From Seahorses & Selfridges to Society – Making a real difference

Dr Heather Koldewey
Head of Global Conservation Programmes, Zoological Society of London, Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RY

Twitter: @heatherkoldewey


If marine conservation is truly important then why is it such a low priority for most people and bottom of the political agenda? Is the conservation community failing in selling the conservation message to the general public? A growing body of research that indicates that many people – especially children – feel anxious or hopeless about the state of the planet and their ability to effect positive change. Unfortunately, environmental narratives – both mainstream media and scientific – are focused on “doom and gloom” stories, which frighten, disempower and disengage people. Mistakenly, the conservation community often buys into this approach, in the belief that more information about how bad things are will spur people to action.

This talk will explore how we might adopt different, positive and hopeful ways to engage people in marine conservation, leading to changes in behaviour and a more sustainable relationship with the ocean. In this context, I will present a series of ‘ocean optimism’ case studies developed by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) that provide potential solutions that can be scaled up and replicated. These include:

 Project Seahorse, which uses seahorses as flagship species to support marine conservation more broadly, for example:

  • Developing research and management options to drive the recovery of seahorse populations and habitats around the world
  • Generating 34 locally-managed marine protected areas and protocols for effective conservation of many marine fish species
  • Reconciling disparate interest groups to move traditional Chinese medicine consumption towards sustainability
  • Prompting a new regulatory option for marine fish exports globally
  • Implementing an innovative web-based tool to document seahorses globally

Project Ocean, an innovative and ground-breaking partnership between the luxury London department store, Selfridges and ZSL to bring ocean conservation to new audiences and change consumer buying habits. Project Ocean has three objectives: 1. raise awareness of overfishing; 2. change people’s buying and eating habits; 3. raise money and awareness for marine reserves. This conservation-marketing experiment launched the concept of ‘retail activism’ and brought together 22 NGOs as well as celebrities, scientists, royalty, fishing industry representatives, youth-group leaders, parliamentarians, heads of state, artists, fashion designers and musicians. Since the launch of Project Ocean, Selfridges has led by example and influenced many of its suppliers on a number of marine issues, including commitment to only stock sustainably-sourced fish in its Food Hall and restaurants, the removal of all beauty and cosmetic products containing shark oil or shark by-products, and addressing the issue of marine plastics through better retail ‘plastic practice’.

Working with Interface, a world-leading carpet tile manufacturer, ZSL is helping to implement Net-Works. This unique initiative is designed to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities whilst at the same time support Interface’s Mission Zero goal to source 100% recycled material for its carpet tiles. The programme has established a community-based supply chain for collecting discarded fishing nets in rural coastal areas in the central Philippines, with the following results:

  • Collection levels: To date, we have collected 41,437 kgs of discarded fishing nets, helping 4,500 villagers in 14 collection sites in Danajon Bank and the Bantayan Islands
  • Socio-economic impact: Through collection of the fishing nets, fishers and community members, who generally live at or below the poverty line, can earn supplemental income. Net-Works is closely integrated with community banking systems that support and strengthen the local economy and provide new financial opportunities for residents. Community banking empowers programme members to establish forms of micro-insurance, savings and loans for the benefit of both individuals and the community
  • Environmental impact: Net-Works helps to ensure that end-of-life fishing nets will no longer be discarded in the natural environment

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity. ZSL’s mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our belief is that a diverse and healthy natural world is valuable in its own right and is essential for ensuring secure and healthy lives for people.  Our activities address the variety of problems facing wildlife using a wide array of solutions.

References and websites

Kelsey, E. 2012. Ecologists should learn to look on the bright side. New Scientist. 2846: 24-25

Sodhi, N.S., Butler, R., Laurance, W.F., Gibson, L. 2011. Conservation successes at micro-, meso- and macroscales. Trends in Ecology & Evolution , Volume 26 , Issue 11 , 585 – 594.

Vincent, A.C.J, Foster, S.J., Koldewey, H.J. (2011). Conservation and management of seahorses and other syngnathids. Journal of Fish Biology. 78(6): 1681-1724.

The Ocean Portal (Beyond the Obituaries) 

Zoological Society of London 

Project Seahorse – and

Project Ocean – and