Sustainability Across Borders

Hello from San Diego!

Not captured on camera: the green flash.

Last week-end, I crossed the border and adventured to Baja. I was warned that entering Baja at Tijuana — a chaotic metropolis not without its own charms — can be jarring for first-time border-crossers. Yet, I didn’t expect to be struck by the lack of vegetarian options. In Tijuana, before taking the bus to Ensenada, I tried to get lunch at a food stall. In my rusty spanish, I asked the vendor if he had anything vegetarian. He chuckled and mentioned that the guy across the street had chicken. After I reminded him that chicken was a type of meat, he pointed out that if I was really hungry, the store around the corner sold candy. I gave up and snacked on the bread and peanut butter I had packed earlier that morning.

Looking out the bus window at rocky cliffs overlooking the dark blue Pacific, I was asking myself whether I wanted to be the tourist who carries a loaf of bread in her backpack and eats peanut butter for every meal? Or, if I wanted to be the tourist who supports the small, local businesses and fully experiences and embraces the culture?

Not only did I eat fish in Baja but I also splurged on bottled water  – two things I never do, a few miles away, in California. The trip made me realize that the definition of being environmentally conscious changes across borders. You have to be flexible, adapt, and be opportunistic. In Baja, I broke my vegetarian fast and chose not to risk drinking non potable water, but I crossed the border by foot instead of by car, took the bus, asked where the fish came from and asked for drinks with no straws.

Yet, leaving Baja, I still felt like I could have done more. Instead of only picking up sand dollars on the beach, I could have picked up the bottle caps and cigarette butts I walked by. I could have stuck to my vegetarian diet, with the hope that if more vegetarian tourists did the same, locals would maybe start thinking about diversifying their diets, and realize that they can’t keep on relying so much on an already overfished and collapsing ocean. Or, in other words, start thinking about how can they use the ocean without using it up.

Use the ocean without using it up is the motto of the Waitt Institute, the organization I am working for this summer. Through the Blue Halo Initiative, the Waitt Institute in collaboration with partner governments, envisions, creates, and implements policies for an ocean that can be used in a way that is simultaneously sustainable, profitable, and enjoyable.

This summer, I am working on one of the Blue Halo Initiative sites – Montserrat. More specifically, I am focussing on tackling sustainable financing for ocean management on Montserrat. Given the small scale of Montserrat’s fisheries and economy, funding from fishing permits, fees or taxes will be limited, warranting the need to find alternative sources of revenue to fund ocean management. Over the past few weeks, I have been researching and assessing alternative potential revenue sources. By the end of the summer, the goal is to present to the Government of Montserrat, a selection of funding mechanisms options that have the capacity to raise significant revenue and that are feasible to implement, accountable, lasting in nature, and politically and socially accepted.

If you’ve read till here, you’re hopefully thinking where is the funding for ocean management on Montserrat going to come from? How to make it sustainable? Where is Montserrat? All I’ll say, for now, is that the answer to the sustainable financing riddle Montserrat, and elsewhere, … is actually kind of like being a vegetarian in Baja – it requires open-mindedness, adaptability, and willingness to think outside the box.

I am heading to that little Caribbean island in just two days to share preliminary results with key stakeholders, fill data gaps, and seek input on proposed funding mechanisms. Stay tuned for a proper introduction to Montserrat soon!

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