The Vibrant Oceans Initiative

Ensuring our oceans survive and thrive in the face of climate change

Billions of people and huge numbers of marine species depend on the health of the world’s oceans — but these critical ecosystems are increasingly threatened by climate change, pollution, and overfishing. To confront the threats they face, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative (VOI) works to protect and restore the world’s ocean by promoting ocean conservation, protecting resilient coral reef habitats, and reducing the practice of harmful and illegal overfishing.

With a special focus on coral reefs and fisheries, WCS is proud to be one of five initiative partners working with Bloomberg Philanthropies to protect critical ocean resources

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Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS

The initiative uses multiple strategies to protect ocean ecosystems:

Strategic Partnerships: No one entity can eradicate the threats to our oceans alone. The Vibrant Oceans Initiative forms and fosters partnerships with leading ocean conservation groups, advocates, funders, business leaders, scientists and governments, including Rare, Oceana, Global Fishing Watch, Oceans5, the Wildlife Conservation Society, OceanX and the network of 54 Commonwealth countries.

  • Climate change, overfishing, pollution, and unsustainable development threaten the survival of coral reefs. As part of the Vibrant OCeans Initiative, WCS works on the ground all over the world with local partners at every level to protect climate-resilient reefs and to restore degraded coral reefs before they are lost entirely.

National policy reform: Taking a data-driven approach, VOI supports policy reform on small- and industrial-scale fishing practices in top fishing nations, including Brazil, Chile and the Philippines. This work is imperative to meeting rising seafood demand due to population growth and supporting the livelihoods of billions globally.

  • WCS works closely with government and local partners advocating for policies that strengthen the role of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in fisheries management, and catalysing political support for new marine protected areas. Internationally, our coral reef and policy experts are working to ensure actionable and science-based policies for coral reefs are prioritized in the Post-2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, to help safeguard our ocean’s biodiversity centers and the food security and livelihoods of millions.

Local conservation and fisheries management: Vibrant Oceans partners with organizations, coastal communities and local governments to manage small-scale fisheries, manage fish and coral resources, and prevent pollution to protect their sources of income and nutrition while ensuring long-term sustainability and resilience of the coastal ecosystems. Empowering local communities with direct control over their resources is a proven way to enhance conservation and safeguard sources of income and nutrition, as well as ensure long-term resilience of coastal ecosystems.

  • WCS works to protect climate-resilient reefs in four countries (Fiji, Indonesia, Tanzania, and Kenya), centering community-led conservation efforts. We identify, mitigate, and monitor the major threats to coral reefs, and track our progress in addressing threats as well as the resulting ecosystem and livelihood gains. We work with local partners to mitigate land-based impacts like pollution, deforestation, and unsustainable development, to combat overfishing and destructive fishing methods, and to strengthen the governance and effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs).

Data-driven strategy and global transparency: Thorough data gathering and analysis provide a better understanding of the challenges facing fisheries and coral reefs while supporting strategies to solve them. For example, VOI supports Global Fishing Watch, a publicly accessible and free online platform that tracks the movements and activities of tens of thousands of commercial fishing vessels in real time and helps to reduce the $23+ billion worth of seafood that is stolen through illegal fishing. Vibrant Oceans Initiative also supports MERMAID, a global data platform from WCS that accelerates underwater reef monitoring data and empowers conservation action to save coral reefs.

  • WCS is a global leader in innovative coral reef conservation, working with local partners to identify key threats facing reefs and conducting in-water monitoring to assess the health of reef ecosystems and the real-time impacts of conservation efforts. After WCS scientists contributed to the foundational work of the 50 Reefs study, we then launched coordinated and standardized monitoring in four VOI countries to measure the health and function of coral reef ecosystems, and help understand the critical role these ecosystems play in local livelihoods, cultures, and food security. In 2019, WCS launched the first global coral reef field monitoring platform, MERMAID, to help scientists quickly upload, analyze, and share their reef data. In 2020, WCS took MERMAID’s global dashboard live to provide real-time data on the health of 1,000+ coral reefs in over a dozen countries.

By the Numbers

15,134 km2 of ocean protected by policy gains

20 science-based policies launched or passed

109 local leaders we’re working with to protect reefs

24 million people benefiting from coral reef protections in WCS geographies

15 million dollars of additional funds leveraged as a result of Vibrant Oceans

Fiji

Healthy watersheds support healthy people. In Fiji, WCS is taking an integrated approach to improving the health of the entire linked ridge-to-reef system, including the human communities that rely on them for food and livelihoods.

There is higher risk of people contracting waterborne bacterial diseases like typhoid and leptospirosis in watersheds with high amounts of deforestation and high density of livestock. We also know that watershed alterations that promote flooding and standing water can accelerate transmission of tropical diseases like dengue fever. As well as hurting human health, these same activities result in harmful runoff as polluting sediments and nutrients enter waterways and wreak havoc on downstream coral reef ecosystems.

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Photo Credit: ©Emily Darling/WCS

To combat rises in waterborne diseases and pollution on coral reefs, WCS and partners launched the WISH Fiji (Watershed Interventions for Systems Health in Fiji) program in 2019. WISH focuses on targeted and integrated upstream catchment management and policy reform to reduce the spread of disease and improve conditions for coral reefs in Fiji.

Indonesia

WCS has made huge strides in protecting Indonesia’s coral reefs by working with key partners to formally establish more than 823,500 km2 of MPAs since the beginning of our work with Vibrant Oceans.

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Photo Credit: ©Eko Krisna

Under this project we are focusing primarily on three places:

  • In Taka Bonerate National Park, we continue to tackle a major threat to the park’s reefs – blast fishing – through a multi-faceted approach aimed at prevention, building compliance and public awareness, empowering the local government, and improving detection of illegal fishing through field technology.
  • In another national park, Karimunjawa, WCS is working with the National Park Authority to create sustainable reef tourism guidelines and practices to help local tourism operators protect the ecosystems that they depend on.
  • In Aceh, WCS works hand-in-hand with traditional “Panglima Laot” leaders to implement community-centric marine protection laws and to support local leaders to manage fishing activity in their territories.

Tanzania & Kenya

WCS works along the coast of Eastern Africa to conserve critical marine habitat and species through marine protected Area (MPA) governance, sustainable small-scale fisheries work, and working with communities to build greater knowledge and awareness around key threats facing their fisheries. To protect a globally-important marine climate refuge in the region, the local team has built strong partnerships with marine government institutions and coastal communities. WCS scientists confirmed the presence of a globally important marine climate stronghold on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, and WCS is now facilitating the creation of new MPA management plans, and Marine Spatial Planning, across that trans-boundary conservation area. These plans will be a critical tool to ensure MPAs are effectively managed and incorporate measurable marine conservation targets for what will be the first time in Tanzania. Similarly, we are continuing to build political support for new and expanded protected areas, including a large offshore MPA in Kenya’s Malindi-Watamu seascape.

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Photo Credit: ©Erika Pineros

WCS is also playing a lead role in developing a new national framework for community-based fisheries management in Tanzania and will support rollout in two collaborative fisheries management areas (14 communities) as a model for this new framework.

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