NEW FRIENDS in Seacology

Duane Silverstein describes the step-by-step approach of a small organization with big horizons

The island of Savai’i in Western Samoa contains some of the largest tracts of rainforest remaining in Polynesia. Falealupo, on the westernmost point of Savai’i, will be the last village in the southern hemisphere to see the sun set on the 20th century. A large area of peninsular lowland rainforest surrounds the village.

In 1988 the Government of Samoa informed the village that a new schoolhouse was needed or teachers would no longer be available to instruct their children. Since annual per capita income in Falealupo is less than US$100, the village leaders felt they had no choice but to sell part of their rainforest to a lumber mill to pay for the new school.

Paul Cox, one of the world’s leading ethnobotanists, had been studying the forest ecology of Samoa in hopes of developing new pharmacological products. He first learned of the village’s difficult decision when he heard the bulldozers in the forest behind Falealupo. Before the forest could be logged, and with the enthusiastic consent of the village, Cox raised the money to construct a new school in return for a covenant protecting their rainforest for 100 years. For their efforts Paul Cox and village Chief Fuiono Senio received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. This successful rainforest saving effort also led to the creation of a new organization – the Seacology Foundation.

While there are several excellent regional organizations working on behalf of particular islands, the Seacology Foundation is the world’s only true non-governmental organization whose sole purpose is to provide grants to protect the environments and cultures of islands throughout the world.

As an all-volunteer organization, Seacology has to date contributed funds to build six schools, two small medical clinics, two water supplies and a solar electrification scheme in return for protective covenants saving 65,000 acres of primary forest. Seacology has also engaged in innovative programmes as diverse as building an aerial rainforest canopy walkway in Samoa, constructing a solar-powered well and reservoir in Haiti and designing a mangrove restoration project in Taiwan.

But this is only the beginning. The Seacology Foundation recently opened up an office in the San Francisco Bay area and hired its first staff members. This will enable Seacology to greatly expand its operations. In the next six months alone a sample of projects Seacology may be launching include: the establishment of a research centre, ecotourism programme and park in Madagascar, a coral reef protection programme in Papua New Guinea, a seagrass regeneration programme in Nova Scotia, an environmental education summer camp in the remote Pribilof Islands off Alaska, a project to protect the endangered Pu’uokali forest in Maui, Hawaii, an environmental conservation programme in Cocos Island, Costa Rica, and a programme to promote traditional cultural values of environmental protection in Yap, Micronesia.

Seacology is in the process of establishing the world’s most comprehensive advisory board made up of island environmentalists from throughout the globe. They will serve as the Foundation’s eyes and ears and help in identifying worthwhile projects. In addition to providing project support, Seacology annually awards the Indigenous Conservationist of the Year to an island environmentalist. Past recipients have ranged from the aforementioned Chief Fuiono Senio of Samoa to His Majesty, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga.

Until recently, because of their isolation, island ecosystems and cultures have remained relatively intact. Now, due to global warming, acid rain, introduced species, international fishing fleets as well as jet transportation and television, island ecosystems and cultures are severely threatened. Four hundred years ago, the noted poet John Donne wrote ‘No man is an island’. As a result of our ever-shrinking world made possible by modern technology, if Donne were alive now he might correctly write that in this day and age ‘No island is an island’.

The Seacology Foundation is prepared to help indigenous islanders preserve their ecosystems and cultures the old fashioned way… one island village at a time.

Duane Silverstein is the Executive Director of the Seacology Foundation. For the past 18 years he was the Executive Director of the Goldman Foundation, a leading environmental philanthropic foundation best known for sponsoring the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Editorial M. T. El-Ashry | Let action... | The size of the problem | Looking good... | Vanishing islands | Whispers and waste | At a glance | Competition | Preserving paradise | Coral grief | ...biodiversity and beauty | Grassroots | GEF - helping small islands | Making a difference | UNEP - new books | Small is vulnerable | Measuring vulnerability | Exporting solutions | New friends in...