The Tricky Tie Between Economics and Marine Conservation - Dr. Greg Stone Explains (Interview)

fishing boat photo

Photo by AnnieGreenSprings via Flickr Creative Commons

Dr. Gregory Stone, Senior Vice President and Chief Ocean Scientist for Conservation
International, gave an inspiring TED talk during the Mission Blue Voyage called "Saving The Ocean, One Island at a Time" during which he explained how a new strategy for protecting Kiribati's waters could be scaled to fit many other areas of the ocean. Dr. Stone was generous enough to take time during his very busy traveling schedule to answer a few quick questions we had for him, including why profits are so important to marine preservation, strategies for local communities trying to be proactive with conservation, and how we might need to change our economies to fit the needs of the ocean. Read on for the short interview.

greg stone diving photo

Conservation International's Chief Ocean Scientist, Dr. Gregory Stone, in the Galapagos Islands; Photo credit Brian Skerry
Factoring in an income for local communities is part of your conservation strategy in building marine preserves. Why is making a preserve profitable such an important part of making it successful.
Part of Conservation International's (CI) work builds upon a strong foundation of science,
partnership and field demonstration. We empower societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature and our global biodiversity, for the well-being of people. That last part is key. We humans need healthy ocean ecosystems and abundant natural resources to thrive.

The issue of profitability is less critical than the understanding and belief that sustainably
managing nature actually improves lives by providing new, diversified or more stable income opportunities. For example, if there are abundant fish and healthy coral reefs, eco-tourism and small-scale fisheries that depend on these resources are more likely to grow and succeed. If people see the livelihood benefits in responsible stewardship of ocean resources, they are more likely to become incentivized to support conservation.

I would also like to stress that marine protection can be achieved through a number of forms such as marine protected areas (MPAs) and marine managed areas (MMAs). MMAs are comprehensive approaches to managing marine resources and aim to systematically juggle the wide-ranging uses of the ocean in a sustainable way and with a long-term focus.

We have found that successful management of marine managed areas involves the participation of a number of stakeholders such as government agencies, local communities, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations like CI. In doing this, we have seen how important it is to identify the social, cultural, and economic objectives of local communities or local areas, because they are now playing a much more important role in this process.

snorkler near reef photo

Photo by Christian Steen via Flickr Creative Commons
What are some of the strategies a community can employ for making a marine preserve part of their economic well-being, such as tourism or access for research?
Marine resources can be managed in a number of ways and have different structures depending upon what is agreed among all the parties concerned. In MPA's and MMA's these include multiple-use zones, no-take zones (i.e. no extraction of fish and other marine animals in this area), and buffer zones. Fishery management incorporates a wide variety of techniques to control the harvest of wild fish and the growth of aquaculture as an economically viable source of protein will decrease the commercial fishery pressure on wild catch. However, it must be conducted in an environmentally and sustainable way in order for it to be a viable alternative.

Some of the economic incentives which can help in protecting an area's natural resources
a. Buyouts - Equipment or resource rights are purchased which relieves pressure on the
marine system while benefitting the community.
b. Conservation Agreements - behavioral change is compensated such as with the Phoenix Islands Protected Area where a reverse-fishing license was put into place whereby the compensation was for the non-extraction of fish.
c. Alternative livelihoods - These can be in the form of eco-tourism, law enforcement jobs,
the issuance of access rights for diving etc.

Kiribati is an example of a success story for using market-based tools to conserve ocean biodiversity. What are other areas that have shown success with these methods?
There are many. In the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, we have worked with partners in
Ecuador, the Galapagos, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama to create opportunities for
incentivizing conservation. In the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea, we work with partners in Indonesia,
Malaysia and the Philippines in managing the biodiversity-rich Verde Island Passage, which is part of the Coral Triangle. In Brazil, our local teams are making terrific progress with local partners, in managing and protecting the Abrolhos Region, the richest South Atlantic marine realm.

These are all examples that come from our "Seascapes model" which is a form of marine
protection that focuses on good governance and affecting ocean health at a much larger scale than say, Marine Protected Areas. They involve a number of partners and through an adoption of this model it can expand the reach of both global ocean conservation and stewardship. Field teams work to encourage agreements between countries, regions, and townships to improve collaborative governance and enforcement.

In reference to Kiribati, at the time we began work there, there were very few marine examples of this type of mechanism and it was only by looking to the land that we learned exactly how they could work to the benefit of the marine environment and local people who rely on them.

Conservation International is involved in on-going research to evaluate the value of ocean areas to the commercial fisher, measured against the value of protected areas to the fishery in the present and near-future. Establishing a sustainable fishery is desirable to all people. Providing the economical analysis puts it into more concrete terms.

sea turtle swimming photo

Photo by Christian Steen via Flickr Creative Commons
Is this the only real way we'll make marine preserves work? Will we be able to save our ocean by changing the way economies rely on it?
Yes, we certainly hope so. Oceans are getting more recognition in their importance to human-kind than ever before but at present 95% of them are unexplored - a sad reality in comparison to what we know about the planet Mars. So while we now know more than ever before, it is, just a drop in the ocean and we have much work to do! It is estimated that the oceans contain $33 trillion in unrealized 'natural capital' for the world - carbon storage, climate change mitigation, storm protection, food and protein production, transportation routes and more. We currently undervalue this natural capital in our national accounting systems.

In order to save the oceans we need to begin to look at the issues in a collective way. In the past marine conservation has been issue driven and hasn't looked at the bigger picture. Now through marine reserves, marine protected areas, seascapes and now oceanscapes we can focus efforts on larger areas of ocean and can work with governments on collectively managing them. As we scale up in size, these areas will provide healthy habitats for diverse and abundant marine life, and also provide homes and income for millions of people.

At the center of this are the economics and business-thinking that can make these models work. In the long term, this is quite possibly the best approach in increasing the amount of marine protection - currently less than 1% - to levels of 10%, 15% or higher, which are much more in line with the increasing demands we are placing on the ocean.

seahorses for sale photo

Photo by Harry Brignull via Flickr Creative Commons
We need to make a network of MPAs across the Pacific, as you note in your TED talk. How long might it take us to get there, and who needs to do what (in a nutshell) to get us there?
As we found in the creation of one of the largest marine protected areas in the world - the
Phoenix Island Protected Area in Kiribati, which is similar in size to the state of California - the devil is in the details. These types of agreement take a long time to put together and must involve all of the various stakeholders who need to be in agreement on how the area is used. The only way we will get there will be to demonstrate as fully as possible that healthy oceans lead to healthy people. In the meantime, we need our government and business leaders to demonstrate the kind of vision, leadership, and compromise that President Anote Tong of Kiribati has shown in recognizing the long term value of healthy oceans and creating this historic protected area. As for how long this will take, it is difficult to know.

Conservation International is already working with 6 different counties in the "Coral Triangle" region which has the world's most diverse coral reefs and over 100 million people depend on the ocean for food and livelihoods. Our work with partners has helped to design and execute a signed agreement to sustain coral reefs, fisheries and food security between these countries.

This concept has now been taken to the Pacific arena as highlighted in my TED talk, and
working closely with Kiribati, the aim is to launch an effort to improve ocean health through
the collaboration of many Pacific Island nation governments to create a "Pacific Oceanscape".

The Pacific Oceanscape is the largest government-endorsed marine managed initiative on
Earth - 38.5 million square kilometers (nearly 24 million square miles) of ocean, larger than
the land territories of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined. The plan to implement it represents one of the boldest agreements for collaborative, integrated and adaptive ocean management yet, and we are excited to support the island nation leaders in moving it forward.

More Interviews From Ocean Experts
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Edith Widder on Mimicking the Glow of Deep Sea Fish to Discover New Species
How Sylvia Earle Dreams Up "Hope Spots" for Marine Life

The Tricky Tie Between Economics and Marine Conservation - Dr. Greg Stone Explains (Interview)
Dr. Gregory Stone, Senior Vice President and Chief Ocean Scientist for Conservation International, gave an inspiring TED talk during the Mission Blue Voyage called "Saving The Ocean, One Island at

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