Wietse van der Werf – A social enterprise based in Europe is rocking the boat with a new approach that could greatly increase the level of real-time ocean protection. Starting it hasn’t been without its challenges, but the effort is now gathering momentum in some of the most unlikely quarters.
It has been an exciting few years in ocean conservation. Multiple new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been announced and there is growing awareness of the effects of plastic pollution and climate change. For those of us working in the ocean space over the last two decades, it is great to witness an ocean revolution.
There is, however, a problem. NGOs and scientists have been so effective at pressing for better protection that the 11,827 strong network of so-called MPAs that have been duly created are now primarily conserved on paper. Research published in Nature concludes that only nine per cent of MPAs have adequate staffing levels and resources to be managed properly. At the moment, the legacy of the environmental movement is at risk of only working on paper.
Training staff and operating ships at sea is hugely capital-intensive and few governments are willing – or able – to implement comprehensive management plans with dedicated ships. Add to this the need for knowledge on how to finance, build and operate ships professionally and few NGOs would have the capacity to play a role. The inspiration for developing a workable solution came from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was launched by US president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. He mobilised three million unemployed young men to set up 800 national parks in only nine years, which proved a powerful example of simultaneously tackling unemployment whilst also restoring biodiversity.
In 2018, our first Sea Ranger ship set sail across the North Sea. The success of the CCC was our inspiration to manage MPAs, with high rates of youth unemployment in coastal areas around the world becoming a driver for change. We organised a bootcamp which offered five weeks of basic maritime training in which young people gained entry-level maritime qualifications. Following the bootcamp and training, some were selected as Sea Rangers and offered direct employment. Coached by military veterans, the structure and discipline resulted in a professional maritime ranger service – the first of its kind in the world.
Read full blog.