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Conservation Ecotourism

Why the model works

Story by Blue Ventures January 25th, 2016

A stepping-stone for Conservation

Since 2003, Blue Ventures has built a globally acclaimed conservation ecotourism model, which is both simple and effective: our volunteer expeditions generate secure and sustainable seed funding to allow our conservation teams to explore and develop initiatives in new regions and countries. Instead of generating financial gains for shareholders, all profits are channelled to support grassroots conservation efforts. Volunteers collect critical data which helps to inform management of some of the world's most remote coral reefs, mangrove and seagrass habitats.

Blue Ventures does magnificent work, helping local communities and offering extraordinary volunteering opportunities that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Simon Reeve - Adventurer, author and TV presenter of BBC’s Indian Ocean series

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Our ecotourism model provides reliable income to local communities and service partners, and enables us to make robust commitments to maintaining a long-term presence in priority field sites. This approach reduces the vulnerability of our conservation programmes to the shifting priorities of donors, and gives our teams the freedom to experiment and innovate with different ways of engaging local communities in marine management. In this way, our ecotourism model has proven to be a powerful, enduring and resilient foundation for catalysing, financing and scaling the critical marine conservation initiatives for which Blue Ventures is renowned.

We also work to leverage conservation revenues to drive donor investment in conservation programmes nurtured by these volunteer expeditions. Since 2003, we have raised over £4 million in charitable funding on our ecotourism revenues, supporting dozens of conservation, research and development initiatives in some of the world’s priority marine biodiversity hotspots.


Stimulating coastal economies

The longevity of our presence alongside local partners builds strong relations, trust, credibility, and a sensitive understanding of local contexts. These in turn enable the creation of locally and culturally relevant conservation and development programmes, designed by placing community interests at the heart of all activities, and maintaining a balanced commercial ethos that responds to local social and economic needs.

We are committed to employing, sourcing and buying locally whenever possible. Over the past three years, more than 70% of volunteer fees have been spent in host countries, with remaining revenues financing a small central management team and the essential costs associated with running field conservation operations. In Madagascar, our team of 87 employees comprises both Malagasy and international staff, with Malagasy staff making up 77% of the total.

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Our expedition volunteers play a vital role in broadening income-generating opportunities beyond fishing within coastal economies, generating more than US$250,000 for local homestays to date in Belize alone.

Since 2003, our staff and conservation volunteers have spent more than 150,000 tourist bed nights supporting local accommodation providers, helping to diversify local economies in partner communities in southeast Asia, the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Caribbean.

A few months after the Sarteneja Homestay Group formed, we met Blue Ventures. They really helped us to start and we‘ve been working with them since then. All of the women and families are benefitting economically, making us less dependent on our husband’s money and allowing us to develop other artisanal activities.


In Madagascar, our expeditions have continued to grow and finance local marine conservation initiatives for over a decade without interruption despite cyclones, the global financial crisis, national political crises, and a fiercely competitive ecotourism market.


Enduring benefits

Our expedition experience can be transformative for our volunteers. Learning new techniques and seeing a new side of life with our partner communities inspires many to change or refocus careers and goals. Many of our volunteers go on to work within the conservation sector, building on our community led approach in other organisations and locations worldwide.

We’re also committed to building local capacity for conservation.

Each year in Madagascar we award several fully-funded scholarships for community members and university students to undertake a six-week training course in marine science and conservation research alongside our international expedition volunteers.

In Belize we work closely with Belizean Government departments and community-based organisations. Our capacity building partnerships have supported training for The Belize Fisheries Department, the Belize Defence Force and the Sarteneja Fishermen Association.

I would like to thank the Blue Ventures team for your partnership with the Belize Defence Force and for providing SCUBA training for our personnel at Bacalar Chico Dive Camp. The training is very beneficial to our unit and will be put to great use. We look forward to more of our team joining you in 2016.

Lieutenant Jasmine E. Elliott - Belize Defence Force

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Scaling success

Our experiences of the benefits of conservation ecotourism provide a compelling demonstration of the ability of our model to catalyse highly effective marine conservation efforts in some of the world’s hardest to reach coastal communities.

Initiatives seeded by our conservation ecotourism model include the creation of the largest locally managed marine protected areas in the Indian Ocean, effective new approaches to community-led fisheries management in Madagascar, sustainable aquaculture businesses, a new market to drive the targeted removal of invasive lionfish in Belize and integration of community health services within local marine management efforts.

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New frontiers

In 2016 we are launching a new conservation ecotourism expedition in Timor-Leste, replicating the model that has been so successful since 2003 in Madagascar, Malaysia, Fiji and Belize. Again our volunteers will be instrumental in shaping our conservation programmes, working directly with the communities who rely on the sea for their livelihoods in this incredible biodiversity hotspot.

Footnote: Text and images from Blue Ventures staff and volunteers
Volunteer with Blue Ventures