December 2, 2009

Sea Cucumber Ranching and all things fish…

Filed under: life..., projects — benmetz @ 6:14 pm

So I’m back from Mexico and getting back up to speed with “normal” life, which seems to comprise short days, cycling around a damp, dark London and drinking fine real ale!  And with this my focus is turning to marine entrepreneurship (what else?!) and how to get support and new financing to fantastic marine conservation organisations such as Blue Ventures.

To this end I’m diving in, literally, and helping them raise finance and develop a number of their existing mariculture initiatives.  And I’m planning to head out there for much of the rest of the winter, coming back with a head, and a belly, full of fish and fishy ideas to finance and support marine conservation activities in developing countries…

The following gives an overview of what it is I’m hoping I can develop – essentially to create a new asset class: marine entrepreneurship!  Thanks and kudos to Al Harris, founder of Blue Ventures, who allowed me to blatantly plagiarise and adapt some of the words below.

Marine conservation – what’s the problem?

Over-exploitation, combined with the effects of climate change and sedimentation from deforestation, is degrading coastal ecosystems throughout the tropics. Reefs are no longer able to deliver the same ecosystem benefits per capita, forcing fishers into more and more intensive, destructive extraction in an effort to maintain the flow of benefits.

This increased fishing pressure degrades the ecosystem and a self-reinforcing negative feedback is created that pushes communities deeper into poverty. This further erodes the human and natural resources prerequisite to rational resource use. Throughout southwest Madagascar where Blue Ventures works, and indeed many other coastal regions of the world, indigenous coastal communities are caught in this downward spiral of destructive behaviour.

Until now the preservation of marine ecosystems has focussed on the prohibition of activity through the creation of ‘fortress conversation’ strategies.  These solutions imposed from on high on indigenous communities often involve the complete, or near complete, cessation of marine activity essential to the cultural identity, subsistence activity and income generation of many thousands of coastal communities.  These communities face an impossible choice: – comply with these dictats and lose their main source of subsistence livelihood, income and cultural identify or disregard them and continue to fish for individual gain while the marine ecosystem, often their sole resource, collapses.

So, what’s the solution?

Ashoka Fellow Al Harris established Blue Ventures to provide an alternative.  Started in 2004, to date Blue Ventures has used eco-tourists to gather marine data which is then “animated” into the local community so they understand the complexity and challenges of managing a marine environment, where previously they had no understanding.  In more than 75 villages so far this increased awareness of their immediate environment has caused the community to develop, design manage and then police Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which protect the environment at the same time as protecting and improving their subsistence and income generating activity.  Globally these are the very first community led MPA’s in existence.

The challenge now facing Blue Ventures is to develop a way that allows this approach to replicate across the estimated 250,000 coastal communities globally that are facing similar challenges to the communities in Madagascar.  Clearly, deriving project finance from eco-tourism will not provide the income required to develop this solution to the scale of the problem globally.  Working with Al we arrived at an initial estimation of the five-year Net Present Value of his current work (across 25 villages) at around €10 million. Should the economic case be proven for this community led approach to managing marine ecosystems a new paradigm in coastal management will have been borne, one that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of communities and contribute to the preservation and enhancement of ecosystems across the world.

It is with this new approach to the financing of marine conservation in mind that I am diving in to the world of marine entrepreneurship and to a potential winter trip to Madagascar…!



  1. Hello!
    Cor blimey you’ve been a busy boy! WONDERFUL Ben! Blown away…. Madagasar project looks amazing, I had looked at it some months ago for Seb to do between GCSE’s -Alevels as he has his PADI, unfortunately can’t insure to dive below 18… And now hes leaning towards vetinary science & SA
    Anyways, keep on making waves! and climbing mountains!!!!
    C XXX

    Comment by Catherine Wylie — December 18, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

    • thanks catherine, lovely to hear from you. drop me a line with your current email address and we can chat properly.

      lots of love


      Comment by benmetz — December 19, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

  2. You can get hold of me via
    c X

    Comment by Catherine Wylie — December 20, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

  3. […] community based marine entrepreneurship that delivers significant ecosystem benefits, such as the mariculture initiatives of Blue Ventures I blogged about a while back then the jet lag and increased carbon footprint will […]

    Pingback by Marine Conservation and Katoomba « — February 8, 2010 @ 1:16 am

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