As director of the National Geographic Society’s Ocean Initiative in Washington, DC, Miguel works with an array of partners to restore ocean health and productivity. A native of Cuba, he has lived in the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Switzerland.
What is your personal connection to the ocean?
The ocean has always been a fascination for me—how it works, what lives down there, and how it all fits together. I was born in Cuba and have an affinity for the coast. After we moved to California, my father used to take me fishing. As an adult I’ve gone SCUBA diving around the world and have seen spectacular coral reefs. I want to make sure we save as much of the ocean for our children as possible.
What drew you to National Geographic?
I worked for a number of years as director of World Wildlife Fund International’s marine program. The job at National Geographic was significantly different but still marine-related. National Geographic is a media company that tells great stories about the world around us. They wanted someone who knew the conservation community and understood how it worked. We’re building partnerships to tell relevant stories about marine conservation efforts.
What are the biggest challenges to marine conservation?
The biggest challenges are the growing demand for seafood and the lack of effective fisheries management. We have a global seafood system that promotes consumption, perpetuates a perception of abundance, and seeks to move as much as seafood possible. Fishermen are given subsidies to keep fishing, despite depleted stocks. The solutions are becoming clearer, but the established political situation around the world is tough to break.
What are you working on now?
At National Geographic I’m building a network of organizations to advance marine conservation. We’re promoting the establishment of marine protected areas around the world. We’re looking at larger areas where governments can enforce the law, and small areas where sustainable tourism and fisheries will benefit local communities. My job is to make connections among people with innovative approaches and bring National Geographic’s media capabilities, convening power, and research strength to bear on those efforts. We’re catalyzing greater change through storytelling.
Which innovations are particularly compelling?
The Future of Fish work is some of the most innovative out there. There are also efforts being made by a collaborative of tuna processors that represents 70% of global tuna processing capacity. Tuna is one of the worst governed fishery systems in the world, but this consortium of processors, with support from WWF, wants to use their market power to drive positive change. Catch shares hold promise for improving fishermen’s lives and making what they do sustainable. The tricky part is exporting the idea because it needs to be adapted to local circumstances. There are groups working on that.
I love making connections between people and groups with ideas that could be mutually beneficial for marine conservation. I’ve helped people combine resources in new ways to create a greater force for improving fisheries. Seafood is not just an environmental issue. It’s a food security and a political security issue. If we’re serious about not depleting stocks, nothing short of a global revolution in how we relate to fish will suffice.