Why marine conservation and management need to be anti-racist and anti-colonial

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Two recent articles we read really struck home about why it benefits EVERYONE to make marine conservation and management anti-racist and anti-colonial. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a American marine biologist, policy expert, and strategist; founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice; and founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities. In a Washington Post perspective piece “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet”, she writes:

“[B]lack Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis. But the many manifestations of structural racism, mass incarceration and state violence mean environmental issues are only a few lines on a long tally of threats. How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streets, in our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?

“If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing.”

Similarly Asha De Vos is a marine biologist and ocean educator from Sri Lanka. She is founder of Oceanswell and a National Geographic Explorer, Pew Fellow, and TED Fellow. In a Scientific American opinion piece “The Problem of ‘Colonial Science’”, she writes:

“Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the world shut down. I saw researchers and conservationists panicking that they could not get to their field sites across the world; that their multiyear data sets would have a gaping hole; and, finally, that if they had ensured that they trained local partners on the ground to do the work, then their data collection would have continued. Did it really take a pandemic for us to realize this?

“[Colonial science is] the conservation model where researchers from the developed world come to countries like mine, do research and leave without any investment in human capacity or infrastructure. It creates a dependency on external expertise and cripples local conservation efforts. The work is driven by the outsiders’ assumptions, motives and personal needs, leading to an unfavorable power imbalance between those from outside and those on the ground.”

Some additional reading and resources:

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