Protecting planet ocean

Conservationist Kerstin Forsberg has developed in Peru unique, grassroots ways to tackle the crises facing our most valuable natural resource.
Fishermen unload fish from a ship\'s storage freezer at Peru\'s northern port of Chimbote/ Credits: Reuters
Kerstin Forsberg, Founder, Planeta Océano Kerstin Forsberg, Founder, Planeta Océano: "We are all part of this planet ocean so it depends on all of us to conserve it, everyone has a role to play, even if they live far from the ocean." Inspired by her undergraduate thesis on coastal devastation in northern Peru, Kerstin Forsberg founded Planeta Océano, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering local communities to achieve sustainable marine conservation that has been decorated by Peru’s Environment Ministry and recently won funding from the Americas Business Council Foundation.

Allianz Knowledge: What is the purpose of Planeta Océano?

Kerstin Forsberg: The main issues that we address are pollution, overexploitation and overfishing, and the climate change impacting our oceans.

For example, 80 percent of Peru’s wastewater goes directly into the oceans without any treatment. Then we have toxins from agriculture and mining, together with waste like plastics. Scientists are seeing increasing numbers of ocean “dead zones” with limited concentrations of oxygen.

On overfishing we want to ensure we are capturing adult fish and not juveniles. Our monitoring showed that for some species up to 50 percent of landings were beneath the legal fish size. Secondly, we are overfishing anchoveta, which are processed for exported animal feed while people are going hungry. That is a big problem because anchoveta are the basis of the whole food chain.

So it is not just about conservation but also food security?

It is a food security issue and a livelihood issue. In Peru, 20 percent of protein consumption comes from fish, and there are over 60,000 artisanal fishermen. Peru is considered one of the most productive marine systems in the world. It hosts the Humboldt Current which provides about 10 percent of the fish consumed worldwide.

What’s your solution?
We empower coastal communities so they can sustainably manage their environment. We do this through three pillars; research, education and awareness, and promotion of sustainable development. In each case local citizens and stakeholders lead the process.

When we go to a new community we map out the different stakeholders and generate trust through forums, meetings and surveys that identify their conservation and environmental needs. Then we define action plans and initiatives. That trust is very important because we want the actions to come from the community itself.

For example, on the research side we work with citizen scientists, fishermen and market vendors to measure fish sizes and monitor bycatch. We take that information and educate. There is a lack of knowledge about how to manage marine environments and a lack of education about marine issues.

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Aren’t people taught about the marine environment?
It still isn’t on the school curriculum, but we are working on that. When we started in 2007 we asked schools what they were teaching in environmental education. They told us about the trees and the mountains, but these are coastal communities of children growing up to be fishermen!

What are the core elements of your education efforts?

Instead of going into schools and giving trainings and workshops, we generated a network of schools that wanted to participate. With that network formed we could help train the teachers. And it is not just us; we invite local marine specialists, government officers, and park rangers.

Our ocean literacy education is about understanding how the ocean impacts us and how we impact the ocean. So we talk about how 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton, how we depend on oceans, the threats to the ocean, and what we can do to conserve it.

It is not necessarily about inserting a new class on marine education but simple things like counting little seashells instead of counting little balls. That is less effort for the teachers; they are teaching the same thing but using a more environmentally focused approach.

How many schools have you reached?

To date we have worked with over 50 schools and through that hundreds of teachers and about 10,000 students. The network is now self sustaining with its own committee developing its own initiatives and even incorporating schools from Ecuador.

What are the results?

We and the teachers themselves have documented an increased marine awareness in schools. Before, they didn’t talk about these topics at all. Teachers tell us that their kids didn’t even know some species existed, but now they do.
A fisherman and two children ride a tortora boat in northern Peru. A fisherman and two children ride a "tortora" boat in northern Peru. The hollow kayaks are believed to have been the precursors of surfboards. What are you doing on sustainable development?
We develop incubator projects together with the communities, ranging from education to tourism to evaluation of environmental services to assessment of consumption.

One is in an area called Huanchaco where some fishermen still use rafts made of reeds from local wetlands, called “tortora” boats. But the wetlands are being destroyed and people do not value the tortora. So the project educates local people to re-evaluate the tortora so as to conserve the wetlands and also preserve this ancient culture.

We are also in contact with a local bank which has an interest in supporting new businesses such as ecotourism and recycling projects together with these communities so they can develop alternative sources of funds and so be more sustainable.

Will you have to start encouraging people to eat less fish and fish less?
Fish provide a very valuable nutritious resource and so I don’t think the solution is to say don’t touch these resources. It is just about managing your resources better.

Would legal ownership of the fish stocks help fishermen towards better management?

I could see that happening in Peru. I wouldn’t call it owning the fisheries exactly but rather participatory management of fishing areas with communities so they can define boundaries and practices. If a model like that is to be successful it has to involve all stakeholders and benefit all people equally.

What will you do now with the new funding from the Americas Business Council?

Right now we are in 10 communities along the northern coast of Peru and we are expanding into other regions. What we want to do now is work systematically in these other regions. Our vision is to expand across all Peru.

We are all part of this planet ocean so it depends on all of us to conserve it, everyone has a role to play, even if they live far from the ocean because everything leads to the ocean eventually. We are all in this together.

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