Seacology

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Seacology
The logo of Seacology, showing waves, stripes, and landmasses above the name Seacology
Type 501(c)(3)
Tax ID No. 87-0495235
Founded 1991
Founder(s) Paul Alan Cox
Ken Murdock
Bill Marré
Headquarters
Key people Chairman Paul Alan Cox
Executive Director Duane Silverstein
President Ken Murdock
Area served Global (islands)
Focus(es) Island conservation
Revenue Donations, grants, and royalties
Employees 7
Website seacology.org

Seacology is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization headquartered in Berkeley, California that focuses on preserving island ecosystems and cultures around the world. Founded in 1991, it began with the work of ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox, who researched tropical plants and their medicinal value in the village of Falealupo in Samoa during the mid-1980s. When the villagers were pressured into selling logging rights to their rainforest in 1988 to build a new school, Cox and his wife offered to help secure funds for the new school in return for an agreement with the villagers to protect their forest. With the help of his friends and family, Cox secured the funds within six months, later earning him and the village chief, Fuiono Senio, the Goldman Environmental Prize for their efforts. Word spread throughout the islands, and with increasing demand for similar projects, Cox, along with Bill Marré and Ken Murdock, decided to form Seacology and expand their work internationally. For the first few years, the organization operated on a volunteer basis. Duane Silverstein became the first employee in 1999, and headquarters were relocated to Berkeley, not far from his residence.

Because of the high risk of extinction for island fauna and the decline in coral reef ecosystems, Seacology operates by focusing on projects that require local villages to sign contracts under which they agree to help protect either terrestrial or marine habitat for a specified time in return for new buildings or services. The operations are low-cost, averaging around US$20,000 to $25,000. Construction is done with local labor and without the use of machinery. Seacology selects its projects by reviewing the recommendations of its field representatives and its scientific advisory board.

By 2010, Seacology had initiated 200 projects globally, and helped preserve 957,852 acres (3,876 km2; 1,497 sq mi) of marine habitat and 852,651 acres (3,451 km2; 1,332 sq mi) of terrestrial habitat. At the same time, they had helped construct 104 new facilities and provided 36 programs, which included educational materials, vital medical services, and environmental training. In addition to helping local people on islands like Fiji, Kendhoo, and many others, their projects have helped protect mangrove forests, sea turtles, marine mammals called dugongs, and one of the rarest primates in the world: the Hainan black crested gibbon. Seacology also awards its annual Seacology Prize to indigenous islanders for their efforts in conservation and cultural preservation. The organization helps support island communities by fostering ecotourism, and has helped raise emergency funds following destructive tsunamis. It performs all of these tasks on a modest budget, while also saving money by not compensating its board members. It has won awards from Yahoo! and Travel + Leisure magazine, and has been featured in the music video "What About Now" by the American rock band Daughtry.

History[edit]

Seacology was founded in 1991 by ethnobotanist Paul Alan Cox in Hawaii using prize money and consulting fees resulting from his efforts to preserve 30,000 acres (120 km2; 47 sq mi) of rainforest outside the village of Falealupo on the island of Savai'i in Samoa. He later recorded these events in his book, Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rain Forest.[1][2] Cox began his work in Samoa in 1973 during his first Mormon missionary service, at which time he learned from local people about the medicinal properties of the native plants. After working with local communities in other rainforests, Cox returned to Samoa in 1984 with his family. His aim was to find a cure for cancer, which had claimed the life of his mother earlier that year.[1] In return for the help of the local healers (called fofo), Cox offered to share the revenue generated by his research with the local villages. Over time, his research identified five new drugs, including the therapeutic agent prostratin, a potential treatment for HIV.[3][4] Prostratin was isolated in a concoction made from the bark of the local mamala tree (Homalanthus nutans) and shared with him by a healer named Epenesa Mauigoa, who used it to treat hepatitis.[3] Cox set up royalty agreements to ensure that the Samoans will share in the revenue.[1]

Paul Alan Cox and Fuiono Senio share circular trophy, supported by Cox and gripped by Senio
Ethnobiologist Paul Alan Cox (left) and village chief Fuiono Senio (right) won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1997 for their conservation efforts at Falealupo. Their work later led to the founding of Seacology.

In 1988, his research was threatened when the Samoan government pressured the village of Falealupo to pay US$65,000 for a new school, warning that if the village did not provide a new school within a year, they would withdraw the teachers from the village, leaving the children without an opportunity for a formal education.[1][3][5][6] Shortly after receiving this notice from government, a foreign-owned logging company offered the village exactly US$65,000 to log the entire 30,000 acres (120 km2; 47 sq mi) surrounding Falealupo.[7] Lacking a source of revenue, the villages eventually sold the logging rights to the forest,[5] but when Cox learned of the situation and witnessed the logging for himself,[8] he immediately sought an explanation from the village elders and then requested that they halt the logging so that he could raise money for the school. Despite initial skepticism, Cox convinced the high chief, Fuiono Senio, who then helped persuade the rest of the elders. Senio then drew his machete and raced 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) to halt the logging.[6]

The new school was built after Cox and his wife, Barbara, were able to raise the money in six months[4][6] partly by mortgaging their house.[1][9] Cox also obtained financial support from others and took over payments on the mortgage for the school. Verne Read, a businessman and financial supporter of Bat Conservation International,[10] took over payments on the mortgage for the school.[5][11] Ken Murdock, founder of the herbal company Nature's Way, and Rex Maughan, owner of Forever Living Products, funded the construction of the school[5][12] and repaid the loggers for their US$20,000 advance.[5][13] During a tribal ceremony held in February 1989, Cox, along with the village chiefs (matai) signed the "The Falealupo Covenant," which legally protected the forest for 50 years in exchange for their help.[2][3] During the ceremony, the village chiefs also bestowed chief's titles on Murdock and Maughan and proclaimed that Cox was a reincarnation of their god, Nafanua,[14] because like Nafanua, he did not come from Samoa and both had fought to protect the village and the forest.[15] The title bestowed upon him made Cox responsible for the well-being of the village and obligated that he return to visit.[1]

A large wooden staircase in a tower-shaped wooden frame climbs into the canopy, leading to a canopy walkway.
The canopy walkway in Falealupo (seen from its base) is a popular tourist attraction and has helped the community generate revenue.

In 1992, Cox and his friends had finished helping the Samoan villagers at Falealupo, as well as nearby Tafua, which encountered the same problem.[16] Prior to that, Murdock, who later became Seacology's President, suggested continuing their work by seeking out more villages with which they could exchange projects for marine and forest reserves.[5] As demand among island villages grew, Bill Marré, a business consultant and executive coach who later became a member of the Board of Trustees and the Chairman's Advisory Council, suggested establishing a nonprofit organization to continue their work.[16] He suggested the name "Seacology" to reflect the organization's focus on island conservation, and helped cofound the nonprofit in 1991, along with Cox and Murdock.[5] Using his own funds, Marré paid the costs of starting the organization and covered its administrative costs for the first three years. Together with his assistant, Marré helped advertise Seacology by giving lectures at schools and universities, visiting other island nations, and writing articles about the work for the local media.[16]

In Falealupo, Seacology continued their work, funding projects with a total of US$485,000 as of 2005.[3] When cyclone Ofa destroyed the primary school at Falealupo in 1990, Seacology helped raise funds to rebuild it. The school was completely rebuilt again in 1991 following Cyclone Val.[17] Several years after completing the school, the organization helped establish trails and build a rainforest information center, followed in 1997 by an elevated canopy walkway as part of an ecotourism project to help generate income for the people[2][17] and provide funds for a retirement system for the village elders.[6] The walkway has since become one of Samoa's leading tourist attractions,[3] and was yielding an average of US$1,000 each month for the community in 2001—bringing in more money than the villagers would have earned from selling their forest. Satisfied with the results, the villagers at Falealupo declared that they would honor the contract they had made with Cox to protect the forest forever, rather than just 50 years.[6] In 1997, both Cox and Senio, the village chief, shared the Goldman Environmental Prize for their work.[18]

For the first six years of its existence, Seacology operated as a volunteer organization with no employees.[19] Four years after being founded, Seacology's administrative office moved to Ken Murdock's office. The office moved again in 1999 to Berkeley, California[16] after Cox offered a job to Duane Silverstein—then the Executive Director of the Goldman Fund, which had previously honored Cox with the Goldman Environmental Prize. Silverstein had been inspired by the work Cox had done in Samoa, and agreed to take the position of Executive Director of Seacology under the condition that the office be relocated to within walking distance of his house.[20][21]

Activities[edit]

A blanket of green mangrove stretches out, with volcanic mountains in the distance.
A small modern building with a metal room and painted green walls
Seacology works to protect habitats on islands around the world in return for services. This mangrove forest in the Philippines (left) was protected in return for new community facilities or services, such as this new community hall in Sanoa Village on the island of Vanuatu (right).

Seacology is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve both island habitats and cultures by exchanging services for local assistance and cooperation with conservation efforts.[22] As of 2000, it was reported to be the only conservation organization to focus entirely on island preservation.[23] Seacology has 501(c)(3) status (providing federal income tax deductions for some donors) because it is a charitable, non-profit organization.[16] According to its mission statement on its website, "Seacology searches for win-win situations where both the local environment is protected and islanders receive some tangible benefit for doing so."[24]

Islands encompass a large portion of the world's surface. Combined, the largest 125 islands cover an area the size of Europe, and if the economic zones that include marine resources (found within a few miles of shore) are included, islands make up one-sixth of the Earth's surface area and hold half of all marine species.[25] Scientific surveys have shown that coral reefs are declining rapidly due to climate change, dynamite and cyanide fishing, and marine pollution.[26] According to evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson, bird species that are endemic to islands face a greater risk of extinction—40 times greater than on the continents.[9][27] At least 255 island bird species have gone extinct since the appearance of humans, with 158 lost during prehistory and 97 lost between 1600 and 1994. In comparison, between 17 and 20 species of continental birds have gone extinct between 1600 and 1994.[28] Because the small land area of islands can only support small populations,[27] the biggest threat to endemic wildlife is habitat loss. Other threats include direct exploitation (hunting and pet trade),[29] disease, and invasive species.[9]

To save island habitats around the world, Seacology staff initiate new projects by first holding meetings with local villagers to determine their needs.[20] These needs often include schools, a community center, solar energy, or freshwater delivery. Once their needs are determined, Seacology makes a deal with the local community, offering to provide the needed service in return for a forest reserve or a no-take fishing area around a coral reef. Facilities such as schools and community centers are built using local labor, and Seacology provides approximately US$20,000 for supplies and to facilitate the construction.[21] Seacology has field representatives stationed around the world who monitor and report the progress of the projects in their region, as well as seek new projects in their respective regions or islands. New project suggestions are reviewed by the Board of Directors.[30] The Scientific Advisory Board provide additional recommendations, based on the latest research.[31]

In addition to their projects, Seacology played an active role in the creation of the National Park of American Samoa through the work of their scientists and donors.[32] In 2008, Seacology started its Carbon Offset Fund, where donations of US$40.00 went directly towards renewable energy and reforestation projects.[33] That same year, they collaboratively funded the creation of a nursery run by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Azafady in Madagascar to raise 3,000 seedlings of the endangered palm Dypsis saintelucei.[34] The two organizations have also collaborated to protect the Manafiafy Forest in southeastern Madagascar.[35] In Bunaken and Manado, Seacology was involved in testing a new method of restoring coral reef, which involved planting white ceramic modules that were shaped like 3-dimensional snowflakes to maximize the surface area for corals to grow.[36][37]

In 2007, Seacology became an international organization with greater visibility, despite their small staff. International affiliate programs, such as Seacology Germany and Seacology Japan were created to help raise funds to support island projects. The following year, Seacology U.K. was created, followed by Seacology Scandinavia in 2009.[19] For its global efforts, Seacology has received several awards, including the Global Vision Award in Travel + Leisure, the Blue Award in Islands Magazine, and Yahoo!'s Pick for Good in September 2006.[38][39]

Projects[edit]

According to their 2010 Annual Report, Seacology has funded over 200 projects globally.[19] The island communities that have aided in these efforts have collectively received 104 facilities, including schools, community centers, and other important structures. Educational materials, vital medical services, and environmental training were provided in 36 programs.[19]

Dozens of men from an Indonesian village work on the foundation of a new building.
Seacology projects involve machine-free labor, utilizing the strength and skills of the local community.

When projects are agreed upon with an island community, local rituals often coincide with the start of the project, particularly through the Pacific Islands. A common custom involves drinking kava, a mildly narcotic drink made from the ground-up root of a pepper plant. The ritual is hundreds of years old, and has been described by the Seacology staff as being relaxing especially because of the friendly environment. The Seacology staff often dress in the local attire, and try to treat to the local people as equals without being patronizing. The villagers perform dances, and the staff are invited to join in, often to the amusement of the local people.[21]

When the projects begin, the work is done without machines, with supplies being shipped on small boats and then carried by hand from the beach.[40] Project costs range between US$5,000 and US$150,000, although the average is between US$20,000 and US$25,000.[41] The protected areas that result from these deals typically involve a 20- to 30-year commitment. Seacology hopes that during that time the local people grow to respect these resources and ideally progress to a point where they are less dependent on their natural resources. According to marine biologist Mark Erdmann, in a worst-case scenario, if the people violate the contract and destroy the habitat, Seacology will have still made a difference in the lives of the people through their low-cost investment. By contrast, Erdmann pointed out that larger conservation organizations might invest large sums of money and by not addressing the immediate needs of the people, walk away from a failed project without having helped the community.[42]

Examples of Seacology's projects include cases where villagers in Fiji refused a US$700,000 offer by foreign businessmen to buy one of the islands to sign an agreement that prohibited development for 20 years and established a 10-year no-take fishing reserve that encompassed 80 square miles (210 km2) around the island.[43] On the island of Kendhoo, part of the Baa Atoll in the Maldives, Seacology paid US$30,000 in 2003 to build a kindergarten in exchange for a ban on harvesting endangered sea turtle eggs, which the government did not prohibit.[44][45] In the Trang Province of Thailand, another project helps protect the habitat of seagrass beds and mangrove forest to provide habitat for endangered marine mammals called dugongs (Dugong dugon).[45] In 2003, Seacology and a Chinese organization worked together to form an agreement with the people of Hainan Island where in return for scholarships for nearly 200 middle-school children, the people would stop cutting down the trees around Bawangling Reserve, home to one of the rarest primates in the world, the Hainan black crested gibbon (Nomascus nasutus hainanus) and the nearly extinct subspecies of Eld's deer (Panolia eldii) found on Hainan.[46][47] In a project on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam, the organization helped protect the golden-headed langur, another one of the world's most endangered primates, by paying cash and helping establish exclusive harvesting and fishing rights for the local people in return for their efforts in patrolling the beaches and forests for poachers.[48] In 1999, Seacology began work to establish a new national park around Mt. Angavokely, near Antananarivo in Madagascar. The mountain is home to 120 species of endangered orchids and several medicinal herbs, including Helichrysum gymnocephalum, which is used as an antiseptic and treatment for bronchitis; Secneicia faujasiodides, which is used for healing wounds; Psiadia altissima, which is used to treat eczema; Bryophyllum proliferum, which is used to treat coughing; and Brachylaena ramiflora, which is used to lower malarial fever.[35]

Service awards[edit]

A man from Madagascar holds a trophy above his head, while people clap behind him.
Rabary Desiré of Madagascar was awarded the Seacology Prize in 2010.

Created by cofounder Bill Marré in 1992 and underwritten by Ken Murdock in honor of his mother, the Seacology Prize is awarded each year to an indigenous islander based on achievements in island conservation and cultural preservation.[16][49] The recipients of the award are often people who receive little or no public recognition for their work, and often risk their lives and wellbeing to preserve their culture and environment.[50] The prize includes a reward of US$10,000.[49]

In 2010, it was awarded to Rabary Desiré from Matsobe-Sud in Madagascar for his forest conservation efforts in Belaoka Marovato in northeastern Madagascar. Rabary, an ecotour guide and research guide, had created his own forest reserve, called Antanetiambo (meaning "on the high hill"), and planned to use his prize money to fund reforestation efforts, develop tourist facilities, and expand the size of Antanetiambo.[51] Another winner of the Seacology Prize was the Icelandic filmmaker and former reporter for RÚV, Ómar Ragnarsson, who won the award in 2008 for his efforts in preserving the highlands of Iceland.[52]

Winners of the Seacology Prize[49][53]
Year Winner Nationality
2013 Marie Saleem Maldives Maldives
2012 John Aini Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea
2011 Irman Meilandi Indonesia Indonesia
2010 Rabary Desiré Madagascar Madagascar
2009 Filip Damen Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea
2008 Ómar Ragnarsson Iceland Iceland
2007 Kokichi Kariya Japan Japan
2006 Ketut Sarjana Putra Indonesia Indonesia
2005 Patrick Pate Papua New Guinea Papua New Guinea
2005 Felix Sugirtharaj India India
2004 Adrian Lasimbang Malaysia (Borneo) Malaysia
2003 Elisabeth Rabakonandrianina Madagascar Madagascar
2002 Meity Mongdong Indonesia Indonesia
2001 Anuradha Wickramasinghe Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
2000 Doris Matsuda-Saromines United States (Hawaii) United States
2000 Edwin "Take" Matsuda United States (Hawaii) United States
1999 Madison Nena Federated States of Micronesia (Kosrae) Federated States of Micronesia
1998 Saula Vodonaivalu, Sr. Fiji Fiji
1997 Mary Thomas Canada (British Columbia) Canada
1996 Taufa'ahau Tupou IV Tonga Tonga
1995 A.P. Lutali American Samoa American Samoa
1994 Va'asilifiti Moelagi Jackson Samoa Samoa
1993 Fuiono Senio Samoa Samoa
1992 Ulu Taufa'asisina Tausaga Samoa Samoa

Ecotourism[edit]

In response to the growing demand for ecotourism, Seacology opened up its fundraising expeditions to the public in 2006. These trips include destinations like Fiji, and offer both unique travel opportunities and a means for helping improve the quality of life for the indigenous people.[22] The experiences have been described as "moving"[21] because of the close personal interactions with the local people. In some cases, the tour groups visit locations seldom visited by Westerners.[21] On the tours, Seacology encourages its travelers to explore the culture and economy by trying local foods.[54]

Following the 2002 Bali bombings, Silverstein reported that tourism fell by over 90 percent on the island of Bali, mostly due to sensational media reporting. Silverstein was in Bali a few days after the attack and reported that such reporting damaged the local economies, despite what he reported as little or no risk to tourists in the Muslim villages of region.[55]

Tsunami relief funds[edit]

Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Seacology established a tsunami relief fund to help four impacted communities with which the organization had previously completed projects.[56] Following the model of their projects, the Seacology staff asked the local people what they needed to rebuild their local economy and infrastructure.[20][57] In Kiralakele, Sri Lanka, the people requested fishing nets and boats so that they could resume their lifestyle. Goats and chickens were requested by the people of Kadachang Village in the Andaman Islands. On Kendhoo in the Maldives, the tsunami had destroyed the local plant life, so seedlings were needed to restore the environment. In Trang Province, Thailand, basic structural repair was requested. Seacology emphasized that it would repair and replace the projects that had been damaged or destroyed in the tsunami.[56][58]

As of late 2005, Seacology had raised US$261,716 for the relief work,[20] with all of it going directly to fund the efforts.[56] All donors received details of how the money was spent, as well as photos of the work. The California Association of Nonprofits later honored Seacology with their Achievement in Innovation Award at their annual meeting in San Francisco for the relief work.[20]

Previous work by Seacology in the region had helped minimize the damage caused by the tsunami. Seacology Prize recipient Anuradha Wickramasinghe from Sri Lanka noted that the mangrove forests that were preserved shielded their community, whereas nearby villages that cleared their mangroves to create industrial shrimp farms had not fared so well. Mangroves also buffered Kadachang Village in the hard-hit Andaman Islands, which suffered little loss of human life or structural damage compared to the nation's capital city of Port Blair.[59]

Following the 2009 Samoa tsunami, Seacology once again started a tsunami relief effort. They helped Samoan villages by providing new water tanks and pipelines, and also helped to clean up mangroves and inshore coral reefs that were littered with debris from nearby motels.[60]

Finances[edit]

Seacology is a small nonprofit, with only seven full-time staff,[61] and as a result has little overhead costs and low inefficiency with its modest budget.[20][62] Its tax identification number is 87-0495235.[63] According to Silverstein, its annual budget for all of its staff and office expenditures is significantly lower than the median compensation for business chief executive officers (CEOs) alone.[64] Unlike many organizations, board members receive no compensation[65] and are not reimbursed for the costs of attending board meetings.[64] Unlike other environmental groups, Seacology does not offer memberships, which further reduces its expenditures.[20]

In addition to its efficiency, the organization boasts a responsive and reliable staff, who answer the phone instead of using automated answering services.[64] Furthermore, Seacology respects donor privacy and is compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).[66]

In 2010, Seacology reported US$1,235,720 in donations and grants and a total of US$1,354,314 when other revenue was included. Its expenses that year totaled US$1,458,667, with US$226,619 going toward fundraising and US$188,157 supporting management and other general expenses.[19] Financial support comes mostly from individuals, foundations, and companies such as Nu Skin Enterprises, which pays US$180,000 annually in royalties for the plant-based cosmetic formulas Cox developed for facial creams and other skincare products.[2][6][41] Board members also contribute a sizable portion of the annual budget, donating a minimum of US$10,000 per year to the organization.[2]

Leadership[edit]

Seacology is governed by its Board of Directors, which consists of corporate leaders who share a commitment to island conservation and the preservation of island cultures.[65][67] Paul Alan Cox is the Chairman of Seacology. He received his PhD from Harvard University, and served as a professor at Brigham Young University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and Uppsala University. Cox served as the Director of the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) for seven years, and as of 2011, he is the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethnomedicine, which is affiliated with the NTBG. His research interests include island plant ecology and ethnobotany of island cultures, and he has published more than 150 scientific papers and reviews.[65] For his research on new medicinal plants, he was named one of eleven "Heroes of Medicine" by Time magazine.[65][68] Cox is an advocate of indigenous peoples, and has learned several of island languages.[65]

A photo of Duane Silverstein wearing a grey suit and a blue tie.
Duane Silverstein joined Seacology in 1999 as the Executive Director.

The Executive Director of Seacology is Duane Silverstein, who for 18 years prior to joining the organization acted as the Executive Director of the Goldman Fund and headed the Goldman Environmental Prize. He has written articles that have appeared in Asian Geographic as well as various scuba diving magazines, and he is a National Fellow of The Explorers Club. Silverstein has met with heads of state around the world, including several presidents of the United States, as well as several Secretaries-General of the United Nations. In addition to having his work covered in newspapers and periodicals, including Time magazine, the Bangkok Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle,[61] he was also selected as an "All-Stars Among Us" in People magazine, for which he was honored at the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.[61][69] In 2008, Silverstein and Seacology were briefly featured alongside several organizations in the music video for "What About Now" by the American rock band Daughtry.[70] In 2010, Silverstein was awarded the one of the Jefferson Awards for Public Service and also was given the 2010 Coastal Hero Award by Sunset magazine.[61]

The President of Seacology is Ken Murdock, who also founded the herbal company Nature's Way after his mother was cured of a serious illness with an herbal medicine. Murdock played a key role in the creation of Seacology, and Nature's Way covered Seacology's administrative costs for three years. Murdock has volunteered in Samoa, during which time he resided on Manu'a and learned the local language.[65]

The Scientific Advisory Board of Seacology includes island biodiversity specialists,[67] whose research focuses on the conservation of oceanic and terrestrial island ecosystems. The Scientific Advisory Board generates recommendations for new conservation projects based on the latest research available.[31] Among the eleven members are researcher and Pulitzer Prize winner Jared Diamond, entomologist and evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson, and oceanographer Sylvia Earle.[20][31] As the founder of Seacology, Cox is also a member of the advisory board.[20]

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Literature cited[edit]

External links[edit]