The oceans are fragile if nobody looks after them. We think they are eternal, a limitless pantry for the planet. But it is not so. Less than 3% of the ocean’s waters are protected. The remainder are at risk of pollution from anthropogenic factors. According the World Wide Fund for Nature, more than 40% of the ocean´s inhabitants―species that are in many cases unknown―have disappeared during the last four decades.
Fortunately however, a global current for conserving ocean life exists. In Peru, in particular, important initiatives are demonstrating that change is possible through coordination, clear leadership, strategic alliances, and a multidisciplinary approach that emphasizes the essential nature of the ocean for the planet. “Wherever we are, we are connected to the oceans. They influence us, and we influence them”, explains Kerstin Forsberg, founder of Planet Ocean, an organization that, among other projects, has worked to protect marine turtles and giant manta rays in the north of Peru.
For Forsberg, the opportunities for awareness raising about marine ecosystems are increasing. “Through Planet Ocean we empower coastal communities, and we lead marine conservation efforts through strategic activities such as education, research, and sustainable development”, she comments. Planet Ocean works with artisanal fisherman and diverse communities, creating a platform for genuine citizen participation. It has also coordinated a network of marine educators in more than 50 schools.
The voice of this Peruvian biologist began to be heard ten years ago and today her message is reaching more and more corners of the world. But hers is not only one.
Women of the sea
Civil society has the power to choose and to change the world. “With the choice of whether or not we need a plastic bag, we can make a difference”, says Nadia Paredes, Coordinator General of L.O.O.P. (Life Out of Plastic), a social enterprise led by Peruvian women who sensitize the population about pollution from plastic and about care of the ocean.
L.O.O.P. has involved more than 33,000 people, collected more than 130 tons of marine waste, and recycled more than 1.3 million bottles. Its purpose is to raise awareness through clear messages about the way in which plastic waste contaminates the ocean and puts marine ecosystems at risk. L.O.O.P members are very conscious of the set of problems, but are also optimistic that more organizations, businesses, and individuals will become interested in the oceans. The success of initiatives such as HAZla (Do it!) is a clear sign; together with the organization Conservamos por Naturaleza (We Conserve for Nature), L.O.O.P organizes beach cleaning activities each year. In 2017 the program expanded to Mexico and Panama as well. “We are changing consumption habits and generating increased awareness of the problem of plastic”, claims Paredes. In this mission, they are not alone.
Leaving a mark on the world
We Conserve for Nature is a platform that inspires protection of biodiversity through the example set by Peruvians already working on the issue. “We connect people from the city with those in other locations, using stories that show how everyone can contribute to conservation”, says Bruno Monteferri, director of this initiative of the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law.
With 80 videos and 50 inspiring stories, We Conserve for Nature has coordinated actors from various sectors, and encouraged a generation of leaders interested in conservation in Peru. Through programs such as “We Reforest for Nature”, it collects funds for protecting conservation areas. And through “Conserve Peru”, it contributes finance to scholarships for young professionals. The focus of the ocean activities of “We Conserve for Nature” is a sustainability project for artisanal fishers in Piura that, “provides them with legal advice and guidance for sustainable fishing, as well as developing capacity for ecotourism”, adds Monteferri. The project also works on active conservation of coastal-marine spaces.
“We believe in leaving places the way we found them. The preservation of natural heritage should be accessible, democratic, and inclusive—not just the work of specialists”, concludes Monteferri. From another shore, the Alto Peru project also shares this belief.
Change rises up on the waves
Alto Peru is a community development project mainly targeting children and young people from the settlement in the district of Chorrillos that bears its name. Its objective is to create opportunities through sport and cultural activities. “For each student who pays in our sporting schools, at least one child from Alto Peru receives free surfing or muay thai classes. Previously we only took children, but we are now working in the heart of the community”, says Miguel Herrera, one of the project leaders.
The project also puts the young people in touch with scholarship and long-term employment opportunities, offering them a future with greater possibilities. Many of them aim to be surf teachers or photographers, or to undertake studies related to the sport, such as physiotherapy. Others are promising surfers or muay thai champions.
The Alto Peru project has a crosscutting environmental component that becomes very apparent in the surf. “A 360 degree view of the sea, just you and nature, as one. That is a unique experience and it stays with you forever”, says Herrera. It encourages young people to care about keeping beaches clean and healthy, and to be connected with the ocean. But how can we achieve this connection if we fail to appreciate the life the ocean contains?
Bernardo Sambra is a diving photographer who is convinced that the many individuals and organizations in Peru discussing the ocean have an interest in its sustainability. From his position as a photographer, Sambra´s message is a simple one: when images allow you to discover life in the ocean, you begin to value and care for it. Though “The Living Oceans”, an organization he founded a decade ago and which is increasingly attracting international photographers, he has written books and developed exhibitions which have toured various countries carrying the message. Like Sambra, thousands of Peruvians are committed to the sustainability of the oceans. And as he explains, a difference is not made through a single big action, but instead by thousands of small actions that have the same goal. “A better regulation here, some better coordination of effort there. Consciously changing a habit. Capturing images that help us see what it is we need to protect. These are the kinds of small things we need to do to protect the life of our oceans, and of our planet”, he concludes.