By Nicolas Blanc.
Science is sometimes seen with a certain degree of skepticism by the general public. Scientists often lack the tools (or willingness) to properly communicate about their research outside conferences and peer-reviewed papers, which leads to an increasingly isolated scientific community, and to no real contact between the general public and science. Furthermore, scientific knowledge is often unused in policy-making, which has led to decades of poorly-managed resources and unsustainable use of coastal and marine areas. It was from the will to bridge this gap between science and the general public, and from the growing need of applying state-of-the-art knowledge to resource management, that Sciaena was born.
We are an Environmental Non-Governmental Organization (ENGO) created in 2006 in southern Portugal by former students of the University of Algarve with a marine sciences background. Over time we began being more interventive and wanting to create change, particularly in fisheries and marine pollution-related issues, without disregarding our continuing role in environmental awareness. Twelve years after its inception, Sciaena is now composed of people from different areas and backgrounds and has expanded its fields of intervention.
We envision a healthy marine environment and an informed population engaged in its conservation. Sciaena’s mission is to promote the improvement of the marine environment by encouraging the sustainability of fisheries and other exploited resources, as well as minimizing the impacts of pollution, through knowledge, education, communication and political intervention.
Fisheries and communities
In collaboration with national and international ENGOs, we have become a significant voice on the broad debate about Portuguese and European fisheries and related issues. One of our objectives from the beginning was to constitute Portuguese ENGOs as relevant and constructive stakeholders in this area. Amongst several activities, Sciaena was one of the founders of PONG-Pesca (Platform of Portuguese NGOs on Fisheries). Since April 2013 and through a consultancy with The Pew Charitable Trusts on Fisheries Policy and Research, we have worked on the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform and are now accompanying its implementation. This is only one of the several EU/International fisheries policy processes Sciaena is or has engaged in, with several international ENGOs.
While engagement in broad scope fisheries legislation is key to providing the best possible canvas, we firmly believe that the most vivid brush strokes that will compose the picture of sustainable fisheries, not only from an environmental point of view, but also socially and economically, have to be done by small-scale fisheries. Sciaena has an almost inherent connection with small-scale fisheries. Portugal has a profound history with the Ocean and you can find fishing villages throughout all of its coastline, where small-scale fisheries is the predominant reality. Small-scale fisheries tend to employ more people, be more fuel efficient and cause less environmental impact. However, it does have room for improvement at different levels, and with the increasing demand for local and sustainable products from consumers, small-scale fisheries need to adapt in order to thrive. Hence, in 2014 we created the project VAL+, which aims to assess the performance of small-scale fisheries and provide guidelines for improvement.
Awareness through Art
We have always aimed at raising environmental awareness in a way that makes people reflect about the issues presented to them. Movies and documentaries have the power to make you feel close to a problem or cause even though you may have never had contact with it, and are becoming an effective tool to raise awareness to different threats around the world. Therefore we organize a yearly movie and documentary festival entitled “Scianema“, where we also invite guest speakers to talk about the issues presented on screen. Furthermore, and also once a year, we organize the “Mar Motto” exhibit, where we invite artists to create art pieces based on marine-related issues that feel important to them (you can check the outdoor piece done by graffiti-artist MAR in the 2017 edition here).
Pollution, fossil-fuels et al.
Like many countries, Portugal finds itself in a crossroads where the continuing dependence on fossil-fuels meets a consistent increase in the renewable energy sector, and decisions about the future of energy sourcing need to be made.
In a completely outdated and untimely trajectory, Portuguese waters have been targeted in recent years by companies who want to search and commercialize fossil-fuels. The Portuguese government signed contracts with oil companies without any type of public consultation and in a very “hush-hush” manner, and a prospection-drill is set to happen less than 50 kilometers from the Portuguese shore later this year. Naturally, this story created great discomfort within a big part of the Portuguese public.
We are adamant in our position to oppose any kind of fossil-fuel prospection and exploitation in Portuguese waters. In order to be a part of a joint effort against this activity in Portugal, we became a member of the Algarve Petroleum-Free Platform, which seeks to annul the contracts and display the will of the Portuguese in having further investments in renewable energies.
Regarding pollution and resource extraction, we are working towards strengthening our activity in this area. We are one of the main voices in bringing the theme of deep-sea mining to the public arena, an activity that is looking to the area around the Azores islands as possible fertile grounds.
Sciaena is also a member of the Portuguese Association on Marine Litter and the Oceano Livre Coalition, and at European and International level, it is a member of Seas at Risk and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition.
What more does the future bring? Sciaena is preparing itself to engage further in: Aquaculture, Sustainable Consumption of Fishery Products, Marine Protected Areas, Marine Litter, Renewable Energies, Seabed Mining, among other relevant marine conservation issues.
We will continue to try and expand our efforts to make sure the future includes healthy marine ecosystems, sustainable resource exploitation and a society that is not only aware of the importance of healthy Oceans, but is actively engaged in its preservation efforts.
Find out more about our work at:
Copyright of all pictures by SCIAENA.