After a challenging year, which has pushed our team and those we serve like never before, I have been so inspired by the commitment of our colleagues to drive forward our community-led conservation mission.
To round off the year, I spoke to just a few colleagues from across the countries where we work to reflect on 2020 and share some much-needed hope for the year ahead. I asked them each three questions:
- Can you tell me about something you have seen or experienced in 2020 that has inspired you in your work?
- This year, the title of our Year in Review is ‘our mission has never mattered more’ – why do you think Blue Ventures’ mission is so important following the events of 2020?
- Looking forward to the year ahead, what are your hopes for community-led marine conservation in 2021?
From Belize to Timor-Leste they came back with tales of challenges and hope…
Operations Manager – Timor-Leste
“This year, I have experienced the most inspirational moment of my journey with Blue Ventures and have witnessed true community led-conservation and decision-making. The community in Beto Tasi decided to establish a homestay model after they learnt about what the community on Atauro have been doing, through the Atauro Homestay Association. Their commitment to developing alternative incomes for themselves and their families is truly inspirational.
During the lockdown, I was also approached by the community in Behau whom we supported to establish a locally managed marine area (LMMA) through the customary law, the so-called ‘hanging law’ or tara bandu. They asked me if they could open the LMMA (which had been closed for almost 2 years) because their income from other sources had dramatically reduced.
I discussed it with our team and with the community, and as a result they decided to open their tara bandu area temporarily which has been extremely valuable in addressing the shortages caused by the pandemic. Our mission is to help and support the most vulnerable coastal communities where we work, and this is just one example of why our agile approach is so important during times of crisis.
In 2021 I hope communities become more active in other approaches to marine conservation, like expanding seagrass monitoring on the mainland of Timor-Leste like we have done on Atauro. I’m also looking forward to seeing Konservasaun Flora & Fauna (KFF), a national NGO here, getting more involved in diving and reef monitoring training, which we will be facilitating. Building more national capacity for protecting the ocean is key.”
Partner Support Technician – Kenya
“Change can be intimidating, but having to heavily rely on remote support in 2020 I have come to appreciate the ability of our partners to adapt. For example, COMRED has incorporated well-being check-ins into their community support, which they do over the phone.
Personally, I am very grateful that community members would regularly call to check in with me, which speaks to the relationship we have with the communities we serve. During the pandemic, Mtengo, the vice chairperson of Mkwiro Beach Management Unit (BMU) asked for our support to supply face masks in his village. The masks were locally made, which in turn provided livelihood support as well as public health support to his community.
COVID-19 has shown the need to build resilience amongst fisher communities, so that they can cope with changing environments and unforeseeable events. Having honest conversations about what a resilient community looks like is a good place to start.
In 2021 our partnership with COMRED is set to expand and together we will be reaching five more communities in Kwale County. We have learnt that governance is the foundation of effective fisheries management, and we are hoping to establish an LMMA and a temporary fishery closure.”
National Technical Advisor for Mangroves – Madagascar
“2020 has been a hard year due to COVID-19, but in Bay of Assassins (southwest Madagascar) community members still took on a new initiative to reinforce the patrols of their mangrove forest to ensure there is no illegal cutting for charcoal. Representatives from all of the villages in the area have volunteered to assist the CSE (local mangrove surveillance team) with mangrove patrols, which will help them to protect these precious ecosystems.
COVID-19 has shown us that small-scale fishers are vulnerable and need support to become self-sufficient, particularly at times of crisis. This situation has really demonstrated the urgency of our mission.
My hopes are that the number of communities we serve across Madagascar will increase and that the existing communities that we partner with will continue to benefit from the fruits of the efforts they have made in preserving their natural resources.”
Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Lead – Indonesia
“We’ve really been through something in 2020. It remains a challenge for us in the way we work with our partners and how we can communicate effectively with them. But in a way, it’s kind of been good, because we have had to think about how to solve the problem.
One of the most inspiring things is seeing the independence of our partners. Because of the travel restrictions, we are assisting them remotely, but we can still see the progress they are making – the quality of the work being delivered is still the same. For example, Yapeka have worked with the community in Gangga Satu, North Sulawesi, to establish their first temporary octopus closure.
The fishers we support are very dependent on the seafood market. When the pandemic happened, a lot of the market closed and exports reduced, which is affecting small-scale fishers here in Indonesia. They need to be able to earn a stable income and it’s our mission to support them. This year has made our team realise that it’s really important for us to support fishers to stabilise the price of fish. 2020 has actually been a lesson for us – although we support communities in managing their natural resources, looking ahead, we now know that we need to explore post-harvesting so that fishers can make sure their catch is good quality and sells for a good price, even in times of trouble.
We have used 2020 as a year of reflection and now we know that we have a lot of things to work on in 2021 – it’s still a learning process for us. We want to work closely with our partners to support them to help communities to assert their rights over their fisheries, for example, establishing LMMAs that are approved by Indonesian law. I’m looking forward to using our time more effectively and having more time to have deep discussions with our partners, even though we are not always there with them.”
Operations Officer – Belize
“This was a really difficult year for all the staff members but Blue Ventures has always looked after us and that makes me really appreciate my work, and appreciate the opportunity that I have here. Blue Ventures cares.
I’ve been involved in different discussions with my team about how to fit communities’ needs into the strategies that are being developed, despite the challenges of COVID-19. At Blue Ventures, it’s always communities first. Their needs are seen, heard, and evaluated, and then from that, decisions are made. That has always mattered, but matters even more this year.
One of the things that I hope for 2021, particularly in Belize, is that we can support communities to manage their protected areas independently. Fishers’ voices are not really heard here in Belize – all the concerns that the fishers have and the problems they are facing are not really voiced at a national level. Decision making is top-down and doesn’t always consider the needs of small-scale fishers. If Blue Ventures could serve as a bridge between fishers and the government, then that would be perfect. That would make me really, really happy.”
For our teams, 2020 has been an opportunity to redouble our efforts with our partners and the communities we serve to bolster grassroots resilience and prepare coastal people for an uncertain future.
Although we know that there are undoubtedly going to be challenges ahead, we are looking forward to coming together in 2021 to make concrete change; the year marks the start of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, as well as the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).
The world’s network of ocean and climate activists is growing, increasingly involving the communities who are most impacted by the emergency. We hope that 2021 will be our opportunity to show the world that locally led efforts to decelerate ecosystems breakdown are the most sustainable way to protect people and nature.