Haidar El Ali has created the Oceanium, a working center in Senegal for the protection of ocean and underwater resources. Haidar's approach is to advocate the sustainable management of fishing resources through the creation of several marine parks that ensure the protection of species and resources through biological rest.
Utilizing a range of visual aids, most notably general videos he has produced, Haidar educates fishing and seaside communities about preservation of marine life in order to promote rational use of ocean resources and to fight against the various forms of ocean pollution. Fishing communities that become aware of Haidar's message understand what is at stake and join the fight against various marine environment aggressions, including cyanide and dynamite fishing. Haidar then involves these communities, as well as the wider public, in both creating and managing protected areas.
The fight against all forms of marine pollution is at the core of Haidar's work. Waging a campaign against any action that could alter environmental balance, pressure groups are organized to influence public opinion and convince the relevant authorities to preserve marine biodiversity through marine parks.
It is from this perspective that Haidar has urged fishing communities to exploit the correct choice of species while avoiding depleting stocks. His awareness campaigns concerning the biological rest of cymbiums in the Saloum Islands of Senegal, for example, have been met with great success, creating opportunities to develop aquaculture of commercially lucrative maritime species, like shrimp. The objective of Haidar's Marine Park Project is to create a large number of protected areas, awareness campaigns, and dissemination of information on the maritime environments and resources.
Many people in Senegal are bewildered by the ecological damage they see around them, but their poverty prevents them from making the protection of their environment a priority. Many people, through necessity or ignorance, treat the ocean as a trash receptacle. For example, there are no treatment plants to handle used motor oils and so the waste is often simply poured into the sea.
In addition, current Senegalese law allows self-employed fishermen (who produce close to 80 percent of fish products) to fish in all the zones within the territorial waters except ports. This poses a problem for the protection of fish refuge and reproduction areas.Another feature of the regulatory landscape is that despite the decentralization of public affairs to local government and municipalities, all maritime affairs are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Fisheries rather than the elected local officials, thereby slowing down the decision-making process.
Haidar's Marine Park Project and the Oceanium aim to create several protected areas–each protected for a five-year period in collaboration with a fishing village. Several fishing communities along the Senegalese coast are participating in early forms of the initiative, and all, with their locally elected representatives, are poised to participate on a larger scale. Currently, they are missing the official agreement of the Ministry of Fisheries that will provide the necessary legal authority to set up marine parks within territorial waters. Contacts have already been made to acquire the participation of the ministry in conjunction with the Oceanium.
For the marine parks, artificial reefs will be created by recycling and casting used auto tires. These reefs prevent fishermen from physically entering the parks and casting their nets within protected areas. To monitor the reefs, communities of fishermen taking part in the initiative have already committed to participate in the casting of the artificial reefs and serving on guardian committees charged with protecting the parks.
Because sustainability is integral to Haidar's initiative, the marine parks will preserve and enhance the earning potential of communities. Ecotourism centers will be created for each marine park, to allow members of the guardian committee and other members of the village to conduct income-generating activities. As a result, the protected areas and the concept of biological rest will be sustainable. Additionally, aquaculture projects to preserve the earning potential of fishermen unable to fish within traditional zones have already begun to be developed. In the villages of Rufisque and Bargny, communities have started to provide access to their aquaculture stocks and so avoided depletion of maritime species.
All of this will be accompanied by strategies for increasing public awareness, disseminating information, and lobbying decision-makers regarding the protection of marine environments. To sensitize new fishing villages, Haidar and the Oceanium organize open-air films on current issues of protection followed by discussions. For example, "The Fight Against Dynamite Fishing" was the first in this series of open-air screenings and was greeted with tremendous success. The addition of these audiovisual tools has proved extremely powerful in convincing communities.Photography is the premier tool employed in education activities on the marine environment. Similarly, underwater video has proved an invaluable learning and communication tool for raising awareness about the problems of the marine environment. Numerous films produced by Haidar and the Oceanium have been aired on both national and international television and were awarded prizes at several Senegalese and European film festivals.
Since 1998, the Oceanium has produced the television program "Gaia" to educate communities about their environment and how they can manage its use. The Oceanium is currently negotiating with the Ministry of Communication to obtain increased access to national television because films like "Gaia" show the richness of the Senegalese heritage and heighten the environmental consciousness of the viewers.
Haidar, the Oceanium, and fishing communities have also taken up a fight against monofilament nylon nets that are nonbiodegradable and invisible to fish. Haidar and the Oceanium obtained a governmental decree prohibiting the use of this class of nets but it was never applied and enforced. Despite the dormancy of this decree, the fishing village of Kayar, one of the largest fishing centers in the subregion, has decided to put the ban into practice. Going a step further, the village has decided to lobby other fishing communities to take similar action in favor of sustainable development.
A follow-up collaboration was undertaken on various points with parastatal organizations to promote appropriate fishing policies. Since 1996, Haidar has served as the elected president of the Committee for the Management of Fishing Resources of the National Federation of Self-Employed Fishermen. This position–indicative of the community's confidence in him–gives him the authority and legitimacy to lead sensitization activities with Senegalese authorities and fishermen. Petitions are also used to alert national and international opinion on the protection of the marine environment. In April 2000, Haidar, fishing communities, and groups of students mobilized public opinion and put pressure on the Senegalese government to remove a European vessel carrying waste from Senegalese waters in order to avoid the serious risks it posed to the marine environment.
Born in 1953, Haidar has always been deeply passionate about the sea. Making his living teaching scuba diving, Haidar has provided assistance to over 3,000 first-time divers and has successfully taught nearly 1,000 people for their diving certificates. Self-taught, Haidar has shared his knowledge of the ocean and the marine environment widely along with his commitment to sharing his expertise with Lebou fishermen in the Dakar area, the general public, and even the occasional scuba diver. Created in 1984, the Oceanium–geographically situated on the continental shelf–serves as the ideal point for the observation of the marine environment.
Given the high cost of scuba diving equipment and outings, Haidar brings his expertise and the infrastructure of his center to the training of firemen and national park staff and offers scholarships that allow underprivileged people to benefit from training in scuba diving.
Haidar has increasingly gained recognition among professional fishing circles, the scientific community, and the general public and has been awarded several national and international distinctions for his underwater videos.
Since 1987 he has directed the only diving school in Senegal, Center of the Sea, and he is the vice-president of the Senegalese Federation of Sub-Aquatic Activities. He is also the president of the Oceanium, a nonprofit organization funded by Haidar's commercial activities at the Center of the Sea. Strengthened by 15 years of experience, Haidar works in close collaboration with the fishing communities, scientists, and public authorities and has partnered with various international organizations, universities, and scientific research institutions.