By: Cate Daniels, Undergraduate Student, International Studies
When I compiled the results of my thesis research, I ended up with a mix of exciting conclusions and a feeling of discomfort. Because of the way Americans talk about sustainability and value natural systems, it seemed like my conclusion (that one NGO had contributed more to a sustainability ethic among fishers than another) was a value-based judgment which said that one community and NGO were “successful” while the other was not. This is not at all what I believe, nor does it reflect the complexity of both situations. Mikoko Pamoja’s objective was not to change the practices of fishermen and fishers in Gazi are not unconcerned with the health of the fisheries. They are aware that their practices have an impact on the local ecosystems. In fact, many expressed knowledge of how all the components of their adjacent fisheries, mangroves, and seagrass beds work together and depend on each other. There were many reasons why fishers felt they could not comply with any existing rules designed to promote the health of the fisheries and why they had mostly not adopted or employed a sustainability ethic in their work.
An additional challenge arose from the fact that many of the people I interviewed would have no use for a final report written in English, so my plans to share my findings with them had to be more innovative than emailing a copy of my paper. Here, again, I had to lean into partnerships to ensure that my work could be meaningful in amplifying the voices of community members and allowing them to share amongst each other their knowledge that I had compiled in this project.
I was able to communicate my findings to thought leaders at both Mikoko Pamoja and the Save Andaman Network Foundation and use direct quotes from community members to make recommendations. For example, it became apparent to me in my research that in Mod Tah Noi, having community members lead the charge towards a healthier community and a healthier ocean was empowering. Most working people in both communities are fishers. Therefore, when conservation work makes space for everyone to participate in a meaningful way (as it does in Mod Tah Noi), the people working in the fisheries are automatically invited to declare their needs and to advocate for reasonable and effective fishing rules. By presenting this knowledge to be disseminated in both communities, my work is making a case for active inclusion based on what participants shared with me, not based on my own ideals. By sharing my research with the organizations I worked with, I was also able to answer questions they had about their solutions. I sought to provide a critical lens through which they could see their impact so that their programs can be more effective moving forward.
Editor’s Note: This work was supported with an ACE Student Scholars Grant, thanks to the generous support of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations for DU Grand Challenges. Find out more about ACE grants here and DU Grand Challenges Student Scholars here.