Green Hotels Association
    June 2017  


Brett Jenks was 24 and teaching English in Costa Rica when a couple of environmental conservationists from an American non-profit called Rare came to him with a problem. It was the early 1990s and eco-tourism was on the rise, but most of the local jobs were going to Westerners. Could he train Costa Ricans to work as nature guides? Mr. Jenks created a 10-week course in English and biology that soon transformed locals into personable eco-experts. This lined Costa Ricans up for well-paid tourism jobs, which helped them benefit from maintaining the country’s environmental beauty.

“That’s when I caught he bug,” says Mr. Jenks, now 50 and the director of Rare since 2000. “There are so many problems where we can create meaningful incentives for people to preserve natural resources for future generations.”

When Rare first approached Mr. Jenks, the outfit had a handful of staff and a budget of less than $1 million. Now the Arlington, VA-based group has become a $25 million operation, with 170 employees and offices in Brazil, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Micronesia, Mozambique and the Philippines. Rare has executed hundreds of campaigns in more than 55 countries to protect wildlife, preserve waterways, expand eco-tourism and push for green regulation. Most of its work involves getting farmers and fishermen in environmentally rich, economically poor areas to see the value in behaving sustainably.

Rare’s mission was land-based until around five years ago, when they turned their attention to fisheries. “We have fished out a lot of the ocean,” says Mr. Jenks. “If you measured fisheries like a tank of gas, it would be fair to say we’re at a quarter tank.”

Most people blame big commercial fleets, but Mr. Jenks says that small-scale fishers, many of them in motorless boats pose at least as great a threat. “When there are tens of millions of them along the coastline, where most of the world’s marine biodiversity is, they can and have done a lot of damage.” The fact that these small-scale fishermen provide food for about a billion of the world’s poorest people makes their fate—and the fate of their stocks—all he more urgent.

Changing the behavior of millions of poor coastal fishermen isn’t easy. But Rare’s Fish Forever program, which the non-profit has begun rolling out in Brazil, Indonesia, Mozambique and the Philippines, has already found some success.

In the Philippines, for example, granting fishermen exclusive access to coastal zones has made it possible to create local sanctuaries where fish can spawn and mature. Fishermen with explicit rights are more likely to enjoy the benefits of following the rules and not over-fishing. “If they play their cards right, the ocean becomes a natural annuity,” says Mr. Jenks. Rare’s analysis shows the fish stocks in pilot zones rising 47% in two years.

Rare is now using this approach in 90 of the country’s 800 coastal municipalities. It is also in talks with the Philippine government and several international development banks to figure out how to scale this solution nationally and perhaps globally.

In the world of conservation, good news is rare. “Being an environmentalist means the victories are few and far between,” Mr. Jenks says. That is why he pushes Rare’s staff to concentrate on what’s working—what he calls “a mind-set of solutionology.”

He is quick to rattle off Rare’s achievements, which include protecting the once critically endangered St. Lucian parrot in the Caribbean and convincing farmers in China to grow cotton organically. “It’s not just hope driving us,” Mr. Jenks says. “We have ample evidence that this approach is working.” Learn more at!

Bobow, Emily, Conservation That Works for Locals,
The Wall Street Journal, June 3-4, 2017

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There are so many problems where we can create meaningful incentives for people to preserve natural resources for future generations.





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