Meet the WildAid Marine Team: Marcel Bigue

June 22, 2021; Interview by Mary Pantenburg, WildAid Marine Intern
This interview was adjusted for clarity.

The conservation work spearheaded by WildAid Marine focuses on strengthening the enforcement of marine protected areas (MPAs), fisheries, and other priority marine areas. Twenty years ago, when our work began, few people were thinking about the role of enforcement in effective marine management. Below, we speak with Marcel Bigue, WildAid Marine’s Senior Advisor, who helped build the Marine Program from the ground up to fill the marine enforcement gap. 

Marcel Bigue, Senior Advisor
After years working on both terrestrial and marine conservation, Marcel came to understand that successful ocean protection presents unique challenges. On land, we can monitor, manage, and enforce a protected area using borders, fences, and patrolling rangers. Understanding that these same techniques would not work in the marine space, Marcel developed a different approach to enforcement, relying on technology tools, strategic partnerships, and mentoring, as well as traditional patrolling. Marcel helped develop an approach to marine enforcement that is standardized, replicable yet flexible, and allows governments, NGOs, and communities to safely monitor marine areas using innovative new technology. At the centerpiece of this approach is the Marine Protection System (MPS), a comprehensive framework that is used to strengthen the five core elements of a successful enforcement system. Today, WildAid Marine uses this approach in more than 40 priority marine areas around the world, and Marcel continues to lead the charge for marine protections. 

What do you do for WildAid Marine?
I currently act as the Senior Advisor for WildAid Marine, where I help articulate program strategy, craft marine compliance plans, and carry out business development, primarily for Latin America. As a WildAid veteran of nearly 17 years, it has been a long road from first managing the Galapagos program in 2004 to establishing and scaling a programmatic model and seeing it endure the test of time. Now on the periphery, I provide targeted programmatic support in some of my favorite countries in Latin America: Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, and Ecuador. 

Marcel working in the field with WildAid Marine.

What first got you interested in oceans? Was it a documentary? A book? A friend?
My interest in the oceans began at an early age when I spent much of my teenage years surfing the California coast from Ocean Beach to Santa Cruz. 

How did your career in conservation start?
I suppose my conservation career started when I first began studying environmental policy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Two weeks after graduating, I moved to Nicaragua to help rebuild the livelihoods and infrastructure of rural communities that Hurricane Mitch ravaged. After six years of managing ACROW bridge installations and learning the ins and outs of establishing market-driven agroforestry systems, I moved to the Galapagos Islands and began my marine conservation career in earnest. 

What is one thing about your job or the work you do that might surprise people?
I spent a couple of years working with a cooperative to set up a fish processing plant in the Galapagos. I gained many valuable insights into fisher life from experience, which helped inform my understanding of compliance and the need for taking a multi-disciplinary and comprehensive approach. 

Marcel with colleagues in Ecuador.

What gives you hope for the future of our oceans?
Since I began my career over twenty years ago, there has been a seismic shift in awareness. I realize that awareness does not translate into change without action, but it is the first step. With the advent of new remote sensing tools, increased global cooperation, and consumer awareness, our oceans can no longer be out of sight and out of mind. We are being forced to act now. 

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Relax. It just works out. Apply yourself and stay curious. Your life is just beginning, and you don’t need to have it all figured out right away. 

What is the best advice for young people trying to go into conservation?
Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and take on any task as there is no better way to learn than by doing. Also, be flexible, there is rarely a linear trajectory to where you think you are going. Be open to opportunities, even if they aren’t what you expected, be willing to take risks, and know that the skills you develop along the way are more valuable and transferable than you might realize at first.