Ocean Elder Sven Lindblad on why Protecting UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage Is Essential
Last August, the UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage Managers Conference was held on board Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Endeavour, and we were honored to be joined by CEO and Ocean Elder Sven Lindblad. Over the course of the week, Lindblad met with the managers responsible for the day-to-day protection of our common ocean heritage of humanity, sharing the stories behind his commitment to ocean conservation.
Lindblad inherited his love of travel from his father, who decided to get into the travel business because he needed a way to fund his exploration. Ultimately, he realized that travel was a great way to teach people. Lindblad has continued this tradition. For him, protecting the natural world is both a business imperative and a personal passion.
It was an experience in Africa that awakened Lindblad to the power people have over nature, and our responsibility to wield it wisely. As a young man, Lindblad worked in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. In 1971, he spent a week counting black rhino and found 59 individuals. When he returned a good 10 years later, he couldn’t find a single one. He was struck by the devastating power people have over nature, wiping out an entire rhino population in a decade.
We are seeing similar crises in the ocean, with iconic animals like manatee, bluefin tuna and hammerhead sharks pushed to the brink of extinction, and even our most treasured ocean areas are under pressure from illegal and unsustainable fisheries, climate change, and industrial development. Despite their iconic status, marine World Heritage sites are not immune to these threats.
“For us to have a life where we survive, and thrive financially and spiritually, we need healthy natural systems,” said Lindblad . “The ocean is under major assault on so many fronts. Acidification, overfishing, rising sea levels, etc.”
The Marine World Heritage Managers conference focused on these very threats, connecting guardians of the world’s flagship marine protected areas with leading fisheries, climate experts as well as ocean leaders such Enric Sala and Daniel Pauly.
Lindblad’s leadership support was vital to the conference, and he immediately recognized the power of convening this global think tank to strategize about shared solutions. Managers of these flagship MPAs have hundreds of thousands of hours of practice on what works and what doesn’t. Bringing them together prevents us from reinventing the wheel each time over and making costly mistakes.
“One thing about the ocean is that it is potentially this great unifier across borders,” Lindblad said. “The ocean is a connected entity. We call it different things, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, but there really is just one ocean. You don’t really have a scenario with conservation success in one place and failure in another.”
That is precisely why the World Heritage Marine Programme works to facilitate cooperation across boundaries and support marine conservation success at every one of the 49 treasures under our collective care.
As Lindblad knows from his extensive travels, these sites are awe-inspiring. The first glimpse of orcas at Peninsula Valdés (Argentina), diving in the crystalline Lagoons of New Caledonia (France), and exploring the otherworldly landscape of the Kvarken Archipelago (Finland)—those are experiences people remember for their whole lives. It is those experiences that make people care about protecting these unique ocean treasures.
But conservation is not an aesthetic idea for Lindblad. He recognizes the economic and cultural value of places like Coiba National Park (Panama) and Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau). “It is unbelievable how we don’t as societies understand that natural systems are the real world bank,” he says.
With support from leaders like Sven Lindblad, we will continue working to protect these shared assets for the benefit of all humankind.
To hear Lindblad’s reflections on the idea of World Heritage and the recent managers conference in the Galapagos, check out this short video: