Blue Ventures, a UK-based conservation organisation that works in Belize, Madagascar and Malaysia, took first place in the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, an international competition that rewards innovative sustainability projects, in New York, United States, last month (10 June).
The charity focuses on developing evidence-based, integrated ways to reduce the impact of fisheries on marine habitats, while accepting that local communities rely on fishing for their income.
"We're not just looking at stock management or fishery restrictions, we also look at how we can support alternative livelihoods that take the pressure off some stock," Kathleen Edie, expeditions and finance manager at Blue Ventures, told SciDev.Net.
One pilot project that Blue Ventures has helped to set up and run, for example, is a community-based network of cucumber and seaweed farms in Madagascar. Over the next three years, the project will be scaled up and full management passed to locals, taking the pressure off natural resources while letting villagers retain control over their finances.
The charity has also recommended the seasonal closure of octopus fisheries in particularly vulnerable areas, and has helped to set up alternative businesses, based on crafts and catering, with local women's organisations.
Blue Ventures is now starting to replicate successful Madagascan projects in Belize, while in Malaysia it focuses on working with universities to rehabilitate areas affected by dive tourism and invasive species.
"These management techniques absolutely have to be based on good science," said Edie. The charity funds research into the health of marine habitats and the effects of its techniques, with around half the funding coming from volunteers who join researchers on location.
Tony Charles, a fisheries analyst at Saint Mary's University, in Canada, said that government commitment to such community-based projects is vital. "Often the problem is with governments that do not give the communities the space they need to take control of their local resources," he said.
Thomas Binet from the Centre for the Economics and Management of Aquatic Resources at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, said that too few conservation projects incorporate local populations into the design of marine protected areas, focusing instead on emblematic species such as turtles.
"This does not help the social acceptability [to the community] of protection schemes," Binet said.
Blue Ventures is now working on 'blue carbon' projects that use coastal vegetation to sequester carbon dioxide.