Long before this year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Swedish marine conservationist Sebastian Troeng knew what depleted ocean resources can do to a local economy.
As a child, he watched the Baltic Sea lose its most important industry to exploitation and pollution.
“The fish packing plant where I used to earn pocket money after school closed down, the many small fishing boats in the harbor of my hometown disappeared, and many of those who used to fish for food and income had to find other work,” he recalled. “Seeing firsthand the poor management of the ocean and marine resources convinced me I needed to take action. The ocean can be so plentiful and provide for so many people if we manage it properly.”
That epiphany has led Troeng into a lifelong career in conservation. As vice president of Conservation International’s global marine division, he directs field programs in 30 countries that partner with governments, multilateral development organizations and grassroots initiatives to channel millions of dollars into joint conservation and development projects. He is also the brains behind a new Ocean Health Index that will track changes in ocean status. Thanks to efforts like these, his team has been able to secure a total of 64 million hectares of protected marine locales worldwide, an area one-and-a-half times the size of California.
“In these areas, marine life recovers and people benefiting from these areas have more diverse livelihoods and greater incomes than people who don’t,” he said.
Troeng pointed to Tortuguero, Costa Rica, as an example of how this works. There, he helped conservationists restore sea turtle nesting to 400 percent more than what it was four decades ago. Human livelihood was restored through income from tourism. Government processes soon became less bureaucratic and more effective. The people of Tortuguero now have better political representation and better access to health care and education. In fact, their “Basic Needs Not Satisfied Index” is at just 28 percent, compared to 41 percent in neighboring communities.
These kinds of projects also make environmental and international development groups more aware of their interconnectedness. All of this makes this self-proclaimed optimist even more hopeful.
“Never before has there been the level of global awareness of the need for a healthy planet to ensure human well-being and survival than there is today,” he said. “Fortunately, because ocean degradation and poor management are caused by humans, it is also within our power to resolve them.”
Profile by Julienne Gage