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← How a handful of fishing villages sparked a marine conservation revolution

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Showing Revision 9 created 10/25/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. I'm a marine biologist
  2. here to talk to you
    about the crisis in our oceans,
  3. but this time perhaps not
    with a message you've heard before,
  4. because I want to tell you
    that if the survival of the oceans
  5. depended only on people like me,
  6. scientists trading in publications,
  7. we'd be in even worse trouble than we are.
  8. Because, as a scientist,
  9. the most important things
    that I've learned
  10. about keeping our oceans
    healthy and productive
  11. have come not from academia,
    but from fishermen and women
  12. living in some of the poorest
    countries on earth.
  13. I've learned that as a conservationist,
  14. the most important question is not,
    "How do we keep people out?"
  15. but rather, "How do we make sure
    that coastal people throughout the world
  16. have enough to eat?"
  17. Our oceans are every bit as critical
    to our own survival
  18. as our atmosphere,
    our forests or our soils.
  19. Their staggering productivity
    ranks fisheries with farming
  20. as a mainstay of food production
  21. for humanity.
  22. Yet something's gone badly wrong.

  23. We're accelerating
    into an extinction emergency,
  24. one that my field has so far
    failed abysmally to tackle.
  25. At its core is a very human
    and humanitarian crisis.
  26. The most devastating blow
    we've so far dealt our oceans

  27. is through overfishing.
  28. Every year, we fish harder,
    deeper, further afield.
  29. Every year, we chase ever fewer fish.
  30. Yet the crisis of overfishing
    is a great paradox:
  31. unnecessary, avoidable
    and entirely reversible,
  32. because fisheries are one of the most
    productive resources on the planet.
  33. With the right strategies,
    we can reverse overfishing.
  34. That we've not yet done so is, to my mind,
  35. one of humanity's greatest failures.
  36. Nowhere is this failure more apparent

  37. than in the warm waters
    on either side of our equator.
  38. Our tropics are home to most
    of the species in our ocean,
  39. most of the people whose existence
    depends on our seas.
  40. We call these coastal fishermen and women
    "small-scale fishers,"
  41. but "small-scale" is a misnomer
  42. for a fleet comprising over 90 percent
    of the world's fishermen and women.
  43. Their fishing is generally
    more selective and sustainable
  44. than the indiscriminate destruction
  45. too often wrought
    by bigger industrial boats.
  46. These coastal people have the most
    to gain from conservation
  47. because, for many of them,
  48. fishing is all that keeps them
    from poverty, hunger or forced migration,
  49. in countries where the state
    is often unable to help.
  50. We know that the outlook is grim:
  51. stocks collapsing
    on the front lines of climate change,
  52. warming seas, dying reefs,
    catastrophic storms,
  53. trawlers, factory fleets,
  54. rapacious ships from richer countries
    taking more than their share.
  55. Extreme vulnerability is the new normal.
  56. I first landed on the island
    of Madagascar two decades ago,

  57. on a mission to document
    its marine natural history.
  58. I was mesmerized
    by the coral reefs I explored,
  59. and certain I knew how to protect them,
  60. because science provided all the answers:
  61. close areas of the reef permanently.
  62. Coastal fishers
    simply needed to fish less.
  63. I approached elders here
    in the village of Andavadoaka
  64. and recommended that they close off
  65. the healthiest and most diverse
    coral reefs to all forms of fishing
  66. to form a refuge to help stocks recover
  67. because, as the science tells us,
    after five or so years,
  68. fish populations inside those refuges
    would be much bigger,
  69. replenishing the fished areas outside,
  70. making everybody better off.
  71. That conversation didn't go so well.

  72. (Laughter)

  73. Three-quarters of Madagascar's
    27 million people

  74. live on less than two dollars a day.
  75. My earnest appeal to fish less
    took no account
  76. of what that might actually mean
  77. for people who depend
    on fishing for survival.
  78. It was just another squeeze from outside,
  79. a restriction rather than a solution.
  80. What does protecting a long list
    of Latin species names mean to Resaxx,
  81. a woman from Andavadoaka
    who fishes every day
  82. to put food on the table
  83. and send her grandchildren to school?
  84. That initial rejection taught me
    that conservation is, at its core,
  85. a journey in listening deeply,
  86. to understand the pressures
    and realities that communities face
  87. through their dependence on nature.
  88. This idea became
    the founding principle for my work
  89. and grew into an organization
    that brought a new approach
  90. to ocean conservation
  91. by working to rebuild fisheries
    with coastal communities.
  92. Then, as now, the work
    started by listening,
  93. and what we learned astonished us.
  94. Back in the dry south of Madagascar,

  95. we learned that one species
    was immensely important for villagers:
  96. this remarkable octopus.
  97. We learned that soaring demand
    was depleting an economic lifeline.
  98. But we also learned that this animal
    grows astonishingly fast,
  99. doubling in weight
    every one or two months.
  100. We reasoned that protecting
    just a small area of fishing ground
  101. for just a few months
  102. might lead to dramatic
    increases in catches,
  103. enough to make a difference
    to this community's bottom line
  104. in a time frame that might
    just be acceptable.
  105. The community thought so too,
  106. opting to close a small area of reef
    to octopus fishing temporarily,
  107. using a customary social code,
  108. invoking blessings from the ancestors
    to prevent poaching.
  109. When that reef reopened
    to fishing six months later,
  110. none of us were prepared
    for what happened next.
  111. Catches soared,
  112. with men and women landing
    more and bigger octopus
  113. than anyone had seen for years.
  114. Neighboring villages saw the fishing boom
  115. and drew up their own closures,
  116. spreading the model virally
    along hundreds of miles of coastline.
  117. When we ran the numbers,
  118. we saw that these communities,
    among the poorest on earth,
  119. had found a way to double their money
    in a matter of months, by fishing less.
  120. Imagine a savings account
  121. from which you withdraw
    half your balance every year
  122. and your savings keep growing.
  123. There is no investment
    opportunity on earth
  124. that can reliably deliver
    what fisheries can.
  125. But the real magic went beyond profit,

  126. because a far deeper transformation
    was happening in these communities.
  127. Spurred on by rising catches,
  128. leaders from Andavadoaka joined force
    with two dozen neighboring communities
  129. to establish a vast conservation area
    along dozens of miles of coastline.
  130. They outlawed fishing with poison
    and mosquito nets
  131. and set aside permanent refuges
  132. around threatened
    coral reefs and mangroves,
  133. including, to my astonishment,
  134. those same sights that I'd flagged
    just two years earlier
  135. when my evangelism for marine protection
    was so roundly rejected.
  136. They created a community-led
    protected area,
  137. a democratic system
    for local marine governance
  138. that was totally unimaginable
    just a few years earlier.
  139. And they didn't stop there:

  140. within five years, they'd secured
    legal rights from the state
  141. to manage over 200 square miles of ocean,
  142. eliminating destructive
    industrial trawlers from the waters.
  143. Ten years on, we're seeing
    recovery of those critical reefs
  144. within those refuges.
  145. Communities are petitioning
    for greater recognition
  146. of the right to fish
  147. and fairer prices
    that reward sustainability.
  148. But all that is just
    the beginning of the story,

  149. because this handful
    of fishing villages taking action
  150. has sparked a marine
    conservation revolution
  151. that has spread over thousands of miles,
  152. impacting hundreds of thousands of people.
  153. Today in Madagascar, hundreds of sites
    are managed by communities
  154. applying this human rights-based
    approach to conservation
  155. to all kinds of fisheries,
    from mud crabs to mackerel.
  156. The model has crossed borders
    through East Africa and the Indian Ocean
  157. and is now island-hopping
    into Southeast Asia.
  158. From Tanzania to Timor-Leste,
    from India to Indonesia,
  159. we're seeing the same story unfold:
  160. that when we design it right,
  161. marine conservation reaps dividends
    that go far beyond protecting nature,
  162. improving catches
  163. and driving waves of social change
    along entire coastlines,
  164. strengthening confidence, cooperation
  165. and the resilience of communities
    to face the injustice of poverty
  166. and climate change.
  167. I've been privileged to spend my career

  168. catalyzing and connecting these movements
    throughout the tropics,
  169. and I've learned that as conservationists,
  170. our goal must be to win at scale,
  171. not just to lose more slowly.
  172. We need to step up
    to this global opportunity
  173. to rebuild fisheries:
  174. with field workers to stand
    with communities
  175. and connect them, to support them
    to act and learn from one another;
  176. with governments and lawyers
    standing with communities
  177. to secure their rights
    to manage their fisheries;
  178. prioritizing local food and job security
  179. above all competing interests
    in the ocean economy;
  180. ending subsidies for grotesquely
    overcapitalized industrial fleets
  181. and keeping those industrial
    and foreign vessels
  182. out of coastal waters.
  183. We need agile data systems
  184. that put science
    in the hands of communities
  185. to optimize conservation
    to the target species or habitat.
  186. We need development agencies,
    donors and the conservation establishment
  187. to raise their ambition
    to the scale of investment
  188. urgently required to deliver this vision.
  189. And to get there,
  190. we all need to reimagine
    marine conservation
  191. as a narrative of abundance
    and empowerment,
  192. not of austerity and alienation;
  193. a movement guided by the people who depend
    on healthy seas for their survival,
  194. not by abstract scientific values.
  195. Of course, fixing overfishing
    is just one step to fixing our oceans.

  196. The horrors of warming,
    acidification and pollution grow each day.
  197. But it's a big step.
  198. It's one we can take today,
  199. and it's one that will give
    a much-needed boost
  200. to those exploring scalable solutions
  201. to other dimensions
    of our ocean emergency.
  202. Our success propels theirs.
  203. If we throw up our hands in despair,
  204. it's game over.
  205. We solve these challenges
    by taking them on one by one.
  206. Our overwhelming dependence
    on our ocean is the solution

  207. that has been hiding in plain sight,
  208. because there's nothing small
    about small-scale fishers.
  209. They're a hundred million strong
    and provide nutrition to billions.
  210. It's this army of everyday
    conservationists
  211. who have the most at stake.
  212. Only they have the knowledge
    and global reach needed
  213. to reshape our relationship
    with our oceans.
  214. Helping them achieve this
    is the most powerful thing we can do

  215. to keep our oceans alive.
  216. Thank you.

  217. (Applause)