Coastal Conservation offers survival for the poor

A young British Conservationist has won an international award for helping to create a new model of community-run Marine Protected Areas, which both saves marine diversity and helps to feed marine dependent communities.

Alisdair Harris

Alasdair Harris, 30, was selected as winner of the 2010 Young Conservationist Award, an award by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and the International Ranger Federation which honours outstanding achievements by young people in the world’s protected areas.

In Madagascar, Alasdair established Blue Ventures, a conservation organisation dedicated to working with local communities to conserve threatened marine environments. In 2004 Blue Ventures launched the region’s first community-run Marine Protected Area (MPA), which resulted in significant increases in fishing yields and size, increasing earnings of fishers.

Within a year, Madagascar’s government adopted the model to create seasonal fishing bans throughout Madagascar, and within two years, other villages independently adopted it. It became ‘Velondriake’—meaning ‘to live with the sea’—the largest community-managed MPA in the Indian Ocean, providing a regional blueprint for community-based marine and coastal conservation planning.

Alasdair avoided top down conservation by working with coastal communities to develop his ideas and create social enterprises to ensure sustainable financing of conservation efforts. Blue Ventures organizes expeditions of scientists and volunteers to support conservation while bringing economic and environmental benefit to local communities.

“Alasdair’s outstanding work has benefited the marine environment and local people in Madagascar. It has shown that the involvement of local people with conservation can result in benefits to the environment and to people’s livelihoods. We warmly congratulate Alasdair on his leadership and well deserved award. We look forward to his further contributions to the global challenge of conservation.” says Nik Lopoukhine, Chair of the IUCN World Commission Protected Areas.

Velondriake’s communities have led grassroots education efforts to help other villages establish dozens of further marine reserves in Madagascar. This year Blue Ventures replicated its work in Malaysia, Fiji and Belize, and supported the Indian Ocean’s first international fishermen exchange, with the Mauritian islands. Blue Ventures’ vision is to scale this model for maximum impact: thousands of tropical marine communities in the Indian Ocean could benefit from this approach to marine conservation.

"This award is an incredible honour, but also a reminder of the sobering reality of the condition of our oceans today” says Alasdair. “Throughout the world fisheries are collapsing on an unimaginable scale. In the tropics, many coastal people are already among the most marginalised communities on earth, acutely vulnerable to the impacts of developed-world over-consumption and climate change. In these environments conservation is not just about protecting coral reefs and biodiversity – it’s about ensuring the survival of people and the fragile ecosystems they depend upon. This award is testament to the commitments of some of the world's poorest communities to finding a sustainable future. Never has the need for commitments like these been greater."

Alasdair will soon be in Australia to be presented with the award at the Healthy Parks Healthy People Congress in Melbourne, Australia, this April.

“The IUCN-IRF Young Conservationist Award honours the contribution of young people to conservation. Many of us in the world of Protected Areas know that local communities are and will be the key to taking care of these special places” says Deanne Adams, President of the International Ranger Federation. “The work that Al has done is an inspiring model for engaging local fisherman in identifying and managing sustainable conservation efforts. His work gives us hope for our planet's future.

" The Young Conservationist award is a joint initiative coordinated by the International Ranger Federation and IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, and supported by the George Wright Society and Parks Victoria, Australia.

For more information:

Alasdair Harris, Blue Ventures:
Based in Antananarivo, Madagascar: Telephone +261-343-133-987

Deanne Adams, International Ranger Federation President
Based in California, USA: Telephone: +1-415-613-2480, email:

Rebecca Koss, Young Professional Deputy Chair for Oceania, IUCN World Commission Protected Areas. Based in Victoria, Australia: Telephone +61 3 402 510 704, email:

Work area: 
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
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