Inspiring a Sustainable Life for Indigenous Coastal Communities
"Really, conservation is how you work with people," Pablo Granados, PhD., states, taking a sip from a perspiring bottle of Coke in an attempt to escape the tropic heat. As the Latin America Marine Program Director for Rare, he is well-used to working in the sultry heat, but this time we're bunkered up in a screened-in porch, away from the ocean breeze and turquoise waters. "I've always characterized Rare by how it involves people."
We sip our drinks in the shade, watching lizards meander up the nearby trees, and talk about the path that led Pablo to Belize and to Rare. He explains he always aspired to work in Belize for the simple fact the area is a veritable ground zero for marine conservation work. Here, there is palpable pride in the resource. From local fishermen to generational fly-fishing guides to Maria, the loquacious grandmother who operates the fruit stand down the road, one thing—one idea—unites the people. They are proud of where they live, proud of the nature's bounty that sustains them. And along the Belize coastline, the vast majority of that bounty comes from the sea.
But even nature has her limits. Pablo eagerly pulls a nautical chart from the wall and hauls it over. Pointing out the coral reef lying along Belize's coast—the world's second largest after Australia's Great Barrier Reef—he reminds me it isn't an endless supplier of aquatic species. The local, small-scale fisheries have been poorly managed and overfished. The local conch and lobster catch has decreased by nearly half in the past four decades. Much of the local populous relies on the fisheries for sustenance and business alike, and something has to change.
Rare, teamed with the Environmental Defense Fund and the University of California, Santa Barbara have identified a solution that will empower thousands of the world’s coastal communities to sustainably manage their own fisheries while increasing food security, safeguarding local jobs, and conserving important marine habitats and species. This ambitious global initiative is called Fish Forever.
"We are hoping to get all the fishers from the community to understand the benefits of the managed access program to continue fishing for today, tomorrow, and forever," shares Carlo Patt, a Belizean fisher.
With a team of four well-qualified locals—called managed access coordinators—who work to spread change and educate their own towns and villages, Pablo works to help resident fishers understand the correct management of their fisheries will ensure a sustainable, bountiful harvest for their children, the fishers of the future. As of late 2014, the managed access coordinators had reached out to over 3,000 community fishers. It's a seemingly minute drop in the proverbial large bucket, but the results of the education are irrefutable. Fishing quality is up, fishers are happy, and the resource is protected.
"I really like what is happening. You know… I don't like to be told what to do, but if, like today, you come with me and take my opinion, then we can work together. It is the first time we are being listened to," one fisher says, cheerily munching a handful of fried plantains.
Rare works by identifying the bright spots, by finding initiatives that work well and influence change. It's a proven method that is shifting and even breaking paradigms in Belize."I always wanted to work with people but never thought I'd do it this way," Pablo notes with a wry grin, before striding off amidst the palm trees, heading to the airport to catch the puddle-jumper off Ambergris Caye and then on to Mexico. "We know how tough it is to change a single perspective, but imagine changing an entire country—that is Rare."
The Orvis Company is partnering with its customers to help Rare in its efforts to create sustainable change in fishing practices in coastal communities in Belize as part of a global "Fish Forever" initiative. Orvis will match every donation dollar for dollar up to $30,000 for a total contribution of $60,000.
To help, send your check to:
Rare, c/o The Orvis Company
178 Conservation Way
Sunderland, VT 05250, or donate online.
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