What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
Blue Ventures' work in Vezo communities has given our team firsthand experience of the marine biodiversity crisis facing the region. Over-exploitation of marine resources combined with the effects of climate change, pollution and sedimentation from up-stream deforestation, are all responsible for degradation of the region's unique coral reef ecosystems, upon which the livelihoods and cultures of the Vezo communities depend. The region's marine environment, which comprises one of the largest coral reef systems in the Indian Ocean, is no longer able to deliver the same ecosystem benefits per capita, and this environmental decline is forcing villagers into more intensive, destructive extraction in an effort to maintain the flow of benefits. The increasing fishing pressure further degrades the ecosystem, in a self-reinforcing negative feedback, that pushes the resource-dependent people deeper into poverty. Sea cucumber farming presents one of the few viable alternative livelihood opportunities in the region. Trials conducted by Blue Ventures over recent years have demonstrated that this initiative has enormous potential to reduce poverty by enabling people to earn cash through diversifying and improving livelihoods and by integrating local production equitably into export markets. In doing so this initiative can work to protect the ecosystems, fisheries and cultural traditions that underpin local livelihoods and Vezo identity.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
Alasdair Harris, the founder of Blue Ventures and an Ashoka Fellow, has initiated the development of marine protected areas, sustainable fishing and alternative livelihood programmes in southwest Madagascar. In 2007 Georgi Robinson came to BV as the Aquaculture Coordinator and now lives and works alongside indigenous Vezo fishing communities. Her expertise in fisheries aquaculture was necessary to drive the project forward, As an aquaculture manager in Scotland she created a business plan for a salmon farm to diversify into integrated aquaculture. After raising finance she developed technology and husbandry protocols for cultivation of seaweed and sea urchins on a commercial scale and introduced cultivation trials. Prior to this, she was Assistant Project Manager at the Kaledupa Fisheries Project in SE Sulawesi, Indonesia. Here she was responsible for the development of a framework for fisheries co-management with a local NGO within four villages. This involved developing fisheries and socioeconomic monitoring programmes, training local fishers and NGO staff, holding focus groups, developing agreements between villages and managing budgets. Georgi's work has demonstrated that sea cucumber farming provides a practicable and replicable alternative livelihood for coastal people and thereby has the potential to contribute positively to the impact and effectiveness of marine conservation and coastal poverty alleviation actions throughout the broader Indian Ocean.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Our organization participated in the 2008 Changemakers Geotourism Challenge.