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Alasdair Harris

Zoology graduate Dr Alasdair Harris set up social enterprise Blue Ventures in 2003. Years on, its mission to rebuild tropical fisheries with coastal communities has never been so urgent, or so critical.

Name

Alasdair Harris

Degree 

BSc (Hons) Zoology, Honorary DSc

Year of graduation 2002, 2017

Your time at the University  

Headshot of Al Harris

I chose Edinburgh because my parents met as Edinburgh undergraduates, so I’d heard endless stories of the city’s delights. I wasn’t disappointed, and my time as a student fuelled my sense of wonder in the city, and of course in natural history.

Outside the labs of King's Buildings, where I was studying zoology, I spent much of my time in the student theatre at Bedlam and exploring the joys of the west coast above and below the water. And from my third year I immersed myself in organising research expeditions overseas. Edinburgh took a gamble on me and a group of fellow undergraduates, supporting us to do something for which we were essentially entirely unqualified and unprepared, heading off during our summer vacations to explore little-known coral reef systems in the Indian Ocean.

Your experiences since leaving the University

The expeditions that I organised as an undergraduate at Edinburgh taught me a huge amount, and mostly about what not to do in science and leadership. But the experiences were seismic in opening my mind to the reality and complexity of environmental challenges in so much of the developing world − because we learned quickly how little we actually knew.

As zoologists we were hopelessly unprepared to tackle the enormity of the issues we were documenting; in countries where ecosystems and biodiversity were under siege from the sobering forces of poverty, markets, injustice, and climate breakdown.

When the expeditions ended I realised I was at a crossroads; I could either conform and get a ‘proper job’ in business or academia, or I could try to do something about the conservation crisis that I’d been documenting.

So working with a couple of friends from Edinburgh we took a leap into the unknown and set up a social enterprise. Blue Ventures was born, working first in Madagascar, and evolving from there.

Blue Ventures' work in Madagascar - vezo fishers
Blue Ventures, the social enterprise co-founded by Alasdair Harris, works in places where the ocean is vital to local cultures and economies, and is committed to protecting marine biodiversity in ways that benefit coastal people. © Blue Ventures (Garth Cripps)

Our mission is to rebuild tropical fisheries with coastal communities, and 17 years on and we’re still at it. We’re now a team of 250 operating in hundreds of coastal communities across nine coastal states and far too many time zones. The values and mission of our tiny startup in 2003 still remain at the heart of what we do at. Never has our mission been so urgent, or so critical.

It’s been an exhilarating journey, that was only possible because of Edinburgh’s audacity in backing an idea and a dream.

As Edinburgh graduates we're all beneficiaries of immense privilege and opportunity. What we choose to do with these degrees, and how we choose to use this knowledge, matters more than for any previous generation. Because the stakes for the future of our living planet, and for the wellbeing of humanity, have never been higher.

Woman farming seaweed on the Madagascan coast.
Blue Ventures' aquaculture training programmes have helped people in Madagascar's coastal communities to generate a sustainable income by farming seaweed. © Blue Ventures (Garth Cripps)

Alumni wisdom

Step far outside your comfort zone, every time you get the chance!

Related links

Blue Ventures (external link)

School of Biological Sciences

Social Responsibility and Sustainability at the University