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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Ecotourism only makes sense if we all talk to each other

Places can bounce back after they are damaged due to capitalistic exploitation: here's an example of resilience in dealing with degradation and disruption

A beach in Palau: the island nation in the South Pacific, while blessed with rich natural resources, for decades suffered from colonial and capitalistic exploitation of its fish stocks by Japan and then the United States. Pixabay
A beach in Palau: the island nation in the South Pacific, while blessed with rich natural resources, for decades suffered from colonial and capitalistic exploitation of its fish stocks by Japan and then the United States. Pixabay

"Here is a fish and his name is Herman. If you take him out and sell him at the market, you might get $70. But if the tourists come and look at him over and over again, you’re going to make much more money than that.”

This is taken from Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy, 2012), a dive into the complex factors that make systems, people and dynamic situations take sometimes surprising turns; what makes them break down and what can be done to fix or prevent damage from happening in the first place.

The story above is about the island nation of Palau in the South Pacific, which, while blessed with rich natural resources, for decades suffered from colonial and capitalistic exploitation of its fish stocks by Japan and then the United States. The drive to industrialisation caused competition between traditional fishermen who, while being dispossessed of their culture and falling into debt, were pushed to sell huge quantities of fish for export. By 1980, Zolli and Healy report, more than 60 per cent of Palauans lived in the capital, where the few who had jobs could barely afford to buy a fishing boat. The process of modernisation fractured traditional institutionsand threatened the nation’s relationship with its natural inheritance.

In 1978, during the transition to independence, Noah Idechong, a young Palauan, took over as officer of fisheries management in Palau. He was educated in Hawaii but had grown up in a fishing village on one of the Palauan islands. “His formal education ... allowed him to recognise the importance of administration while also respecting the quickly vanishing knowledge of traditional fishing and the ineffable value of the fisherman’s instinct.”

About the same time, tourism began to take off, creating more competition for resources, as the best reefs for scuba diving were also some of the most fished, or in some cases, dynamited. Realising that the free-for-all could not continue, Idechong created a dialogue between the two groups, convincing the fishermen of the economic benefits of tourism and the tourist industry of its responsibility to fund conservation. Long-term “learned helplessness” was combated by the reintroduction of traditional, sustainable fishing rights backed by legislation – and it’s worked.

The book also looks at unsuccessful interventions, such as a well water programme in Bangladesh, sponsored by the UN and World Bank, which killed thousands with arsenic poisoning, and surprising successes, such as the community tech-led response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

All the narratives show that there are no silver bullets and even success stories involve considerable compromise and are only ever provisional, since the world is in a constant state of accelerating change.

Yet at a time in which it’s easy to feel a sense of despair at developments which seem beyond our control, the book presents lessons from nature and an inspiring case of transformational leadership in which long-term short-term thinking and devastation were overturned by traditional knowledge coupled with modern-day data.

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Read more:

On the move: why we should all join the e-bike revolution

Education is the answer to drastic plastic problem lurking beneath the sea, says diver

On the move: lessons from the cliff edge

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