The Harrison Institute, together with its honorary research fellows, has developed community-based conservation projects in Myanmar, Bougainville (Papua New Guinea) and Fiji. These have been supported by a range of grant-giving bodies, including the UK's Darwin Initiative and Waterloo Foundation and the USA's National Geographic.
The Institute's project, 'Destination Ayeyarwady' in Myanmar has won two prestigious national/international awards, in 2017 and 2019, and was placed third in an international competition in 2020. The judges in all three competitions highlighted the excellence of its community-based ecotourism.
The Visitor Centre and Dolphin Ecolodge accommodation of 'Destination Ayeyarwady' make it an ideal location for field studies and training. As such, it has hosted internships of Myanmar and international students who came to learn about different aspects of ecotourism and community-based conservation. Some have also had the opportunity to teach about environmental protection in the local schools. The project has developed excellent relationships with the head-teachers within the district.
'Destination Ayeyarwady' has featured in numerous media articles and programmes on responsible tourism, including Myanmar TV, and magazine articles in UK and USA. It also features in a prestigious German travel guide to Myanmar.
This publicity has raised the profile of the conservation of the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), whose numbers are now increasing after years of decline. It also raises the profile other riverine wildlife, especially birds. In addition, it is supporting the culture of the local fishermen/women who have traditionally fished with the dolphins.
All the projects, whether in Bougainville, Fiji or Myanmar are close collaborations between the local communities and in-country and international staff. All have have provided new opportunities and new 'hope' for the villagers, as well as developing 'alternative' livehoods to provide additional income to the communities.
The projects include numerous workshops to train local villagers in a range of skills - everything from how to observe and conserve wildlife responsibly, to courses in simple book-keeping and management, to cooking and hygiene, and to successfully running a destination for the hosting of national and international eco-tourists, with an interest in conserving nature and traditional cultures.
Each project works with in-country professionals in the private and public sector to ensure the on-going sustainability of projects. This includes sales and marketing, communicating with public and decision makers through the media, and spreading the message about the importance of biodiversity and environmental conservation.
The Harrison Institute likes to take a long-term view of its community-based conservation projects. This ensures that trust is maintained and conservation and community gains are sustained.