Blue is the colour
WWF marine conservation award for zoology alumnus Dr Alasdair Harris.
Dr Alasdair Harris, founder of social enterprise Blue Ventures, received the 2015 Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award for his work with coastal communities, government partners and NGOs in demonstrating the importance of coastal and marine conservation for food security and livelihoods.
The award brings important recognition to community leadership in marine conservation and fisheries management, leadership that Dr Harris believes is critical to the futures of hundreds of millions of people, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities on earth.
Marine conservation has never been so important: over 90% of fisheries are now fully or over-exploited, and overfishing and climate changing are putting the future of life in our seas in jeopardy. Yet at the same time human demands on the ocean for food are soaring.
Fruits of the sea
As an undergraduate studying zoology at Edinburgh, Alasdair Harris was obsessed with coral reefs and during the summer breaks he would organise field expeditions to study little known corals in the western Indian Ocean.
Working with fellow student SCUBA enthusiasts, Alasdair raised money throughout each academic year, and then spent the subsequent summer vacations working alongside local scientists documenting the health of the reefs and the variety of marine life.
These experiences laid the foundations of what was to become Blue Ventures which, in its first 12 years of operation, has grown from a student overdraft funded team of two, to an award-winning social enterprise employing over 100 staff, and operating field programmes in in five countries in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific.
On graduating, I realised I’d reached a crossroads: either head to the city to get a “proper” job, or try to do something to protect the extraordinary marine environment that I’d been privileged to witness on those early expeditions.
Out of the ordinary
Not unsurprisingly, Alastair doesn’t have a typical day in the office. As the manager of a team of conservationists overseeing field programmes in Belize, Madagascar, Comoros and Timor-Leste, a day can involve anything from attending a village meeting on a beach by the Mozambique Channel, to presenting research at a scientific conference.
Alongside his work with Blue Ventures, Alasdair is a visiting post-doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas, a member of the Marine Stewardship Council’s Stakeholder Council, and a technical advisor to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species Secretariat.
Beyond the romance
irresistible romance of the wood panelled lecture theatres and laboratories of King’s Buildings might have first drawn Alasdair to Edinburgh, but it was the opportunities afforded by a university education that made the experience a precious one.
It is, in his words,
a unique opportunity to take your interests and career in any direction and he advises current students to make the most of the whole experience and not limit themselves by concentrating on just the academic aspects of university life.
Take the time to look beyond your curriculum, explore issues that motivate and are important to you.