Conservation needs Communities

It’s often said that “conservation is about people.” However, it’s apparent that many conservation endeavors struggle to meaningfully include people, their rights, and their potential; a common result is that conservation has negative impacts on human well-being, misses out on opportunities to apply the skills and knowledge of local people, and fails in the long-term. It is ethical, but also practical, to truly incorporate local communities in conservation efforts.

The issue of marine megafauna bycatch in small-scale fisheries highlights how critical this community-conservation connection truly is. The main solution to bycatch is for fishers to change their fishing practices – which almost certainly involves a change in expenses, effort, income, marketability, and even way of life and culture.

Pushing for this sort of change brings up challenging, but important, questions about ethics: Who has the right to drive the conservation process? What responsibilities come with this right? Who will bear the burden of this process and its outcomes, versus who will benefit?

This all exists in a context of complex social connections, interactions, and history.

Conservation is an inherently human endeavor. It is based on human values, it is concerned with human beliefs and behaviors, and it is implemented by (and sometimes inflicted upon!) humans.

If we are serious about improving conservation efforts, we need to substantially improve our recognition of the social processes of conservation. There is much to learn from the fields of development and humanitarian aid, organizational management, public health – but there are also common challenges and mistakes made across these fields.

It’s an exciting area of inquiry, with broad implications. I’m happy to be working on it!

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