The conservation group Blue Ventures won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge in a ceremony at the CUNY Graduate Center on Friday night. The group took home the $100,000 prize, edging out FrontlineSMS, Rainforest Foundation UK, and TARA Ashkar+. The project caught the attention of the judges for its work with impoverished communities along the coast of Madagascar. To solve the problem of overfishing and biodiversity, the group delved into the root causes on land, such as overpopulation and a lack of birth control (an increase in population exacerbates overfishing). The strategy was to stabilize the population and shift toward alternative economic resources. Conservation in the water depends heavily on human behavior on land.
Encompassing 25 fishing villages along the more than 200 miles of Madagascar coast, the project spurred one of the strongest Marine Protected Areas in the region. By providing the locals with knowledge on subsistence fishing, the group helped shift the traditional ways the communities have interacted with the ocean for generations. The techniques gave the marine environment, particularly the fish and coral reef, a chance to rebound. While the fish were regaining their population, back on land the opposite was needed. Empowering the women in the community became key. Blue Ventures counseled the women on family planning, which the group sees as a basic human right.