Capital idea: Groundbreaking efforts look to finance ocean protection

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

In the waters of the Bird’s Head Seascape, soft coral grows close to the coastal mangroves. A new fund seeks to protect these waters — and the incredible diversity of life they contain — in perpetuity. ( © Conservation International/photo by Sterling Zumbrunn)

A pair of new funds announced at the third annual Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C., aim to advance ocean conservation — by helping to pay for it.

The two funds — created with the support of Conservation International and multiple partner organizations — target specific regions in Asia that are significant for marine habitat and local livelihoods.

The Blue Abadi Fund, announced Friday, seeks to protect the world’s greatest reservoir of marine biodiversity — the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, Indonesia, home to more than 70 species of reef fishes, corals and crustaceans found nowhere else.

For more than a decade, the Bird’s Head Seascape has seen one of the world’s most ambitious community-based conservation programs, comprising 12 marine protected areas covering more than 3.6 million hectares (8.89 million acres) that empower local communities to sustainably manage the area. Since 2004, fish populations have rebounded and ecotourism has flourished.

The Blue Abadi Fund — “abadi” means “forever” in Indonesian — aims to sustain these protections in perpetuity by providing grants to communities and agencies to sustainably manage their marine resources. Once fully capitalized, the fund will be the largest dedicated marine conservation fund in the world. At the launch of the trust fund, the Global Environment Facility, an international funder of environmental projects, announced that it would contribute more than US$ 2 million of seed money.

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“It is all too rare in conservation that we get to ensure the stewardship of a place forever,” said Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of Conservation International. “This is a unique and irreplaceable corner of our planet.”

The Meloy Fund for Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in Southeast Asia, launched Thursday, has a slightly different approach: To attract investments in sustainable small-scale fisheries in Indonesia and the Philippines, where fishing is a linchpin of food security and the local economy. The fund seeks to improve the conservation of coral reef ecosystems by providing financial incentives to fishing communities in the two countries to adopt sustainable fishing behaviors.

“Coastal fisheries are historically undervalued and underappreciated,” said Brett Jenks, CEO of the conservation group Rare, which led the creation of the fund. “Despite providing half the world’s fish, the vast majority of fishing-sector employment, and encompassing our most critical marine habitat, there is a yawning gap in investment in the sector. The Meloy Fund aims to bridge that gap.”

The announcements came on the heels of a string of major commitments for ocean conservation in recent weeks.

In the United States, President Obama in August announced the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) in northwestern Hawai‘i, making it the largest marine protected area on Earth. Days later, the state of Hawai‘i announced that it would strengthen the management of its nearshore waters. And last week, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador announced joint commitments to expand protected waters off their shores in the Pacific.

Bruno Vander Velde is Conservation International’s editorial director.

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