C. Anne Claus’ new book Drawing the Sea Near opens a window to our understanding of transnational conservation by investigating projects in Okinawa shaped by a “conservation-near” approach—which draws on the senses, the body, and memory to collapse the distance between people and their surroundings and to foster collaboration and equity between coastal residents and transnational conservation organizations. This approach contrasts with the traditional Western “conservation-far” model premised on the separation of humans from the environment.
Based on twenty months of participant observation and interviews, this richly detailed, engagingly written ethnography focuses on Okinawa’s coral reefs to explore an unusually inclusive, experiential, and socially just approach to conservation. In doing so, Claus challenges orthodox assumptions about nature, wilderness, and the future of environmentalism within transnational organizations. She provides a compelling look at how transnational conservation organizations—in this case a field office of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Okinawa—negotiate institutional expectations for conservation with localized approaches to caring for ocean life.
In pursuing how particular projects off the coast of Japan unfolded, Drawing the Sea Near illuminates the real challenges and possibilities of work within the multifaceted transnational structures of global conservation organizations. Uniquely, it focuses on the conservationists themselves: why and how has their approach to project work changed, and how have they themselves been transformed in the process?