Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shark Conservation - Posters or Condoms?

I’ve been planning to blog about this for a while now.
Thing is, I have been delaying it because despite of now countless conversations with conservationists, I have no answers and the more I think about it, the more I get depressed – but this is eminently important and we all need to give it some heavy thought.
So without further ado – and yes this is gonna be long!

Lemme start with a few examples first.

In New South Wales, a politician is rolling back years of efforts to halt the decline in the number of critically endangered Grey Nurse Sharks. She is the new Fisheries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson, a recreational fisherman who is apparently doing it to keep her pre-election promise to the Fishers and Shooters Party. This is happening in the face of clear evidence that any fishing will harm the sharks even when they are not being targeted but also, in the face of the fact that like other Grey Nurse aggregation sites, South West Rocks is not only a critical habitat but also, a Shark diving hot spot supporting a thriving eco-tourism industry of dive ops and ancillary businesses, and thus contributing substantially to the local economy.
The fishermen couldn’t care less of course – MPAs always harbor more Fishes and despite of the beneficial (incidentally, to them!) spillover effects, they will always try and get their hand directly on the resource, and screw the future and the long term sustainability of their own activity!

The most frustrating aspect?
Here, we got all the elements for successful Shark conservation: irrefutable science, sustainable income from a thriving ecotourism industry and a wealthy country that could afford to put the necessary measures into place. How can we then go to poor countries where people do not fish for fun, but in order to survive, and tell them to protect Sharks if we fail so miserably at home!

Great achievement by the Pew and others in having the islands declared the largest MPA in the Indian Ocean and quite possibly, in the world!
But, Mauritius wants Great Britain to give back the islands and is apparently suing, and the Chagossians want to be allowed to go back, incidentally straight into having to face issues of sea level rise (?).
I believe this to be largely posturing in order to get (even more) compensation – but what will happen to the MPA if they succeed?

Once again, great achievement by the always too modest Pew - and yes, by Dermot, too!
And what about the other ghost writers, supporters, petitioners, congratulators etc? Yes, well, hmmm…. – but I’m digressing as always.
Thing is, apart from the ongoing issue of enforcement, what is going to happen down the line? The accolades will cease, President Toribiong’s term will expire, new people will be voted into parliament. Let’s never forget that Shark protection in Palau came to be at the very last minute, when a proposal to allow Shark fishing was defeated and turned into something positive in 2009 – read these blog posts starting with the last one!
What safeguards are there in Palau to prevent that the decision to establish the sanctuary will not be overturned in the future – and incidentally, that this will not happen to any of the recent Shark sanctuaries the Pew has helped to establish?

The SRMR and our other initiatives are a great conservation success and the direct benefits in terms of cash flow, employment etc to the resource owners but also, the indirect benefits to the country and the community at large will always be much higher than the proceeds from fishing. I thus remain hopeful that this specific venture has all the elements for being long-term sustainable as it will always be in the very interest of everybody involved to keep it alive.
But, there are always obscure village politics at play, and possibly, issues of corruption, and there is thus always the possibility that somebody could be taking irrational decisions one day in the future. And, there is always a risk of a Shark bite and of the ensuing backlash all the way to closing us down and thus destroying the source of the cash flow which is a vital component in this specific venture.

And here are some observations.

The countries where people have a lot of children are the poor countries.
Within the communities, the families with a lot of children are the poor families.
Starting with the US Bible Belt, the ignorants are the top breeders: having a lot of children is not only correlated to, and creates poverty, it is highly correlated to lack of education, lack of empowerment of women and yes, often religious bigotry.
And yet, it appears that no one of those in charge is willing, or capable of addressing the issue - especially in those countries that are most affected! Right now, we are approx 7 billion - and the population keeps increasing, once again especially in those countries that can afford it the least.
Have a good, hard look at this link!

And then, there is this.
Remember the images from China 20 years ago? Everybody was wearing an ugly uniform and everybody was riding a bicycle. Now, there are millions of cars and everybody who can afford it owns and peruses a mountain of stuff – and those who cannot are desperately aspiring to attain that status. And not only in China – everywhere on the planet, every single human being is trying to attain a better life which for the majority of people is expressed in being able to increase their ecological footprint, this in terms of owning more stuff and consuming more resources - but also, with the inevitable consequence that they will be creating more pollution in the process.
In general terms, this is currently being defined as Economic Growth - and even should we be able to once stabilize or even reverse population growth, the trend to increase the individual ecological footprints will very likely remain largely unchanged.
Or are we, the rich, going to try and convince the poor that they should please remain poor for our sake, and that of the environment? Or, will we the rich ever be willing to down-scale our comfort for the sake of the common good?

Total heresy – correct?
Indeed, if I look at what is happening, the big thing nowadays seems to be Poverty Alleviation as defined by the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Yes Goal number 7 mentions the need for ecological sustainability – but how will that ever be achieved if all the other goals aim at improving people’s health and life expectancy, and at having them accumulate more stuff and peruse more resources – all of which inevitably translates into increasing their individual ecological footprints?
The fact is that if everybody had the ecological footprint of a North American, it would consume the resources of not one, but several Planet Earths already!
I’m all for having people attain a better life – but unless somebody starts talking publicly and unequivocally about the problem of population growth and the absolute need not only not to increase, but to drastically shrink those numbers, we are truly and inescapably doomed - and much of this planet along with us!

No I’m not talking about extreme measures à la China.
I’m talking about conducting a robust public conversation aimed at achieving a consensus about the absolute necessity to have fewer babies – and about the absolute necessity to consume fewer resources, and this by everybody everywhere!
Ultimately, this is not a choice – it is the only way forward!

These are the twin 800-Pound conservation Gorillas.
I’ve mentioned them here and added that they are not my fight – but for a while now, I’ve started to wonder.

The fact is that from everything I see, the Conservation movement just doesn’t want to know.
Is it the consequence of the all-pervasive and alas, seemingly inevitable Political Correctness of the big NGOs? Whatever the reasons, the fact is that instead of addressing the causes, we continue to limit our efforts to trying to fight the consequences.

But is this smart and above all, is it long term sustainable?
Right now, we’re the proverbial Dutch boy trying to plug the leak in the dike with his finger – but new leaks keep springing up, there’s only so many heroic little boys, and the resources (Assumption 6) for fixing the dam are limited. With that in mind, should we not instead focus on alleviating the water pressure behind the dike?
Yes I know, total Anathema!

Believe it or not, the above was merely an introduction! :)
What I really want to talk about is this post by the always brilliant CJA Bradshaw, and this article it references. They deal with human ( = population- ) growth and with economic growth ( = largely, under the present terms, the growth of ecological footprints) and I ask you to also read the links and the comments, some of which are brilliant.

Each time environmentalists rally to defend an endangered habitat, and finally win the battle to designate it as a park “forever,” as Nature Conservancy puts it, the economic growth machine turns to surrounding lands and exploits them ever more intensively, causing more species loss than ever before, putting even more lands under threat. For each acre of land that comes under protection, two acres are developed, and 40% of all species lie outside of parks. Nature Conservancy Canada may indeed have “saved” – at least for now – two million acres [my addendum: that's 809371 hectares], but many more millions have been ruined. And the ruin continues, until, once more, on a dozen other fronts, development comes knocking at the door of a forest, or a marsh or a valley that many hold sacred. Once again, environmentalists, fresh from an earlier conflict, drop everything to rally its defence, and once again, if they are lucky, yet another section of land is declared off-limits to logging, mining and exploration.
They are like a fire brigade that never rests, running about, exhausted, trying to extinguish one brush fire after another, year after year, decade after decade, winning battles but losing the war.

Despite occasional setbacks, the growth machine continues more furiously, and finally, even lands which had been set aside “forever” come under pressure.
As development gets closer, the protected land becomes more valuable, and more costly to protect. Then government, under the duress of energy and resource shortages and the dire need for royalties and revenue, caves in to allow industry a foothold, then a chunk, then another. Yosemite Park, Hamber Provincial Park, Steve Irwin Park [my addendum - even the mention of this man is an insult to biodiversity conservation]… the list goes on.

There is no durable sanctuary from economic growth.
Any park that is made by legislation can be unmade by legislation. Governments change and so do circumstances. But growth continues and natural capital [my addendum: see my post on this term and others] shrinks. And things are not even desperate yet.

Now, compare it to the examples on top.

Alas, as I said, I don’t have the answers – apart from the fact that we cannot continue to pretend that it is not happening.
Me, I need not worry: I won’t personally experience the worst consequences, I’m the last of my gene pool with no intention of procreating, my ecological footprint has shrunk by orders of magnitude and even BAD is a pillar of sustainability, this largely thanks to Mangroves for Fiji where we’re about to declare ourselves completely carbon neutral – and we’re already mulling the next big project!

With that in mind, will I get involved and detracted from Shark conservation? Hell, no - it is already plenty difficult, time consuming and often frustrating as it is!
Makes me sometimes wonder why I bother! :)

But you other guys who are genetically invested and are trying to hand down something to the future generations - even if it may be little more than just a modicum of HOPE?

Think about it.
Then, go out and DO something!

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