Endangered Species Day: Why Good Conservation Work is also Community Work

Throughout 2018 our marine biologists here at Love The Oceans will be doing blog posts on topics of Named Days. To keep up to date, follow this blog, also found under the ‘News’ tab on our website. Without further ado, in celebration of Endangered Species Day 2018, I introduce our eleventh blog in this marine series:

Endangered Species Day: Why Good Conservation Work is also Community Work

Today’s Endangered Species Day is an incredibly important day for us at Love The Oceans. As a marine conservation organisation protection of endangered species is at the very heart of what we do. Therefore it seems like an obvious choice to dedicate today’s blog post to some of the species that Love The Oceans protects:

The coastline of the Inhambane Province is home to some of the most charismatic megafauna species in the world, but unfortunately many of these species are also endangered and will go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done to reverse current trends. Manta rays and whale sharks are perhaps the best examples: Between 2003 and 2011 reef manta ray sightings decreased by 88%, and whale shark sightings decreased by 79% between 2005 and 2011.Recent numbers suggest that the decline now approaches 98% for manta rays and 88% for whale sharks. Reversing this decline is at best a daunting task, because when it comes to conservation, there are no quick fixes.

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Have you been lucky enough to encounter one of these gentle giants? Whale shark sightings in the Inhambane Province decreased by 79% between 2005 and 2011, and sightings are due to become even rarer as whale sharks face extinction. (Photo: Lisbeth Damsgaard Jørgensen)

Generally speaking, there are two approaches to conservation: fortress and community-based conservation. These terms might not ring a bell with you, but we guarantee that you have come across one, if not both, of these types of conservation.

Fortress conservation is the ‘good old-fashioned’ approach that has been practised throughout the world for generations. The core of fortress conservation is that it is believed that a conservation problem is solved by removing the threat by keeping humans out. In other words, you simply build a perimeter to keep people out and enforce it using rangers and/or armed guards – hence the name fortress conservation.

This approach has often proved quite successful by allowing ecosystems to completely regenerate after the human influence has been removed. However, there are also numerous cases of fortress conservation failing, and even the ‘victories’ come at a cost: Fortress conservation displaces communities from areas that are of vital importance to their livelihoods or cultural identity, which means that the conservation effort is often at the expense of local communities. This significantly complicates achieving the goal because the local communities end up counter-acting any conservation initiative through things like poaching.

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Conservation starts with understanding the problem – you can’t fix something unless you understand why it’s broken. Targeted elasmobranch fishing is just one of the many problems that are driving manta rays towards extinction. (Photo: Love The Oceans)

The second approach, community-based conservation, is, as the name suggests, rooted in the local communities with conservation efforts developed with, rather than against, the local communities. This is the approach that Love The Oceans uses. Now you might think: “How can you protect an area or an animal if you have to take the local communities into consideration? Weren’t those the people causing the problem in the first place?” Well, let’s go back to our manta rays and whale sharks to understand how.

The first step to a successful conservation effort is to understand the root of the problem. In our case poverty is driving people to practise unsustainable fishing driving manta ray, whale shark and a multitude of other species towards extinction: The two most commonly used types of fishing gear, gill nets and beach seines, are usually deployed perpendicular to the coastline, effectively placing them in the migratory and feeding corridors utilised by manta rays and whale sharks resulting in high levels of bycatch. Manta rays and sharks are however not only caught by accident; they are also targeted by dedicated elasmobranch fisheries.

Manta ray education
Every good community-based conservation effort relies on education. Love The Oceans is teaching the next generation of fishermen about marine biology and sustainable resource use in the local schools. (Photo: Love The Oceans)

Now that we understand the problem, the next step is to enable and empower our communities to solve their own problems: At Love The Oceans the core of our community-based conservation approach is education. We work with our local fishermen running workshops on sustainable fishing, and we educate the next generation of fishermen by teaching about marine biology and sustainable resource use in the local schools. Equipped with the appropriate knowledge our local communities will be ready for the third step: transitioning towards sustainable fishing, ending elasmobranch fishing and establishing a community-managed Marine Protected Area.Eh, didn’t you just say that closed areas are bad because they are established at the expense of local communities?” Yes, we did, and that leads us to the final step in community-based conservation and Love The Oceans conservation strategy: Developing and implementing alternative livelihoods.

A transition towards sustainable fishing and implementing an MPA will invariably involve restrictions on fishing and less fishing in general. Now, the only way this will be feasible is if there is an alternative income source, which brings us back to where we started – the manta rays and whale sharks: These endangered species are ironically enough the solution to preventing their own extinct. Ecotourism is a major industry currently generating US$10.9 million in direct revenue to dive operators in the Inhambane Province annually and the direct economic impact has an estimated value of US$34.0 million annually. Sustainable ecotourism and other alternative income sources can ensure both sustainable livelihoods for our local communities and the protection of endangered species.

Manta rays, whale sharks and other endangered species might not be saved overnight, but we are on the right track and every little victory counts. Let’s use Endangered Species Day to appreciate the amazing species that we are lucky enough to share our planet with and to remember that the best way to save them is to work together. Happy Endangered Species Day!

Whale Shark - Code of Conduct
Check out our Code of Conduct for whale shark encounters to ensure you are doing your bit to keep ecotourism sustainable.

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