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How a handful of fishing villages sparked a marine conservation revolution

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    I'm a marine biologist
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    here to talk to you about
    the crisis in our oceans,
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    but this time perhaps not
    with a message you've heard before,
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    because I want to tell you
    that if the survival of the oceans
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    depended only on people like me,
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    scientists trading in publications,
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    we'd be in even worse trouble than we are.
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    Because, as a scientist,
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    the most important things
    that I've learned
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    about keeping our oceans
    healthy and productive
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    have come not from academia
    but from fishermen and women
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    living in some of the poorest
    countries on Earth.
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    I've learned that as a conservationist,
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    the most important question is not,
    "how do we keep people out?"
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    but rather, "how do we make sure
    that coastal people throughout the world
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    have enough to eat?"
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    Our oceans are every bit as critical
    to our own survival
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    as our atmosphere,
    our forests or our soils.
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    Their staggering productivity
    ranks fisheries with farming
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    as a mainstay of food production
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    for humanity.
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    Yet, something's gone badly wrong.
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    We're accelerating
    into an extinction emergency,
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    one that my field has so far
    failed abysmally to tackle.
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    At its core is a very human
    and humanitarian crisis.
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    The most devastating blow
    we've so far dealt our oceans
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    is through overfishing.
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    Every year, we fish harder,
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    deeper, further afield.
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    Every year, we chase ever fewer fish.
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    Yet, the crisis of overfishing
    is a great paradox:
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    unnecessary, avoidable,
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    and entirely reversible,
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    because fisheries are one of the most
    productive resources on the planet.
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    With the right strategies,
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    we can reverse overfishing.
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    That we've not yet done so is, to my mind,
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    one of humanity's greatest failures.
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    Nowhere is this failure more apparent
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    than in the warm waters
    on either side of our equator.
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    Our tropics are home to most
    of the species in our ocean,
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    most of the people whose existence
    depends on our seas.
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    We call these coastal fishermen and women
    "small-scale fishers,"
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    but small-scale is a misnomer
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    for a fleet comprising over 90 percent
    of the world's fishermen and women.
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    Their fishing is generally
    more selective and sustainable
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    than the indiscriminate destruction
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    too often wrought
    by bigger industrial boats.
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    These coastal people have the most
    to gain from conservation,
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    because for many of them,
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    fishing is all that keeps them
    from poverty, hunger or forced migration
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    in countries where the state
    is often unable to help.
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    We know that the outlook is grim:
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    stocks collapsing
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    on the front lines of climate change,
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    warming seas, dying reefs,
    catastrophic storms,
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    trawlers, factory fleets,
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    rapacious ships from richer countries
    taking more than their share.
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    Extreme vulnerability is the new normal.
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    I first landed on the island
    of Madagascar two decades ago
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    on a mission to document
    its marine natural history.
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    I was mesmerized
    by the coral reefs I explored,
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    and certain I knew how to protect them,
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    because science provided all the answers:
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    close areas of the reef permanently.
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    Coastal fishers
    simply needed to fish less.
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    I approached elders here
    in the village of Andavadoaka
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    and recommended that they close off
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    the healthiest and most diverse
    coral reefs to all forms of fishing
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    to form a refuge to help stocks recover,
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    because, as the science tells us,
    after five or so years,
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    fish populations inside those refuges
    would be much bigger,
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    replenishing the fished areas outside,
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    making everybody better off.
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    That conversation didn't go so well.
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    Three quarters of Madagascar's
    27 million people
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    live on less than two dollars a day.
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    My earnest appeal to fish less
    took no account
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    of what that might actually mean
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    for people who depend
    on fishing for survival.
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    It was just another squeeze from outside,
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    a restriction rather than a solution.
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    What does protecting a long list
    of Latin species names mean to ??,
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    a woman from Andavadoaka
    who fishes every day
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    to put food on the table
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    and send her grandchildren to school?
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    That initial rejection taught me
    that conservation is, at its core,
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    a journey in listening deeply
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    to understand the pressures
    and realities that communities face
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    through their dependence on nature.
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    This idea became the founding
    principle for my work
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    and grew into an organization
    that brought a new approach
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    to ocean conservation
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    by working to rebuild fisheries
    with coastal communities.
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    Then, as now, the work
    started by listening,
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    and what we learned astonished us.
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    Back in the dry south of Madagascar,
    we learned that one species
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    was immensely important for villagers:
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    this remarkable octopus.
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    We learned that soaring demand
    was depleting an economic lifeline.
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    But, we also learned that this animal
    grows astonishingly fast,
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    doubling in weight
    every one or two months.
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    We reasoned that protecting
    just a small area of fishing ground
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    for just a few months
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    might lead to dramatic
    increases in catches,
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    enough to make a difference
    to this community's bottom line
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    in a time frame that might
    just be acceptable.
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    The community thought so too,
    opting to close a small area of reef
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    to octopus fishing temporarily
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    using a customary social code,
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    invoking blessings from the ancestors
    to prevent poaching.
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    When that reef reopened
    to fishing six months later,
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    none of us were prepared
    for what happened next.
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    Catches soared,
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    with men and women landing
    more and bigger octopus
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    than anyone had seen for years.
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    Neighboring villages saw the fishing boom
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    and drew up their own closures,
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    spreading the model virally
    along hundreds of miles of coastline.
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    When we ran the numbers,
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    we saw that these communities,
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    among the poorest on Earth,
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    had found a way to double their money
    in a matter of months by fishing less.
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    Imagine a savings account
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    from which you withdraw
    half your balance every year
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    and your savings keep growing.
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    There is no investment
    opportunity on Earth
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    that can reliably deliver
    what fisheries can.
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    But the real magic went beyond profit,
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    because a far deeper transformation
    was happening in these communities.
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    Spurred on by rising catches,
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    leaders from Andavadoaka joined force
    with two dozen neighboring communities
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    to establish a vast conservation area
    along dozens of miles of coastline.
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    They outlawed fishing with poison
    and mosquito nets
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    and set aside permanent refuges
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    around threatened
    coral reefs and mangroves,
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    including, to my astonishment,
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    those same sights that I'd flagged
    just two years earlier
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    when my evangelism for marine protection
    was so roundly rejected.
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    They created a community-led
    protected area,
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    a democratic system
    for local marine governance
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    that was totally unimaginable
    just a few years earlier.
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    And they didn't stop there:
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    within five years, they'd secured
    legal rights from the state
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    to manage over 200 square miles of ocean,
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    eliminating destructive
    industrial trawlers from the waters.
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    Ten years on, we're seeing
    recovery of those critical reefs
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    within those refuges.
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    Communities are petitioning
    for greater recognition
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    of the right to fish
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    and fairer prices
    that reward sustainability.
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    But all that is just
    the beginning of the story,
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    because this handful
    of fishing villages taking action
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    has sparked a marine
    conservation revolution
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    that has spread over thousands of miles,
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    impacting hundreds of thousands of people.
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    Today in Madagascar, hundreds of sites
    are managed by communities
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    applying this human rights-based
    approach to conservation
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    to all kinds of fisheries
    from mud crabs to mackerel.
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    The model has crossed borders
    through East Africa and the Indian Ocean
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    and is now island-hopping
    into Southeast Asia.
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    From Tanzania to Timor-Leste,
    from India to Indonesia,
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    we're seeing the same story unfold,
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    that when we design it right,
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    marine conservation reaps dividends
    that go far beyond protecting nature,
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    improving catches
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    and driving waves of social change
    along entire coastlines,
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    strengthening confidence, cooperation,
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    and the resilience of communities
    to face the injustice of poverty
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    and climate change.
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    I've been privileged to spend my career
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    catalyzing and connecting these movements
    throughout the tropics,
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    and I've learned that as conservationists,
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    our goal must be to win at scale,
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    not just to lose more slowly.
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    We need to step up
    to this global opportunity
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    to rebuild fisheries:
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    with field workers to stand
    with communities
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    and connect them to support them
    to act and learn from one another;
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    with governments and lawyers
    standing with communities
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    to secure their rights
    to manage their fisheries;
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    prioritizing local food and job security
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    above all competing interests
    in the ocean economy;
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    ending subsidies for grotesquely
    overcapitalized industrial fleets
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    and keeping those industrial
    and foreign vessels
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    out of coastal waters.
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    We need agile data systems
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    that put science
    in the hands of communities
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    to optimize conservation
    to the target species or habitat.
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    We need development agencies,
    donors, and the conservation establishment
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    to raise their ambition
    to the scale of investment
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    urgently required to deliver this vision.
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    And to get there,
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    we all need to reimagine
    marine conservation
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    as a narrative of abundance
    and empowerment,
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    not of austerity and alienation,
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    a movement guided by the people who depend
    on healthy seas for their survival,
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    not by abstract scientific values.
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    Of course, fixing overfishing
    is just one step to fixing our oceans.
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    The horrors of warming,
    acidification and pollution grow each day.
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    But, it's a big step.
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    It's one we can take today,
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    and it's one that will give
    a much-needed boost
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    to those exploring scalable solutions to
    other dimensions of our ocean emergency.
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    Our success propels theirs.
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    If we throw up our hands in despair,
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    it's game over.
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    We solve these challenges
    by taking them on one by one.
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    Our overwhelming dependence
    on our ocean is the solution
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    that has been hiding in plain sight,
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    because there's nothing small
    about small-scale fishers.
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    They're a hundred million strong
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    and provide nutrition to billions.
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    It's this army of everyday
    conservationists
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    who have the most at stake.
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    Only they have the knowledge
    and global reach needed
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    to reshape our relationship
    with our oceans.
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    Helping them achieve this
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    is the most powerful thing we can do
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    to keep our oceans alive.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
How a handful of fishing villages sparked a marine conservation revolution
Speaker:
Alasdair Harris
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
11:49

English subtitles

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