Posted by: Chris Gorell Barnes, Co-Founder, Blue Marine Foundation
A central theme of the 2011 SLOW LIFE Symposium is the protection of our threatened oceans.
Visitors from across the world travel to island resorts such as the Maldives to explore the treasure troves of exquisite marine life. Snorkelling above a pristine reef or scuba diving with manta rays is a one of life’s most breath-taking experiences. For small island nations, preserving the coral reef is essential to maintaining the country’s appeal as a holiday destination.
Even more importantly, the oceans are vast sources of sustenance and livelihoods. Whether dining in a world class restaurant, or cooking over a make-shift stove in a remote fishing community, fish is a major contributor of protein in diets around the world.
Yet despite our dependence on the oceans, human interference in its many forms is leading to multiple threats. Without protection, our oceans face a bleak future. Increasing greenhouse gas emissions are warming and acidifying the waters, threatening to destroy coral reefs – the same pristine coral reefs that support tourism and fishing, the staple industries of many island nations.
Over-fishing and unsustainable methods of fishing are leading to declining stocks, threatening local livelihoods and national economies as well as access to the fresh supplies that many resorts pride themselves on.
The case for large-scale marine protection is strong. Maintaining healthy coral reefs increases coral islands resilience to sea-level rise, allowing reefs the chance to grow at a rate level with the rising seas. For islands such as the Maldives that are literally built upon the reefs themselves, this is vital to the nation’s very survival. Fisheries also benefit from the creation of marine reserves. Reserves promote biodiversity and enhance ecosystem resilience, providing sanctuary for fish to feed, spawn and mature. Successfully managed reserves can support increasing numbers of tourists’ desire for fresh fish and the needs of local fishermen.
Establishing a reserve is only the first step in protecting ocean biodiversity. Effective management of reserves is vital for this to be a meaningful exercise. Often spanning large areas, reserves can only be successful with enforced boundaries, use restrictions, penalties and adequate education to make them viable and accepted components of marine conservation.
The Blue Marine Foundation researches and develops funding structures that will allow for effective, long-term marine conservation that permanently supports and benefits local fishermen and their communities without being an unsustainable burden upon governments. Six Senses has become a founding corporate partner, assisting Blue in our endeavours to work with the Maldivian government to protect Maldivian waters in a way that is compatible with and complementary to the country’s sustainable tuna fisheries.
Despite being a young organisation, Blue has already established itself as a driving force for marine conservation. Our objective is to help increase the area of ocean protected by marine reserves from 1% to 10% over the next ten years. Since the charity’s foundation in 2010 we have doubled the area of ocean under full protection with the creation of the Chagos Marine Reserve, the largest protected area for marine biodiversity in the world. By securing funding for the reserve’s enforcement in a unique deal with the British government and the Bertarelli Foundation, this rare and globally significant marine ecosystem can finally be preserved.
Marine conservation is the biggest solvable environmental challenge that we face. Six Senses has a tradition of going the extra mile when it comes to sustainability. They have, for example, implemented their own ‘catch and release’ programme; they are exploring a partnership with the sustainable Maldivian tuna cannery Felivaru and they invest in community projects such as the Reef Rangers educational programme for local school children. We are excited to partner with Six Senses and look forward to protecting the incredible waters of the Maldives together.