Ocean Eye sets its sights on conservation value

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Introducing guest contributor Sari Tolvanen

Sari Tolvanen is a marine biologist from Finland and has worked in the marine conservation sector for 17 years, building on extensive field experience as she moved from research to advocacy and policy engagement in a leadership role with Greenpeace International. For 10 years she played a key role in the organization’s science-led campaigns focused on combating illegal fishing, implementing marine reserves and improving the management of tuna fisheries in the Pacific and globally.  Sari co-founded a consultancy group, Marine Change in 2014 and is now based in Indonesia. She leads Marine Change’s work particularly to do with small-scale fisheries, MPAs, policy and technological innovation. Sari’s role in the Ocean Eye project is to oversee the the long-term conservation and community impact. You can connect with Sari on Twitter (@sariusly), Instagram (@sariuusly) or on LinkedIn.



Sharks, rays, turtles and whales are worth more alive than dead. But to whom?

The above line is often used in conservation to highlight the fact that the lifetime value of a charismatic marine animals, such as sharks and turtles is much more alive than dead. Whilst this is true it is difficult to accurately value marine animals alive for the lack of practical methodology and tools. Ocean Eye is a new innovation that can help put real value on marine animals – alive- and transfer that value directly and securely to coastal communities, creating a powerful incentive to protect these animals instead of monetising them by fishing and hunting.

Image Credit:  Paul Hilton  (with permission)

Image Credit: Paul Hilton (with permission)

The ecosystem services payments related to marine animals are currently mainly related to the earnings from tourism or fishing activities.  However, given the tourism industry is a high capital and skills industry, these profits do not necessarily get distributed in a way that would benefit and create value for the traditional hunters of these animals, the coastal communities.

For fishing and hunting, there is a clear value in place for these communities and hence they often continue their fishing activities, even in if the activities are outlawed or marine protected areas are established, as they lack the incentives and opportunities to monetise these animals in other ways.

Ocean Eye is a new innovative technological tool I developed in a conservation hackathon in Borneo last summer. We responded to the challenge of making MPAs more effective, pitched by Jane Lubchenco and proceeded to win a small amount finalist prize money from a global innovation competition, the Con X Tech Prize.

Ocean Eye is a mobile phone/tablet application that facilitates small tourism payments for each animal sighted during a trip. This can be low like 0.2 cents for a turtle if the animals are frequently sighted, or high like 20 USD for rare animals like a whale shark. The money is then securely and transparently transferred to the community, creating a powerful incentive to monetise the animals alive, as opposed to killing them for short-term profit.

Join us is helping to make Ocean Eye a reality, by donating at our crowd funding page, follow our journey on Instagram at Ocean_eye_app and get in touch for further collaboration.
Image Credit:  Paul Hilton  (with permission)

Image Credit: Paul Hilton (with permission)

This application will allow marine tourism businesses to both protect their assets - the marine life - as well as increase their credibility as sustainable and ethical operators by working side by side with the communities in ensuring a sustainable future for all. They will also be able to contribute to citizen’s science with the data collection and use their sightings statistics to both better plan and promote their operations.

The technology is currently under development and will enter filed trials later this year.  It can be used by anyone working in the marine tourism sector, that wishes to value the marine life their clients see and start working with the local community in the area for the long-term recovery of the species.

The application can be calibrated to suit each site. A data collection period is required to both collect frequency of sightings data as well as tourists willingness to pay data that will help determine the price per animal. This way the app can flexibly serve both high end and budget operations and respond to the unique biodiversity of each site.

Given coastal communities are diverse, even within one region, the operators of the app can decide directly with their target community how the money is administrated and used. The community facing interphase of the app, allows them to see real time data of sightings frequencies and money earned. As well as future projections based on seasons and visitor numbers, creating a powerful incentive to control bad actors within the community and use this resource for long-term sustainable income as opposed to one off short-term profit.  

Using the words of a photojournalist Paul Hilton who specializes in the trafficking of marine animal products “this is one of the most promising innovations I have heard in a long-time. I often feel helpless as to how to leverage real change in fishing communities, and Ocean Eye finally offers a clear pathway forwards for conservation”.

Header Image: Credit Paul Hilton (with permission).

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