Collaborative platforms are necessary to address CSR initiatives for marine conservation, which forms SDG 14 (Life Below Water) of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal. Our oceans do not recognise political or international borders. Thus, we must deal with coastal and ocean issues like the coral reef crisis internationally, using a collaborative strategy. Efforts by one company to prevent ocean pollution or control overfishing can have a very small effect if others are not contributing to the solution.
A good example is an initiative for sustainable shipping, which is a collaborative effort between the main players in the maritime industry that seeks to attain the vision of both a sustainable and profitable shipping industry. Collaborative efforts between leading companies in a certain industry will create an innovative space for related companies to start using a systematic strategy to resolving maritime challenges and also maximises impact.
It is critical for organisations to study SDG 14 and identify the specific maritime issue that is most substantial to the company and emphasise on an exact solution. The various ocean issues, such as overfishing and acidification, require different strategies and businesses can maximise the impact through choosing solutions that are aligned closely with their expertise, supply chain or business model.
For success in corporate social responsibility, take a cue from these winning CSR initiatives for marine conservation undertaken in the past by companies in India.
River Watch Project
In 2009, Nokia India CSR team collaborated with WWF-India and the Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, Punjab, to initiate the ‘River Watch Project’, a programme for the biomonitoring of freshwater biodiversity in the Satluj–Beas–Ravi rivers in Punjab, which covers the Harike Wetland, a biodiversity hotspot.
The purpose of the CSR project was to record the numerous species that reside across various stretches of Punjab. The constant infrastructural encroachment and pollution are but a few of the numerous daunting challenges faced by the region, and thus proved a worthy reason for undertaking the project.
Since its inception in 2010, the ‘River Watch Project’ has recorded 9 mammals, 200 avian species, 7 turtle species and 26 fish species in this wetland. The project also allowed implementation of sustainable local policies and practices near the Harike Wetland, such as the use of biofertilizers to help reduce habitat degradation as well as pollution levels.
In 2011, the mobile company completed a Nilgiri tahr conservation programme in the southern Western Ghats. The programme was aimed at developing structures for the protection of the Nilgiri tahr (an endemic species of the region), mitigation of human–elephant conflicts, and building of community capacity for sustainable livelihood and conservation. The programme, based on multistakeholder participation and sector-based cooperation, guaranteed sustainable ecological security in the landscape. The study identified the most reliable population size for the species till date.
Additionally, 17 completely new smaller populations of Nilgiri tahr were identified. A conservation alliance for the species was also established with support from local NGOs and the Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam to work towards future monitoring and conservation of the Nilgiri tahr in Rajapalayam.
My Ganga, My Dolphin
In October 2012, HSBC Bank CSR team initiated a campaign ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ to conduct a dolphin survey. WWF was the implementation partner for this project and Uttar Pradesh Forest Department along with 18 NGOs were the associates.
The Ganga river dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is endemic to the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers in India, and is locally called as ‘susu’ or ‘soons’. It is the topmost species in the aquatic trophic level and is often called ‘tiger of the Ganga’. The presence of this species in the water system is an indication of a healthy river ecosystem.
During the past few years, this species has witnessed a drastic decline in its population due to several developmental activities, specifically the construction of waterways, dams and barrages on the rivers resulting in heavy siltation and lean water flow. It is estimated that the population of Gangetic dolphins has reduced by more two-third.
The ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ campaign by HSBC, included a survey of the entire Ganga river and its tributaries (Yamuna, Son, Ken, Betwa, Ghagra and Geruwa). The survey recorded the presence of 671 dolphins. The campaign also raised awareness among local communities regarding the conservation significance of the species as well as helped in the capacity building of stakeholders associated with its conservation.
The programme led to the preparation of an implementation strategy of the Dolphin Action Plan, 2010–2020, by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India.
Save The Whale Shark
The role of Tata Chemicals in the protection of whale shark can be considered as one of the best examples in the industry for the conservation of a species, which was under threat due to heavy poaching and was declining rapidly. The species is listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) and is Endangered according to the IUCN Red List.
The whale shark is the largest fish species in the world, which is poached for meat and oil. The Gujarat coast was recorded to be the fishing and slaughtering grounds of these huge fishes. To protect this rare and endangered fish species, the ‘Save the Whale shark Initiative (SWI)’ was taken up by Tata Chemicals in 2004, in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India and Gujarat State Forest Department.
This CSR in marine conservation programme was not only designed to study the behaviour and migratory pattern of whale shark, but also to create awareness regarding the need for conservation of the species. The campaign emphasized more on creating awareness amongst the coastal communities in Saurashtra region. Further, in order to gain support from fishermen and the locals, a spiritual leader (Morari Bapu) was chosen as the brand ambassador for the campaign.
The campaign resulted in changing the perception of this giant fish as just a source of meat, flesh and oil, to the ‘daughter of Gujarat’ which returns home from her in-laws to give birth to little ones. The campaign ended with a relief programme that provided financial support to fishermen whose fishing equipment such as nets were damaged during the rescue mission.
The Tata Chemicals corporate social responsibility campaign gave rise to a positive change in the coastal regions of Saurashtra. Today, if whale sharks are caught by the fishermen, they free them instead of using them to make money. Such was the success of the conservation initiative.
In the next phase of this programme, four whale sharks were tagged for the first time in India with marker and satellite tags, to understand their migration and monitor the success of SWI. The unique feature of this programme was the involvement of 132 fishermen who were trained to deploy marker tags on the rescued fishes. The Tata Chemicals CSR programme also involved scientific studies on the ecological and genetic components of whale sharks.
Marine Ecology Centre
As part of the wildlife conservation initiative, Godrej & Boyce established the Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Marine Ecology Centre (Vikhroli, Mumbai) in 1985, to protect the 750 ha of mangroves. The main objective of the Centre is the conservation of marine diversity through research, education, raising awareness and regular monitoring.
Through the CSR initiatives for marine conservation of Godrej & Boyce, a rare sight of flourishing biodiversity can be seen in a city like Mumbai, which is otherwise devoid of rich flora and fauna. This Centre today supports several marine faunal species of fishes (20), crabs (15), prawns (7) and molluscs.
It is home to rich terrestrial fauna species, including birds (206), reptiles (33), spiders (30), mammals (12) and over 82 different species of butterflies. The Centre is continuously engaged in running research projects on ecology and restoration of mangroves, and also works on increasing awareness among the community through education.
These CSR initiatives for marine conservation are the gold standard for protecting life below water.