challenges, and to realise the considerable opportunities that well-managed coastal fisheries and conservation can offer Somalia. We are forging partnerships with community organisations in Somalia to build their capacity and skills to help coastal communities manage their fisheries for food security, livelihoods and conservation.

Philippines

The Philippines forms part of the ‘coral triangle’ epicentre of global marine biodiversity, with unparalleled diversity of marine species.  Over half of the country’s 107 million people live in rural areas, and approximately three quarters depend on agriculture or fisheries as their primary source of livelihoods.

Through our partnership with People and the Sea, we are supporting communities in the eastern Visayas to set up and utilise participatory data systems to monitor and understand the status of their fisheries, in a way that is meaningful for them. Through provision of access to strong data systems and training in data collection this year, these communities will soon have access to real time fisheries data and visualisations that will enable them to make informed decisions around the management of their fisheries.

Indonesia

Indonesia comprises almost 17,500 islands stretching across three time zones. This archipelagic nation has the 2nd longest coastline in the world − and the largest coastal fisheries resource − of any country on Earth. More than ninety per cent of Indonesia’s seafood production comes from small-scale fisheries, which are underpinned by the planet’s most biodiverse marine ecosystem, known as the Coral Triangle.

We have supported community-led marine conservation in Indonesia since 2016. Our team works in close partnership with 17 Indonesian organisations supporting community-based approaches to coral reef and mangrove conservation across 74 communities in fourteen provinces. Our support across these communities is customised to each context − the local fisheries, community stakeholders, seafood supply chains, legal frameworks and customary traditions governing fisheries management and conservation.

Since 2019 we have brought these partners together within a peer learning network of Indonesian organisations specialised in supporting community-based marine conservation. The network is based on the shared values of the organisations, including a commitment to promote the rights of traditional fishing communities in conservation. Thirty-two of the villages represented in this group are enacting local marine management through customary management regimes and traditions. This group, largely comprising sites in Eastern Indonesia, provides an important opportunity to share learning in traditional marine and fisheries management practices.

In Sumatra and Kalimantan we are strengthening our work in community conservation of globally important mangrove forests. We are supporting and strengthening community-forest management and supporting local partners who are adapting our catalytic model for temporary fishery closures to mangrove-dependent fisheries like mud crab.

We are working closely with our local partners Forkani, Yayasan LINI, Yapeka, Yayasan Planet Indonesia, Foneb, Komanangi, JARI, Ecosystem Impact, Yayasan Tananua Flores, Yayasan Baileo Maluku, AKAR, Japesda, Yayasan Citra Mandiri Mentawai, Yayasan Mitra Insani and Yayasan Hutan Biru, Yayasan Pesisir Lestari and Lembaga Partisipasi Pembangunan Masyarakat (LPPM) Ambon

India

We continue to work in India with our long term partner the Dakshin Foundation. We are collaborating in three distinct locations; the archipelago of Lakshadweep, coastal regions of Odisha and the Andaman Islands. 

Overfishing has led to a reduction in fish catches, challenging the future of many traditional fishing communities.

Our partnership is working to build the capacity of communities to manage coastal fisheries,  and improve the health of fishing communities, for the long-term wellbeing of both the communities and their fishing grounds.

Kenya

Kenya’s coast supports an extraordinary diversity of tropical marine and coastal habitats.  These  waters are threatened by a proliferation of destructive fishing practices and over-harvesting within the artisanal and commercial fishing sectors.

Our approach in Kenya focuses on strengthening Beach Management Units (BMUs) to improve fisheries management.  Since 2016 our Mombasa-based technical team has provided support, mentoring and assistance to local partners including Coastal and Marine Resource Development (COMRED), the Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (LAMCOT), and Bahari Hai.

These partnerships have seen notable achievements in community-led fisheries management and conservation, including training and mentoring BMU leaders in eighteen communities in Kwale and Lamu Counties.

Comoros

The Comoros islands are located in the northern Mozambique Channel, a region home to the world’s second highest marine biodiversity after the Coral Triangle. This globally important biodiversity underpins coastal livelihoods and food security, but is at risk from climate change and overexploitation of inshore fisheries.

We have maintained a permanent presence supporting locally led marine conservation and fisheries management in Comoros since 2015, providing support to local partners, governmental institutions and communities.

On Anjouan, the second largest and most densely populated island in the Comoros archipelago, we work closely with national NGO Dahari. Our partnership has developed a replicable blueprint for community-based marine management, which has seen the creation of the country’s first locally managed marine areas − including temporary and permanent marine closures − designed to safeguard the coral reef ecosystems underpinning the archipelago’s coastal economy.

This approach, which is expanding rapidly across the Comoros, is also demonstrating the importance of inclusive conservation in empowering women − through local women’s fisheries associations − to play a leading role in fisheries monitoring and decision making.

Belize

Belize’s marine environment encompasses some of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the Caribbean Sea, including vast coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds. We have maintained a permanent presence in Belize since 2010, supporting diverse fisheries and conservation efforts.

We work in close partnership with the Belize Fisheries Department, MPA managers, fishing cooperatives and fishers’ associations, and championed the establishment of a national scale domestic fishery targeting the invasive lionfish.  We are actively promoting community led fisheries management, building on the success of our pioneering work with management of invasive lionfish.

We’ve led a decade-long MPA monitoring and evaluation programme in Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve, and provide regular training in coral reef monitoring methods to MPA authorities across Belize, including helping establish management targets for Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve, Belize’s largest MPA.

Our team supports and strengthens  fishing associations that advocate for the rights of their communities to be involved in decision making around access and use of coastal fisheries and to be key members of MPA management groups. Across the country we are working to ensure that fishers interests are mainstreamed in the design and implementation of marine conservation and fisheries management, improving the effectiveness of co-management of coral reef, mangrove and seagrass areas.

Mozambique

Our Mozambican team has worked with communities to develop locally led approaches to fisheries management and marine conservation since 2015. This build on the success of the Our Sea Our Life project, when in 2015 and 2016 we ran a series of exchange visits to Madagascar to support temporary closure development in Cabo Delgado. First in Quiwia and then in the Quirimbas Archipelago, these helped encourage the development of local management approaches in Mozambique.

Today our approach is focused on supporting and strengthening local organisations and Community Fisheries Councils (CCPs) to better understand their local fisheries, make informed management decisions to rebuild fisheries, and assess the impact of management actions.  This work is developed in close collaboration with our partners Oikos- Cooperação e Desenvolvimento in Nampula province and Love the Ocean in Inhambane province.

Ongoing security challenges have afflicted coastal communities and emerging marine conservation efforts in several areas of Cabo Delgado, where our work is regrettably now on hold.

As in Madagascar, given extremely high levels of coastal poverty and a pervasive lack of access to basic services, alongside our work in conservation we facilitate partnerships with specialist health providers, through an integrated health-environment approach.

Madagascar

Blue Ventures’ journey began in Madagascar in 2003, and we’ve been supporting communities in marine conservation across the country ever since. We have five regional field programmes along Madagascar’s west coast, as well as regional offices in the towns of Ambanja, Mahajanga, Morondava and Toliara. Our national headquarters is located in the capital Antananarivo.

Across all these sites we support communities with the establishment of locally managed marine areas (LMMAs), and work with government partners to secure national recognition for community conservation initiatives. First developed in Madagascar by Blue Ventures in 2006, the LMMA concept has since been replicated by communities at hundreds of sites over thousands of kilometres of coastline, now covering almost one fifth of Madagascar’s inshore seabed. Our research in Madagascar has demonstrated globally important evidence of the benefits of LMMAs to fisheries and conservation.

Our work focuses on strengthening community institutions in marine management and governance, and pioneering new approaches to catalyse community engagement in ocean conservation. These innovations have included establishing community led ecological monitoring and the country’s first mangrove blue carbon project.

At the national level, we partner with the LMMA network MIHARI, which brings together 25 partner conservation organisations supporting 219 LMMA sites across the country. Our policy team is also actively involved in advocating for more robust legislation to safeguard the rights and interests of fishing communities, and to remove destructive industrial fishing from coastal waters. In 2022 we supported the launch of Fitsinjo, an industrial fisheries watchdog organisation. The network highlights industrial fishing and IUU activities in Madagascar and the broader Western Indian Ocean region.

Given the lack of basic services in remote coastal regions in Madagascar, we also help communities access basic healthcare through training and supporting women to serve as community health workers. We do not replace government health systems, but work to strengthen existing structures in close collaboration with government health actors and specialist NGOs. We also incubate Madagascar’s national health-environment network, which brings together 40 partner organisations to address the health needs of communities living in areas of conservation importance across the country.