Blue Ventures | Community-based Conservation

It all started with octopuses… In southern Madagascar, the community of Vezo became concerned that their fisheries were in decline. Blue Ventures, an award-winning marine conservation organisation stepped in and supported temporary closures of fishing zones, as a result, octopus landings increased dramatically, and local incomes grew. News soon spread and Blue Ventures introduced the Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) run by the local fishermen themselves. Community-based Conservation in action.

Blue Ventures strive to develop new approaches to marine conservation where everyone benefits, it all started with octopus in Madagascar, and now Blue Ventures support many projects from education to protecting mangrove forests and improving aquaculture techniques. Two members of the Blue Ventures team, Jenny and Urszula shared their passion and experience with me and their advice for those looking for a career in marine conservation.

Jenny Maltby is the Conservation Programmes Assistant at Blue Ventures, she supports the Conservation Programmes Manager with funder report writing, grant management and liaising with field managers to keep track of all of the current projects. After visiting Africa when she left school, her passion for conservation was cemented and she decided that marine conservation was a career she wished to pursue.

Urszula Stankiewicz is the People- Health-Environment (PHE) Support Officer based in Mozambique, she supports conservation partners to integrate community health services with marine conservation initiatives.

How did you come to work at Blue Ventures?

Jenny: I completed a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife and Practical Conservation at the University of Salford. As part of this degree, I spent a year in Kenya researching populations of Bottlenose Dolphins, sea turtles and reef fish. I recorded the behaviour of dolphins and whales around tourist boats and based my dissertation on my findings. Spending a year volunteering abroad gave me some great experience that I could not have got in the UK. After this I completed a master’s degree in Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Upon graduation last year, I applied for many conservation jobs. However, I managed to intern at Blue Ventures in October for 2017 for a couple of weeks and became passionate about the organisation. I applied for my position at the end of the year and here I am!

Urszula: My path into the conservation sector was a bit unconventional. I actually studied public health and began my career working on sexual education and HIV programs first in the United States and then in Mozambique with the Peace Corps. I’ve always been passionate about both the ocean and taking care of our planet, but never imagined I would work in conservation let alone marine conservation. However, when I saw the job advertisement for this position, I just knew it was meant to be. This job allows me to combine my passions for human health and environmental health, all while serving communities in a country I have grown to love like my own.

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Learning exchange in Madagascar with two partner organisations from Mozambique (Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Peace Parks Foundation).

What makes Blue Ventures different?

Jenny: Blue Ventures not only conserves the marine environment, it also enables low income communities to continue fishing, but in a way that is managed sustainably. At Blue Ventures we believe that the ocean and the people that rely on it for their livelihoods are interconnected. We recognise the links between poor health, unmet family planning needs, food insecurity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change. Often called Community-based Conservation, our projects tackle these issues as a whole and not just on one piece of the puzzle at a time.

Urszula: Blue Ventures is different to other conservation organizations because we truly live by our ethos of communities first. Everything we do, from temporary octopus closures to integration of health services, is for the benefit of local communities. We involve them every step of the way, making sure our solutions work for them. Every community is different, and we take the time to listen and adopt our models as appropriate.

Best thing about a Community-based Conservation job?

Jenny: I get to speak to many different people every day – from project managers in the field in Madagascar to the Digital Media Assistant in the UK. Speaking to so many different people in different teams, all working on different projects, to work towards a common goal is exciting and I learn something new (or lots of things) every day.

Urszula: The best thing about my job is the diversity of my work. No day is like the other. I’ve found myself snorkelling on a remote island surveying seagrass, conducting focus groups on family planning, facilitating a training session on theories of change, supporting partners to analyse data and write reports, and meeting with government officials in the capitol. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

Proudest achievement?

Jenny: I have only been in the role for a few months, but I have already learnt so much about the organisation and charities that I was not taught about at University. I am proud of how much I have learnt in such a short amount of time and this knowledge builds and helps me to improve in my role every day.

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Urszula: I got to be the first person within Blue Ventures to support partners outside of Madagascar to integrate community health activities into their conservation programmes. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’ve documented and shared much of this learning which has led to smoother implementation in countries we later entered.

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Urszula with focus groups in Bazaruto, Mozambique.

Challenges in Community-based Conservation?

Jenny: Our projects are funded by other organisations and charities. Therefore, we rely on them to do our work. As I report to these funders, my role is critical in producing work that is concise, informative and of a high standard in order to secure future funding.

Urszula: Our partner support work takes us to a variety of regions, with very different realities and cultural contexts. The organizations we support are also very different from each other. This requires us to remain flexible and continuously adapt our models to make sure they work for the people we are serving.

Advice for aspiring Community-based Conservationists?

Jenny: I have spent a lot of time reading articles, journals, books and online blogs. I feel that a good background knowledge of all conservation issues is extremely useful in my current role. As conservation is such a competitive sector and is difficult to get into, it is important to stand out. Volunteering for free is something that most conservationists have done at some point in their career. It shows passion, dedication and employers will see that you are willing to go above and beyond to work in this field.

Urszula: Whilst on your journey to save the planet, don’t forget about people. If you really want to make a positive impact, you must involve the people who are most affected by degrading ecosystems. Communities, often in remote areas, are on the front lines of conservation. Engage them at every level to find solutions that work for them. I believe this is the only way conservation can work.

If you would like to find out more about the work of Blue Ventures and their Community-based Conservation projects, visit their website at www.blueventures.org or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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