Our founding project: Falealupo, Samoa
In 1990, the Samoan government gave this remote village an ultimatum: build a better school or lose their government-funded teachers. Falealupo leaders wanted to provide good educations for their children, but they simply didn’t have the money to build a new school.
Their only option, it seemed, was to sell the logging rights to 30,000 acres of rainforest surrounding their village.
This caught the attention of Dr. Paul Cox, an American ethnobotanist doing field research in the forest. He approached Falealupo leaders with a proposal: if he could raise the money to build a new school, would they agree to conserve the forest in perpetuity?
Village leaders found the proposal intriguing, but still were reluctant. Many had heard the stories of westerners cheating indigenous Samoans out of their land thanks to deals seemingly too good to be true. Dr. Cox went to go to great lengths to assure them he had no interest in the land beyond seeing that their trees remained preserved. They agreed.
But Dr. Cox was taking a big leap of faith as well. He was prepared to donate much of his own money to help Falealupo, but he would need more. He returned to the United States to start Seacology, reaching out to friends and colleagues (including Ken Murdock, Seacology’s current Vice-Chairman) to raise the rest of the funds. It worked — Falealupo got a new schoolhouse, kept their teachers, and preserved their ancestral forest.
What started as a plan of necessity came to define the Seacology model: provide a benefit for the village in exchange for the protection of its natural resources. This way, villagers are motivated to abide by the terms of the reserve, and ownership of the land remains with the village. Dr. Cox continues to serve on Seacology’s Board of Directors as Chairman.