Carol Realini is currently participating in an expedition tagging whale sharks in Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay. Read previous posts from the expedition.
Spending one’s life in Silicon Valley makes it easy to spot an entrepreneur — they have big ideas, a deep understanding of the opportunity they are going after, and unlimited energy, courage and drive. When my son and I joined the Cenderawasih Bay expedition to see whale shark tagging, I thought I was going to be with three scientists. A few days later, I see that I am traveling with three entrepreneurs, who fit the pattern: lots of passion and knowledge, and a really big idea.
The Bird’s Head area of Indonesia is a place we should all want to protect. It is as special as the Galápagos Islands, with a culture of remote fishing villages and large families that is mostly isolated from the modern world. The people of Bird’s Head are open to change, but want to understand what it will mean for them and their families.
Mark Erdman wants to protect the ocean and wildlife in the Bird’s Head Seascape. Before taking this on with Conservation International (CI), the organization determined three things:
1) Is it a unique and valuable area?
2) Is it endangered?
3) Can we have an impact?
All things being true, Mark developed a vision for a different future in Cenderawasih Bay — a future of protection and collaboration between the local people, the government and conservationists.
Like all entrepreneurs, Mark is constantly evangelizing his passion and mission. Earlier this year, he came to my office in California and told me about the Bird’s Head region and the holistic approach CI was taking in its work there. He encouraged me to come to Indonesia to see it myself. I remember thinking, “No way,” but he won me over with his passion and commitment.
Along with Mark on this expedition is Rod Mast, a turtle expert who works all over the world to support people like Mark. We don’t need Google to look up anything about turtles when Rod is around; I think he will make sure we all become mini-experts before the end of the expedition.
Last is Brent Stewart, our whale shark scientist and tagger. He knows a lot about whale sharks, the world’s largest fish; however, he believes the collective knowledge of these creatures is very incomplete. Brent is determined to better understand how whale sharks live their lives — where and how they mate, how they spend their first few years and other mysteries. The tags will help fill in some of the missing information.
All three of these conservation entrepreneurs know conservation is about raising awareness and creating sustainable systems that protect the species and their environment. So they know they have to think about the villagers and their needs — how any solution for conservation needs to get buy-in and support from the people that make Cenderawasih their home, as well as the support of local governments.
These three men are dedicated, smart and focused. Their programs in this area are fairly new, but I am confident that with their passion and commitment — as well as financial and policy support — they will be successful.
Frankly, I want to read more about these types of entrepreneurs. It’s not just about Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg anymore, it’s about Mark, Brent and Rod.
Carol Realini is a serial entrepreneur from Silicon Valley who is passionate about the work of CI.