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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 30, 2002

Seacology conserves for a better world

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

In the midst of the hullabaloo of environmental politics, there are the organizations that quietly and effectively do a great deal of good.

Seacology is one.

This nongovernmental organization emphasizes conservation and culture on islands. It was founded by botanist Paul Cox, who is now head of the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Its motto: "Saving the world, one island village at a time."

The first typical Seacology project actually predated the organization.

Cox, while searching for medicinal plants on the island of Savaii in Samoa, found that the village of Falealupo was about to sell off its forest for logging to raise the money for a school building. Cox offered to come up with the money if the village would dedicate its rain forest to conservation. The village agreed, and 30,000 acres of native rain forest was protected.

The same kind of deal has since been made 50 times over, on islands worldwide.

"We work strictly at the village level," Cox said.

Most of the projects don't cost much. The range is from $5,000 to $150,000, but most run from $20,000 to $25,000, he said.

On Fogo Island, in the Cape Verde Islands off Africa, Seacology helped the community build a water tank, so it could establish a nursery for native plants to revegetate the island's volcanic slopes.

On Mangaia in the Cook Islands, Seacology paid for a boardwalk along Lake Tiriara in return for the community's agreement to stop using pesticides and other destructive practices near the shoreline.

The villagers in Yasawa in Fiji were prepared to sell off a 40-acre forested island for a tourism resort, to pay for a needed community center. Seacology raised the money for the center in return for a 20-year nondevelopment pact for the island, and the establishment of a marine preserve in the waters around it.

"All too often, indigenous people, particularly on islands, have to choose between their children and the forest, a medical clinic and a coral reef, or the water supply and their indigenous culture," Cox said.

Most of the projects are conservation-oriented, but some projects are more cultural than environmental, such as Seacology's grant to send Maui stonemasons to work on a temple in Tahiti, to learn skills they could use in the rebuilding of the great stone edifice, Pi'ilanihale, outside Hana.

Most of the money for Seacology comes from individuals, foundations, or contributions from organizations such as the cosmetics firm Nu Skin, which provides royalties from plant-based cosmetics that Cox helped create.

Learn more about Seacology at its Web site.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. Reach him at (808) 245-3074 or jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.