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Islanders keep conservation going through a pandemic

December 9, 2020

I don’t have to tell you how strange and scary this year has been. I hope you and yours are safe and well.

I’m happy to report that Seacology has weathered the dangers and uncertainties of 2020 surprisingly well. Many of our existing island conservation projects have made good progress, and we launched 19 new ones. 

How did we keep moving forward while so many other organizations struggled? One reason is rooted in our core philosophy:  We rely on the knowledge, commitment, and sweat equity of the people in our partner communities. They don’t need to wait for a Seacology staffer to come approve the design of a community center or the site of a water cistern. They control their projects and are free to run with their ideas.

And they do. Just a few examples from this year:

In Samoa, a village expanded its marine protected area and used a Seacology grant to build a beautiful fale, or conservation building. Almost everyone in the village helped, hauling water or buckets of concrete. The project leader said, “the spirit of unity was amazing.” 

On Thailand’s Libong Island, islanders are protecting a seagrass area that provides critical habitat for endangered dugongs, the Asian cousins of manatees. Even during the pandemic, they were able to finish building an environmental center funded by Seacology.

In Madagascar, community members patrolling Marojejy National Park caught several people cutting trees. With Seacology’s support, they refurbished rustic bungalows to encourage ecotourism, which both provides income and deters illegal activity. 

The global pandemic, however, has brought severe economic hardship to many island communities. Many island residents depend on tourism, and the sudden drop-off in international travel left them without work. They may feel that they have no choice but to cut trees or fish illegally, just to make a living and feed their families.  

Because Seacology grants give communities a financial incentive to protect ecosystems, not exploit them, they are needed now more than ever. And the ecotourism efforts that we support are small-scale and cater to in-country travelers, making them less vulnerable to international events. 

Obviously, current travel restrictions mean that we can’t see first-hand the challenges our partners face and the amazing things they’ve accomplished for island conservation. But before the world’s borders shut, I was lucky enough to get to meet our new partners in the Dominican Republic. I came away impressed and inspired.

We’ve just begun a five-year, nationwide project in the DR, focused on mangrove forests there. (As you no doubt know, mangroves are critical ecosystems—they protect coastal communities from storms, provide habitat for juvenile reef fish, and combat global warming by storing immense amounts of carbon.) Realizing that no ambitious conservation effort can succeed without public support, our partners have drawn up a great plan to spread awareness and get people involved in preserving and restoring mangroves. We’ll also be launching some community-based ecotourism projects. We’re very excited about this project!

We can do this work only because people like you believe in and support Seacology’s mission, and we are deeply grateful.

We look forward to telling you about what we accomplish in the new year, thanks to the support of generous donors like you.

Meanwhile, please stay safe and keep in touch.

With warmest regards,

Duane Silverstein
Executive Director