Seacology protects threatened habitats of the world’s islands by working directly with local communities to both conserve their natural resources and improve their quality of life. We offer a unique deal: if a village agrees to create or enforce a forest or marine reserve, Seacology will fund a key community need, such as a school or health clinic. Since 1991 Seacology has launched over 250 projects in 55 nations and has protected more than a million acres of some of the world’s most vulnerable habitats.
2015 is shaping up to be a banner year for Seacology and its island projects. In January we were honored to be made a laureate of the Prince’s Prize for Innovative Philanthropy, a program jointly run by the Tocqueville Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Then in May after three years of preparation, in conjunction with the government of Sri Lanka and our partner NGO in Sri Lanka, Sudeesa, Seacology launched a project to make Sri Lanka the first nation in the world to protect ALL of its mangroves. Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in brackish and saline water along tropical and subtropical shorelines. Mangroves are important for several reasons. They serve as nurseries for many species of fish which go on to populate coral reefs. They serve as a buffer against storm surges, tsunamis and rising sea levels. Perhaps most importantly mangrove forests sequester orders of magnitude more carbon than other types of forests and they do so for much longer periods of time. They thus can ameliorate global warming.
The program will preserve Sri Lanka’s mangroves by using Seacology’s innovative “win-win” approach. Seacology will be providing microloans and job training to 15,000 impoverished individuals through 1,500 community organizations that will be established in every village located near current and former mangrove forests. In return for getting these microloans each of the community organizations will be responsible for ensuring that no mangroves are cut down in its specified area, an average of 21 acres per community. Here is a behind the scenes look at the project launch.
Before arriving in Sri Lanka Anuradha Wickramasinge (Anu), the chairman/founder of Sudeesa, and I flew to London for media interviews. We had six separate interviews with journalists representing highly respected media outlets. This resulted in coverage by the BBC radio by BBC online, The Guardian, the New Scientist and Geographical–the magazine of the Royal Geographic Society. The coverage was very positive, with every article reporting that Sri Lanka has become the first nation in the world to protect all of its mangroves. The coverage by the British press was picked up in many locations around the world including, for example, India the Philippines and Pakistan.
We then flew on to Sri Lanka for the formal announcement. We held a press conference which was well attended by the local media and resulted in several articles and radio and television stories. The next day we had a joint signing ceremony with the Secretary of the Environmental Ministry, Anu on behalf of Sudeesa, and myself on behalf of Seacology. Here is a link to this historic agreement:
While in Sri Lanka, I visited the Sudeesa Mangrove Center. I am pleased to report that the demonstration mangrove nursery which Seacology funded as the first part of this project is doing well. While there I met with the Government Assistant (GA), who represents the federal government’s interests in the local area. This is a very powerful position when it comes to land ownership issues. Fortunately the newly appointed GA is a great friend of mangroves. Many years ago he played an instrumental role in
protecting the surrounding mangrove forests. He indicated that he will do all in his power to assist with our new project.
I also met with several other high-level government officials. This includes the former Environment Minister and the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka, which is a very powerful position without an equivalent in the U.S. I also had a good meeting with the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense. He formerly was the Secretary to the Environment Ministry. He too is very supportive of this project. So much so that he offered the assistance of the Sri Lanka troops in helping with implementation, which is a great swords–to-plowshares story
There are several reasons why media coverage of this story is important. It plays an important role in educating the public about the value of preserving mangroves. It demonstrates to other nations an innovative approach to conserving mangroves. It bolsters the resolve of the Sri Lanka government to protect their mangroves particularly since this is the most positive coverage Sri Lanka has received in
many years. Finally, it helps with our fundraising. To date we have raised approximately half of the US$3.4 million 5 year budget for this program and a big challenge ahead is to raise the balance.
Following are links to a very small sample of the articles that have appeared regarding our mangrove conservation project.
By Duane Silverstein, Executive Director, Seacology