Why Seacology? A Q&A with Board President Doug Herst
Doug Herst has served on Seacology’s board of directors for 19 years and is a generous donor to our organization. In part one of our Q&A with Herst, who is the current board president, he discusses why he continues to support Seacology after nearly two decades.
There are so many good causes to give to. Why do you support Seacology?
I became a committed supporter after I joined a Seacology diving trip to Palau years ago. The diving was wonderful, but what really made an impression on me were the people I met in the villages there. They were committed to protecting their environments and culture, and they were grateful for outside help that supported their projects.
I saw how helping local people, in a way that respects their cultural and environmental knowledge, could protect both their current wellbeing and the future of their environments and cultures. We have local field representatives in two dozen countries around the world, working with communities. Seacology really listens to what the people in island communities have to say, instead of telling them what we think they need.
What do you think are some of Seacology’s most important initiatives?
Well, our biggest project so far is the Sri Lanka Mangrove Conservation Project. Over five years, it’s protected nearly 40,000 acres of mangroves and helped thousands of women with business training and microloans. Its success won Seacology a major award from the UN Climate Change committee, and we received a big grant from the Global Resilience Partnership. Because of the project’s effect on climate change, we’ve been nominated for a 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.
Mangroves are so important because they sequester 20 to 50 times more carbon than regular trees. Fish hide in them. Birds nest in them. They absorb the force of hurricane winds and tsunamis.
A lot of trees had been destroyed during Sri Lanka’s long civil war. Then, developers were cutting them for hotels, and they were being cleared for shrimp ponds that were abandoned after only a few years. At first we weren’t sure how Sri Lanka’s remaining mangroves could be protected. The answer turned out to be: women!
We provided microfinance help to Sri Lankan women, something our nonprofit partner Sudeesa already had a lot of experience with. Many were war widows who needed a financial leg up and were happy to protect and replant mangroves, which are crucial to fishing and other livelihoods. The project trained the women to create business plans, lent them money, and supervised the start-up phase. More than 14,000 women have received assistance and now protect the mangrove forests around the country.
What upcoming project are you excited about?
We’ve got lots of projects in the works, but I’m very enthusiastic about another nationwide project, this one in the Dominican Republic. We’ve just started to work with several communities and organizations there to support small-scale, sustainable ecotourism.
These kinds of initiatives offer training and jobs to local youth, and give a powerful incentive to preserve, not exploit, the country’s amazing natural resources. You can already stroll on a boardwalk through a protected mangrove forest or paddle a kayak out to see flamingoes and other tropical birds. And that’s just the beginning!