A new approach to marine conservation

In his new TED talk visionary marine biologist Alasdair Harris offers a surprising solution to the problem of overfishing and reflects on the lives of people whose survival depends on fishing.

In our freshly-published Annual Report, Cyrille Vigneron, President of Cartier Philanthropy’s Council, reflected on the diverse chorus of unconventional voices that are speaking up about critical social and environmental concerns with a growing sense of urgency: “High school students are marching worldwide to put the climate crisis on the international agenda. Local communities are reclaiming agency to shape their own futures. Ingenious social entrepreneurs are developing solutions to a host of knotty problems”.

Alasdair Harris, a marine biologist specialising in coral reefs, became a “reluctant” social entrepreneur the day he decided to set up Blue Ventures, a non-profit organisation that protects the marine ecosystem in a way that also improves the food supply and livelihoods of small-scale fishing communities.

Alasdair and his team had a brilliantly disruptive idea. Instead of simply declaring marine areas off-limits to fishing, they proposed that coastal communities bring in temporary fishing bans for a number of months to act like crop rotation in coastal waters. Imagine something like this: from January to March, there’s a ban on fishing for reef octopus, from March to June, shrimp, from June to September, mangrove crab. These periodic or temporary closures allow invertebrates to replenish and at the same time enable the community to continue fishing (and eating) sustainably.

When the closure is lifted, fishers find they catch far more octopus, shrimp and crab. Indeed, the results have been so impressive that villages have begun establishing closures of their own.

Researchers found that the villagers at more than 30 sites along the Madagascar coast harvested over 700% more octopus in the month after the bans were lifted than in the month before they were imposed.

Cartier Philanthropy is supporting Blue Ventures to spread this model steadily across the country.

In his new TED talk, Alasdair Harris reflects on the lives of people whose survival depends on fishing in tropical seas and describes the thinking behind Blue Ventures’ new vision of marine protection.

When we design it right, marine conservation reaps dividends that go far beyond protecting nature” he explains.

The talk is truly inspirational and well worth watching.