As a leading entrepreneur and renowned author, Tom Chappell became synonymous with values-centered business and leadership. Now, the Tom’s of Maine co-founder is lending his “common good” voice to another cause: marine conservation.
Beginning with a “Philanthropy Pitch” feature on Forbes.com that launches today, Chappell and his wife Kate are sounding the call for the sustainable management of the Gulf of Maine, and championing The Nature Conservancy’s efforts in this area.
“I believe that nature and people are connected, and that for either of these elements to be healthy, the other must be strong. This is one of the values upon which Tom’s of Maine was founded,” said Chappell. “The Nature Conservancy is tackling some of the most pressing threats of our time: a rapidly changing climate, depleted ocean fisheries, polluted waterways and vanishing forests. These are serious disruptions to the natural processes that protect and provide for all of Earth’s people.”
The more than 69,000 square-mile Gulf of Maine is one of the most biologically productive marine ecosystems in the world. Here, seals swim among eelgrass, and humpback whales (or “big-winged New Englanders”) chase schools of sand lace.
But the Gulf isn’t just important to wildlife. Fishermen have plied the waters for its cod, haddock and flounder for centuries. And its seas and shores provide ports of commerce, protection from storms, and a beautiful natural world for sailing, swimming and beachcombing. In fact, more than 10 million tourists visit the Gulf annually.
Today, the Gulf is showing signs of distress. Critical coastal habitats have been developed or degraded by pollution. Storm surges are stronger and sea levels on the rise. Groundfish have been particularly hard hit, and many Maine fishermen are choosing to sell their permits, which are largely being purchased by fishermen and businesses in other states. This trend puts future access for Maine’s fishing communities at risk because once a permit leaves the state, it is hard to get it back.
“People are losing the ability to provide for their families and the chance to do what they love,” said Michael Tetreault, director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine. “Meanwhile, a critical link in one of Earth’s most productive ecosystems continues to weaken.”
Reapplying experience gained in California and the Caribbean, The Nature Conservancy is bringing partners and fishermen together to explore a wide range of solutions that encourage fishermen to catch fish more sustainably. Some strategies involve research to develop gear configurations and fishing practices that minimize bycatch and reduce impacts on sensitive marine habitats. Other strategies work to connect fishermen with markets for sustainably-caught fish. The goal is to successfully pilot such innovative solutions within interested fishing communities, to encourage the adoption of these alternative methods all along the Gulf.
“Empowering local communities to be the stewards of ecological resources just makes sense,” continued Chappell. “After all, fishermen’s livelihoods are at stake. They want the resource preserved more than anyone.”
Chappell – along with his wife and partner Kate – plan to support the Conservancy’s work in the Gulf through philanthropy, as well as by contributing time to generate awareness around this important issue. “We have a special interest in this project, having lived on Monhegan Island where we have been inspired by the cooperation among lobstering families to preserve their vital resource through conservation," explains Kate Chappell.
“The Nature Conservancy is sharing its best strategies through partnerships with local fishing communities to protect the ocean realm,” said Chappell. “This collaborative, people-focused approach to conservation is our best hope for arriving at a sustainable solution in time.”
For more on The Nature Conservancy’s work in the Gulf of Maine, visit www.nature.org/gulfofmaine.
Watch a video about efforts to restore Maine fisheries.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.