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“We felt strongly that when we built Misool and formed the Misool Ma­rine Re­serve, we were en­ter­ing a com­mu­nity and mak­ing our home there,” says An­drew Min­ers, who along with his wife, Marit, is co-founder of a re­sort and foun­da­tion of­ten held up as an ex­am­ple of how ev­ery­day peo­ple with grit, heart and de­ter­mi­na­tion can ef­fect real change. For their vi­sion and ded­i­ca­tion, the Min­ers are our Jan­uary/fe­bru­ary Sea Heroes.

Q: MISOOL WAS RE­CENTLY NAMED A MIS­SION BLUE “HOPE SPOT.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOU? MM: Es­tab­lish­ing our 300,000-acre re­serve as a Hope Spot el­e­vates our vis­i­bil­ity in the global arena. We hope Misool might serve as an ex­am­ple to other busi­nesses look­ing for ways to weave to­gether con­ser­va­tion, com­mu­nity and eth­i­cal busi­ness prac­tices. AM: Our hope is that our model can be repli­cated again and again. Just imag­ine if ev­ery re­sort, ho­tel and dive shop pro­tected a bit of reef just off their shore. The ef­fects would be im­mense.

Q: WHAT ARE THE CHAL­LENGES AND BEN­E­FITS OF WORK­ING WITH LO­CALS? AM: Be­ing a good neigh­bor means lis­ten­ing to your neigh­bors and valu­ing their con­cerns. Most peo­ple would con­sider the opin­ion of the gov­er­nor more im­por­tant than that of a fish­er­man. We don’t. An op­er­a­tion like the Misool Ma­rine Re­serve is a liv­ing, breath­ing an­i­mal, and we have to con­tin­u­ally adapt. It’s fruit­less if you just say, “OK, that’s done,” and walk away — it’s a con­stant com­mit­ment. MM: The lo­cal peo­ple are our long-term part­ners. Be­tween our busi­ness and our foun­da­tion, we em­ploy 165 peo­ple who are sup­port­ing them­selves, and of­ten ex­tended fam­i­lies, in a sus­tain­able man­ner.

Q: ANY SUR­PRISES? MM: How quickly na­ture has re­bounded. We cre­ated the re­serve in 2005; fish biomass in­creased an av­er­age of 250 per­cent over six years, and the num­ber of sharks in­side our no-take zone is 25 times higher than just out­side.

Q: WHAT ARE THE MOST IM­POR­TANT IS­SUES IN MA­RINE CON­SER­VA­TION? AM: Global warm­ing and plas­tic in the oceans con­cern me the most be­cause they are ev­ery­where and af­fect ev­ery­thing. If we don’t solve those is­sues, ecosys­tems will col­lapse and oceans will change so dra­mat­i­cally that most species will die — in­clud­ing our own. MM: That’s why re­spon­si­ble tourism plays such a vi­tal role in con­ser­va­tion. Peo­ple pro­tect what they love, and div­ing in­tro­duces peo­ple to so many more things to love.

Q: WHAT’S YOUR MOST SAT­IS­FY­ING MO­MENT? AM: When we first started Misool, sight­ing sharks on a dive was a rare oc­cur­rence. Now they are ev­ery­where. MM: Our son’s first two-word phrase was “baby shark.” I was struck by what a mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion had taken place: from former shark-finning camp to baby-shark nurs­ery in just a few years. Na­ture wins when we just get out of the way.

Q: TELL US ABOUT MISOOL FOUN­DA­TION. AM: Our pri­mary goal was to prove that a dive re­sort’s ac­tive en­gage­ment in ma­rine con­ser­va­tion is a huge win for the busi­ness, ecosys­tem and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Now we are work­ing on in­spir­ing and as­sist­ing other re­sorts and dive shops to adopt our model. MM: Those first years were rough; the re­sort bankrolled 100 per­cent of our con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives. There were times we had to choose be­tween buy­ing man­gos for guests’ break­fasts or buy­ing fuel for pa­trols. We now op­er­ate a full-time 15-per­son team to pro­tect the re­serve, us­ing drone and radar sur­veil­lance as well as rou­tine pa­trols. We have es­tab­lished a com­mu­nity pro­gram that recycles 2 tons of ocean­bound plas­tics per day. The Misool Manta Project col­lects im­por­tant pop­u­la­tion data on reef and oceanic man­tas. And we’ve just been given a gov­ern­ment grant to start two co­op­er­a­tives in the lo­cal vil­lage: one to em­ploy 32 former fish­er­men in an aqua­cul­ture project, and the other to sup­port women pro­cess­ing co­conut oil into soap. Q: WHAT’S NEXT FOR MISOOL? MM: Our mis­sion al­ways will be to pro­tect the world’s rich­est reefs. I think we have demon­strated that con­ser­va­tion and pri­vate en­ter­prise are mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial, and that na­ture is our most valu­able as­set. Con­ser­va­tion, en­gage­ment with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, and fair la­bor prac­tices must be cen­tral to the busi­ness — not af­ter­thoughts. We hope Misool is an in­spir­ing ex­am­ple of just how ef­fec­tive pri­vate-en­ter­prise-led con­ser­va­tion work can be. And, of course, how pow­er­ful con­sumer choice can be in sup­port­ing con­ser­va­tion.

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