Community-led Mangrove Restoration and Conservation in Gazi Bay, Kenya: Lessons From Early Blue Carbon Projects (on-going)

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

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“Mikoko Pamoja is an innovative project that has shown that a local mangrove conservation scheme can have positive sustainable development impacts by way of protecting threatened ecosystems and improving the livelihoods of local community members.” – Eva Schoof, Programme Manager, Plan Vivo

Summary

Dozens of “blue carbon” projects are currently underway around the world. But whether or not these projects live up to their potential as significant carbon sinks depends on both their ability to deliver real carbon reductions over a sustained period of time and, equally important, their capacity to deliver real value to the local communities that own them. This case study provides an overview of an early blue carbon project in Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya, which has achieved both of these goals.

The issue

Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrasses and saltmarshes are known for their beneficial role as nursery habitats for marine life, and as natural barriers to extreme weather like flooding and storm surge. But they are also important sinks of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, presently storing an estimated 42 billion tons of CO2e (Siikamäki et al., 2012).

These ecosystems are also quickly disappearing around the world, as they are converted to other uses such as agriculture, aquaculture and residential and commercial development. Globally, scientists estimate that up to half of all mangroves have been lost in the past 50 years.1 When mangroves are converted, nearly all of the CO2 they store is released into the atmosphere, resulting in significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One estimate puts annual emissions from the loss of these “blue carbon” ecosystems at 215 million tons of CO2e annually, with the majority of these emissions coming from Southeast Asia, western Africa and Mexico (Siikamäki et al., 2012).

Efforts to slow the rate of global deforestation using carbon markets (i.e. REDD) are now being applied to these marine ecosystems. Projects that conserve coastal ecosystems (instead of converting them to other uses) can generate carbon credits (carbon offsets) for the GHG emissions they prevent, which can be sold in carbon markets or to individuals, thus providing a financial incentive for conservation. With the highest rate of carbon stored per hectare, and the largest global geographic coverage (as compared with seagrasses and salt marshes), mangroves represent the greatest opportunity for blue carbon projects, particularly in Asia and Oceania (Siikamäki et al., 2012).

There are now several dozen blue carbon projects in place around the world. But whether or not these projects live up to their potential as significant carbon sinks depends on both their ability to deliver real carbon reductions over a sustained period of time and, equally important, their capacity to deliver real value to local communities. An early blue carbon project in Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya has achieved both of these objectives.

The response

In 2010, after losing about 20 per cent of their mangrove forests to timber harvesting, residents of Gazi Bay, Kenya partnered with the UK charity Plan Vivo and the Scotland-based Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES) to launch a mangrove conservation and restoration project, which involves both the prevention of further mangrove deforestation and new reforestation efforts. As a result of the project, mangroves covering 117 ha of land in Gazi Bay are now protected from illegal deforestation by full-time guards. In addition, nearly 500 members of the community participate in the regular planting of new mangroves.

The Mikoko Pamoja project also generates income for the Gazi and Makongeni communities through the sale of carbon credits, which are created from the CO2 emissions avoided by the project. These credits are generated through a Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) agreement between Plan Vivo and the community. From 2014 to 2018, the project generated 9,880 credits, representing 9,880 tons of CO2 avoided. Payments to the community resulting from the sale of these credits to date have totalled $58,591 (Mwamba et al., 2018).

This funding has made it possible for the community to hire a full-time project manager and two full-time guards to prevent illegal deforestation. Additional income has funded community projects, such as the purchase of books and the installation of clean water pumps at local schools.

Key lessons learnt

Community-led

One of the keys to the success of the Mikoko Pamoja project is the high level of participation, ownership and support from Gazi and Makongeni residents. Plans for the use of the land and the revenues generated were agreed and are implemented in a transparent way, so that participants understand the limits placed on the land, as well as the resulting benefits.

This is not always the case. For example, participants in other blue carbon projects have subsequently expressed dissatisfaction with both their loss of access to the mangrove resources and the resulting payments from the project. “Compared to what we got, they got a lot… I don’t know what this carbon thing is about, but this is our environment and these are our trees. We planted them and we’re going to use them no matter what it costs us,” one participant of a blue carbon project in Senegal said (Wylie et al., 2016).

In addition, the Mikoko Pamoja project also took the time to understand and address some of the negative impacts the project could have on the local community. For example, project partners planted pine trees outside of the mangrove project site to provide the community with an alternative source of building materials. Unless blue carbon projects take these additional steps to ensure that the communities’ needs are met, they may be unable to sustain the project and to prevent project “leakage” (i.e. the movement of deforestation activity from one location to another).

“The Mikoko Pamoja project’s success likely stems from several key aspects. First and foremost, the local community has actively supported and participated in the project,” said Ariana E. Sutton-Grier, Visiting Associate Research Professor at the University of Maryland.

Small-scale

The relatively small-scale of the Mikoko Pamoja project (117 ha) has prevented it from accessing global compliance carbon markets, such as United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change mechanisms. This has led to smaller markets for its carbon credits. But its small size has also enabled the project to stay relatively simple, avoiding the extra costs and administrative complexity of complying with complex global mechanisms. This was also the case for a smaller blue carbon project in Vietnam (Wylie et al., 2016), and may be the most viable route for smaller projects.

Challenges

The Mikoko Pamoja project does not account for the carbon stored within the protected land’s soil, which is likely even larger than what is stored in the mangroves (Pendleton et al., 2012). Not accounting for this soil carbon prevents the project from achieving its full financial potential (Wylie et al., 2016).However, measuring soil carbon requires building capacity and technical expertise that would likely add costs and complexity. Recent blue carbon projects in the Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh include soil carbon in their carbon accounting methods and may provide useful lessons for future projects (ibid.).

Sources and further reading

  • Bird, W. (2016) ‘Are “Blue Carbon” Projects a Win for the Climate and the People?’ Yale Environment 360, 3 November. https://e360.yale.edu/features/african_ mangroves_blue_carbon_win_for_climate_and_for_ people
  • Mwamba, M., Wanjiru, A., Huxham, M., Shilland, R. and Ruzowitsky, L. (2018) ‘2017-2018 Plan Vivo Annual Report, Mikoko Pamoja’. Submitted by the Mikoko Pamoja Community Organization.
  • Pendleton, L., Donato, D., Murray, B. et al. (2012) ‘Estimating Global “Blue Carbon” Emissions from Conversion and Degradation of Vegetated Coastal Ecosystems’. PLOS One, https://doi.org/10.1371/ journal.pone.0043542
  • Plan Vivo: Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya Project: https:// www.planvivo.org/project-network/mikoko-pamojakenya/2015/
  • Siikamäki, J., Sanchirico, J.N., Jardine, S., McLaughlin, D. and Morris, D.F. (2012) Global Options for Reducing Emissions from the Degradation and Development of Coastal Ecosystems. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future.
  • Wylie, L., Sutton-Grier, A.E. and Moore, A. (2016) ‘Keys to Successful Blue Carbon Projects: Lessons Learned from Global Case Studies’. Marine Policy 65: 76-84

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PAST EVENT: The Fishing fields: Sustainable aquaculture development strategies for the Commonwealth

Global aquaculture production continues to grow rapidly, helping several Commonwealth countries to increase their fish production despite static or falling catches of wild fish.

However, performance varies widely and many countries, despite committing significant resources, have struggled to build productive aquaculture industries, while many questions continue to be asked about the sustainability of aquaculture practices.

This webinar will examine four case studies that could offer scalable solutions –

  • Cyprus, where a development framework for aquaculture development helped the growth of marine finfish industry.
  • Seychelles, where sustainable aquaculture development is prioritised in the Blue Economy Strategic Framework and Roadmap.
  • Mozambique, where a commercial fish farm highlights the importance of community engagement.
  • Egypt, where fish farmers upgraded their farming practices to stay competitive and improve the sustainability of the sector.

Panelists

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The webinar is part of a wider series of virtual events that promote collaboration through the sharing of experiences, best practices and solutions on ocean issues. They also offer the opportunity to reflect on how to move forward with ocean management in a post-COVID-19 world.

For more information contact: [email protected]

PAST EVENT: Unlocking the Wealth of Mangrove Ecosystems

Commonwealth countries hold more than a fifth of mangroves in the world. But they are rapidly disappearing – globally, between 30 to 50% of mangroves have been lost over the past 50 years. New approaches to restoration of mangroves are emerging, benefiting from new, low-cost technologies. These can support the resilience of local communities across the Commonwealth through empowered engagement and innovative funding.

This webinar will:

  • Provide an overview of the science and policy adopted by different nations to gather information required for better management of mangroves.
  • Showcase learning through case studies from projects across the Commonwealth representing different regions.
  • Highlight the various platforms available to move forward in a post COVID-19 world.

Panelists 

Watch the highlights video

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The webinar is part of a wider series of virtual events that promote collaboration through the sharing of experiences, best practices and solutions on ocean issues. They also offer the opportunity to reflect on how to move forward with ocean management in a post-COVID-19 world.

For more information contact: [email protected]

World Oceans Day: Mapping the Commonwealth one coral reef at a time

Celebrating World Oceans Day 2020, on 8 June, the Commonwealth Secretariat kicked off with the first Commonwealth Blue Charter webinar in its new series.

With 45% of coral reefs in Commonwealth waters and more than 90% of reefs globally predicted to be lost to climate change, NOW is the time for action. This webinar highlighted the efforts member countries and Vulcan Inc. are undertaking to map and accelerate protection and restoration of these precious ecosystems.

The event was hosted by The Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, with a special address from Her Excellency Dr Farah Faizal, High Commissioner of Maldives to the UK. The event highlighted the actions and progress of three Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups:

Vulcan Inc. demonstrated the Allen Coral Atlas which is bringing together multiple datasets to develop a detailed global coral atlas. Countries can utilise this map to inform their policy decisions to protect and restore coral reefs.  Maps for Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Fiji, Jamaica, Kenya, Mozambique, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tonga and Tuvalu are available on the Commonwealth Innovation Hub.

During the webinar, a new short film produced by the Commonwealth Blue Charter highlighting the 10 Action Groups was premiered.

Over 200 people from 56 countries around the world participated in the webinar, which finished with a panel discussion including questions from the audience.

Panelists of the Blue Charter World Oceans Day webinar

The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC during the Blue Charter World Oceans Day webinar

The Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General, speaking during the webinar

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Webinar explores ways to raise money for ocean protection

More than 180 participants from across the globe tuned in online to hear fresh insights on how to finance ocean protected areas in the Commonwealth.

Held on July 22, the webinar was the second in a series organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, aimed at sharing ideas and solutions for ocean challenges.

During the webinar, ocean experts from Belize to Seychelles focused on securing funding to manage marine protected areas (MPAs). These are important zones set aside by governments, where activities that harm the environment are restricted or even outlawed, to help protect and nurture marine ecosystems.

Webinar Panelists

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Before COVID-19, more than 60% of all existing MPAs in the world reported inadequate budgets for basic management. The situation will become even more dire since the pandemic, as governments are likely to further cut funding as they prioritise other sectors.

Opening the event, Jeff Ardron, lead expert on the Commonwealth Blue Charter at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “The intrinsic and monetary value of sustainable marine development, including the establishment of protected places, is now widely recognised.

“But despite the high rate of return financially, monetarily and in ecosystem services, the question remains: how can we finance the management of these highly valuable marine locations, where no or very few natural resources are being exploited?”

High costs, new funding sources

Managing marine protected areas can be costly. Funds must support on-the-water patrols, buying and maintaining equipment such as boats and drones, as well as putting in place required infrastructure such as buoys and signage. Office operations and marketing also require budget.

In Seychelles, the total expenditure to manage protected ocean areas in 2017 was US$5.1 million. Now, with 30% of its ocean legally protected – a milestone achieved in March – the government estimates future costs to be US$30-42 million per year.

“Protected area managers are struggling financially, especially due to COVID-19 impact on tourism,” said Seychelles’ Principal Secretary for Environment, Alain de Comarmond.

Traditional finance sources such as grants, entrance fees and corporate social responsibility donations will not be adequate in a post-COVID world.

The government is thus looking to ramp up innovative ways to fund conservation, such as ‘debt-for-nature’ swaps, where creditors agree to reduce sovereign debt if the government invests in marine conservation, as well as ‘blue bonds’ issued by the government, where proceeds go towards ocean protection.

Angelique Brathwaite, Director for the Caribbean at Blue Finance, added that tourism-dependent revenue streams such as visitor centres and underwater attractions have dried up due to COVID-19.

Her organisation, which has included a focus on tourism, is now also looking at other options, such as sustainable fishing and ‘blue carbon’ offsets, whereby MPAs can make an income from their capacity to store carbon in mangroves and sea grass, reducing the impacts of climate change.

Engaging NGOs, private sector

All the panellists agreed that sharing responsibility and costs is essential. In Belize for instance, the government routinely co-manages protected areas with either NGOs or businesses.

Valdemar Andrade, who heads the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association in Belize said: “This is not an undertaking you can do on your own. All stakeholders, including public and private sectors as well as academia and technical networks need to be involved.”

For the tourist town of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the private sector has emerged as a vital player.

Jake Kheel, Vice President of the Grupo Punta Cana Foundation, shared how hotels and other businesses are realising that protecting coral reefs is an important part of business strategy.

He said: “The private sector and tourism economy have a great capacity to involve local and fishing communities. For example, [in Punta Cana] they have been training local fishermen to do conservation work, hiring them as boat captains, dive or maintenance staff, so they have become an important asset.”

Alain Maulion, CEO of the Blue Alliance in the Philippines added that his NGO uses both grants and loans to fund operations.

The panel agreed that a combination of revenue streams are needed and solutions would have to be adapted to the circumstances in each country. Key ideas and scalable solutions shared during the webinar will be circulated to participants.

The webinar is part of a series being rolled out to support the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all 54 Commonwealth member countries to work actively together to promote ocean health and sustainable ocean development.

 

Blue Charter Webinar Series

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement by all 54 Commonwealth countries to tackle ocean-related challenges together, and actively cooperate to meet commitments for sustainable ocean development.

This series of webinars will promote collaboration through the sharing of experiences, best practices and solutions on ocean issues. They also offer the opportunity to reflect on how to move forward with ocean management in a post-COVID-19 world.

Participants from Commonwealth governments, the Commonwealth Secretariat and other policy experts will lead the virtual series.

Anyone interested in promoting ocean health or learning about the work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter is welcome to join! Please register using the links below.

Upcoming events

  • Breaking the Plastic Wave Across the Commonwealth – Dates to be confirmed soon

Previous events

Lessons From the Restoration of a Mangrove System in Point Lisas, Trinidad and Tobago

UPDATE: To mark the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem on 26 July, 2021, the Commonwealth Secretariat is hosting a virtual event to showcase how powerful satellite technology can support the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves in the Commonwealth. Register here.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

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“Once you recreate the natural hydrological environment and there is a source of seedlings, natural mangrove regeneration will occur.” Dr Rahanna Juman, Director (Acting), Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago

Summary

Significant impacts on the mangroves in Trinidad and Tobago date back to the 1780s, when the St Ann’s River was diverted and wetlands were reclaimed to expand the city of Port of Spain. Development of roads, housing, industries and other infrastructure along the coast has contributed to the decline of the mangrove forest. For instance, in 1979, approximately 500 ha of forest from Couva to north of Claxton Bay were reclaimed for the construction of the Point Lisas Industrial Park and DeepWater Port.

Since 2001, Trinidad and Tobago has had in place a National Policy and Programmes on Wetland Conservation. This includes the concept of “no net loss” of wetlands, their values and their functions on publicly owned lands and waters, and requires mitigation action where mangroves have been removed or adversely affected as a result of development works.

This case study shares the experience of a restoration project in the vicinity of Point Lisas Industrial Park, initiated in 1999. A historic case study is useful to show how a situation has played out – giving the benefit of hindsight to draw lessons. This example shows that the key success factor for this mangrove restoration project was not the planting but rather the restoration of the hydrology in the area to create the right conditions for natural colonisation and recovery.

The issue

Point Lisas, on the west coast of Trinidad, was developed in the late 1970s as a deep-water port and industrial park. The west coast is where the majority of mangrove forests are to be found; it is also where more than 70 per cent of the population reside and has experienced the most intense development.

In the late 1990s, the ammonia industry had cleared a 1200 m2 area of fringing mangrove forest to enable the placement of a pipeline to carry waste-water into the Gulf of Paria.

It was expected that the mangrove forest would regenerate naturally as seedlings were available from the adjoining wetlands.

After 18 months, however, the mangrove showed no sign of regeneration.

Given the national policy for no-net loss of mangrove ecosystems, action was taken to investigate the reasons for the lack of regeneration and to attempt restoration.

The response

In 1999, a replanting project was undertaken to recover the mangroves at Point Lisas cleared during the construction of the pipeline.

During the laying of the pipeline, marl used to the cover the pipeline was unevenly placed, altering the topography of the area and restricting tidal flow. To restore the natural topography, profiles were taken in the cleared area, and were compared with the adjoining mangrove forest. From these profiles, the amount of material to be excavated to restore the topography and to re-establish the tidal hydrology was determined.

Before replanting, the topography was restored by removing the overburden to re-establish the tidal flushing; this allows the area to be flooded by the high tide.

Following these works, and once it was established that the area was being flooded by the tide, 261 seedlings of three species of mangrove were planted – 170 red (Rhizophora mangle), 76 black (Avicennia germinans) and 15 white (Laguncularia mangle).

The long-term monitoring of this project has enabled observation of the site’s response over time.

Partnerships and support

The Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, was commissioned in 1999 by the ammonia plant that had laid the pipeline to restore the cleared mangrove area. The project was conducted jointly as a public-private partnership, with funding provided by the private company. Monitoring of this mangrove forest west of the plant still continues up to today.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

After 10 months, the number of seedlings recorded had increased to 354 – 82 per cent of which were natural colonisers. Only 24 per cent of the transplants were recorded.

Most of the seedlings observed were black and white mangroves and they were natural colonisers (169 natural black mangrove and 120 natural white mangrove). The red mangroves, which were more abundant closer to the Couva river mouth did not establish in this area. The black and white mangroves dominated this area of swamp. This restored area had healthy seedlings and saplings and was washed regularly by high tides.

By 2003, the tree density was 30 trees per 0.01 ha, with tree height between 6 and 8 m. Shortly after 2003, the area suffered mangrove die back disease, but by 2006 there had been another period of regrowth, with the tree density returning to 13 trees per 0.01 ha and an average height of almost 10 m. There have been subsequent periods of die back and regrowth in the restoration area as a result of disease and infestation. However, there has not been any further replanting since 1999 and so the system appears quite resilient.

The restoration project in 1999 was considered a success; however, the planting of mangrove seedlings proved not necessary once the physical characteristics of the site had been restored. Without reconstruction of the gradient and tidal hydrology, the replanting would have failed to re-establish mangroves in this area.

Challenges

The main challenge was to determine why natural regeneration had not occurred as had been expected, given the plentiful supply of seedlings in the adjoining wetland areas.

The approach taken to conduct scientific surveys to determine what may have changed in the physical environment proved successful. This supports the need for evidence (scientific)-based decision-making.

Sources

Juman, R.A. (2013) ‘Restoration of a Mangrove System in Point Lisas, Trinidad and Tobago’. Presented to the 1st Mangrove Forum, Guyana.

Juman, R.A. and Hassanali, K. (2013) ‘Mangrove Conservation in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies’, Chapter 2 in G. Gleason and T.R. Victor (eds) Mangrove Ecosystems. Nova Science Publications accessed via https://www.ima.gov.tt/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/ Mangrove-Conservation-in-TT.pdf

Juman, R.A. and Ramsewak, D. (2013) ‘Status of Mangrove Forests in Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies’. Caribbean Journal of Science, June.

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Case study: Master Reef Guides Programme, Great Barrier Reef, Australia (launched 2018, on-going)

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us

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“This programme is first class! It brings together the best tourism operators, who use sustainable practices, along with their crew. It not only brings their operations to the forefront of the tourism industry but also their well-trained crew are spread out through the community, teaching people all about our beautiful Great Barrier Reef. It is a fantastic programme for all involved, and the people who get to visit the Great Barrier Reef with these leaders are left with an above and beyond experience.” Sarah Vickory, Master Reef Guide.

Summary

The Master Reef Guides programme was launched in 2019. It builds the capacity of tourism staff working on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia, to provide an appealing industry- and governmentrecognised qualification. Master Reef Guides pass through a comprehensive selection and training process.

These ambassadors can provide up-to-date information on the Great Barrier Reef, share stories on the World Heritage Area and explain what visitors can do to make a difference. Once qualified, they are recognised as worldclass reef guides, interpreters and story-tellers, well equipped to share the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area with the all who visit.

The Master Reef Guides programme is delivered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) and Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ). It is the first programme of its kind working on the issue of coral reefs. In 2018 and 2019, the first three cohorts of Master Reef Guides were trained in a range of areas, including public speaking, enhancing the visitor experience and the power of interpretation.

Coral reef tourism contributes $36 billion to the global tourism industry annually. Irresponsible reef tourism can put great pressure on coral health. However, responsible and informed operators can help educate and inform tourists, providing a more impactful, value-added experience with increased awareness. This case study describes one programme that is demonstrating success in contributing to the management and conservation objectives of the Great Barrier Reef, and that could be of interest for application in other regions.

The issue

The Great Barrier Reef tourism industry plays a vital role in presenting the wonders of this World Heritage Area to millions of people every year. Meanwhile, providing 65,000 full-time jobs, tourism is the largest employer in North Queensland. GBRMPA has worked on the Great Barrier Reef tourism industry for decades, with a focus on a healthy reef being equal to a healthy industry. Tourism operators represent not only the avenue for millions of people to experience the Great Barrier Reef each year but also the eyes and ears, the custodians and the interpreters of the Great Barrier Reef.

Great Barrier Reef tourism staff are in a unique position to share the wonders of the reef and interpret its complexity to a captivated audience. It has long been proven that people will protect what they know – and know what they experience. If we strive to connect each person who chooses to come and experience the Great Barrier Reef through sophisticated and memorable guiding and interpretation, then the global community can become involved in the future health of not only the Great Barrier Reef but also other natural places on which they rely directly.

GBRMPA encourages tourism operators to strive for the highest standards in protection, presentation and partnership towards the ends of environmental protection, reef resilience and tourism sustainability. Becoming a recognised High Standard Tourism Operator (an eco-accredited operator) comes with strong incentives, including longer-term operating permits (up to 20 years) and also being showcased by GBRMPA.

However, a 2015 audit of High Standard Tourism Operators showed up inconsistency and inaccuracy in some information delivered by tourism staff and highlighted an opportunity to improve interpretation and raise the bar across the entire tourism industry.

The response

The response was instigated in 2017, with the aim of developing “A highly desirable and internationally recognised guiding programme that builds the capacity, knowledge and presentation skills of the Great Barrier Reef tourism industry to deliver exceptional and memorable visitor experiences.”

The Master Reef Guides programme was launched in 2018 and provides training specific to coral reefs and the Great Barrier Reef. The programme was crafted from the experience of existing national and international guiding programmes, the tourism sector, protected area managers and marketing experts.

Once nominated as the best of the best within a company, potential guides are shortlisted, interviewed and then selected. Successful nominees are connected to others in a small cohort to complete both online and in-field training.

The comprehensive Reef Discovery Course has been developed as a free online resource that covers the A-Z of all things Great Barrier Reef – and how best to share this knowledge with visitors. The course consists of 10 modules and represents a one-stop-shop that synthesises and describes the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef and the latest science and management information in a contemporary format.

For the in-field training, the cohorts visit sites and receive training from experts including leading scientists, body language and public speaking specialists, professional guides from other regions, Traditional Owners, Marine Protected Area managers and several other field guiding experts.

Once qualified, the guides all wear a uniform, so they are recognisable, and become the key contact point on their operations for information relating to species identification, ecosystem interpretation, protection of values, best practice visitor management and coral reef health.

Partnerships and support

The programme is a partnership between:

GBRMPA – bringing reef management and knowledge;

AMPTO – the industry association; and

TEQ – the government marketing and experience development department.

The programme is in the implementation phase. Up to 2021, the programme managers will learn from experience, feedback surveys, evaluations, research and guest reviews to continue to improve. The aim is for the programme to be sustainable by 2022 with annual regional training and quarterly master classes.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Currently, 63 Master Reef Guides have been trained in four cohorts and are now working along the Great Barrier Reef. It is anticipated there will be around 150 Master Reef Guides trained by 2022.

Master Reef Guides are considered the best in their field in relation to reef interpretation, master story-telling and experience delivery.The Master Reef Guides programme includes on-going training, networking and leadership development to assist the guides and other staff along the Great Barrier Reef to further develop their knowledge and experience. Not everyone is selected to undertake the training to obtain the qualification; however, all Master Reef Guides will play the role of leader and mentor for other staff within their operation and across the tourism industry.

Master Reef Guides provide their tour operators with the capacity to raise the level of service and visitor experience – delivering benefits for the industry, visitors and the Great Barrier Reef itself.

The goal of the programme is to have a Master Reef Guide on every High Standard Tourism Operation that visits the Great Barrier Reef – setting the standard for tourists to receive the best possible experience. The programme is enabling the industry to play an active role in the protection of the Marine Park through the provision of reporting and compliance training.

The online Reef Discovery Course is available to guides and interested members of the public. Registration is possible by contacting [email protected]

Challenges

An audit of tourism operators highlighted inconsistency and inaccuracies in the information being delivered by tour guides. Improving the level of information provision was a critical element contributing to responsible, sustainable tourism practices on the Great Barrier Reef.

Adapting the content of the programme to evolve as knowledge improves is a challenge. It requires an adaptive learning approach that includes monitoring and evaluation of the different components to ensure the programme continues to provide the most relevant, upto-date information.

Managing the increasing demand from operators as the programme gains traction and becomes embedded in marketing and promotional strategies has required the establishment of a strong governance framework, open and transparent selection processes and quality assurance checks.

Ensuring the quality and knowledge of guides requires on-going management, engagement and training opportunities. Retaining staff and keeping the newly increased capacity within the Great Barrier Reef also represents a challenge. Key lessons learnt Developing a professional network and community of best practice has been vital. Maintaining a close network of best practice among the guides and trainers has been key and has been achieved by utilising social media and group communication channels. The training is developing a peer support and continuous learning network among Master Reef Guides, who continue to remain in contact after the training. Trainers also become part of the closed social channels and exchange knowledge, latest findings and advice via these and on their terms.

The programme has also developed a career pathway and opportunity for females in a male-dominated industry.

On-going training is important: the intention is to maintain a programme of master classes on different issues, to ensure the Master Reef Guides remain current as knowledge evolves. Master Reef Guides are kept abreast of the latest science to ensure they can address guest questions.

It has been found that wearing a uniform is important, both for the Master Reef Guides, in recognition of the professional qualification they have achieved, and as a visual message to visitors. The Master Reef Guides brand has enabled marketing bodies to support and promote a brand that represents quality and a focus on visitor experience delivery, without linking or promoting a specific business.

Retaining engagement of all partners is critical to ongoing success: the programme has to work with and for GBRMPA, individuals undertaking the programme, their employers and tourists.

Working with traditional owners is helping create links and reconcile conflict between traditional custodians of the reef and the industry that depends on it.

Ensuring all material related to the programme is developed with a quality lens is critical to the success of managing a shared brand: communication materials, media interviews and guide promotion and presentation are maintained through a central business manager. Given the global focus on the health of the Great Barrier Reef, responses to media must be timely but accurate and balanced. The establishment of key messages, talking points and media training has maximised reach and message delivery.

When people are the key to implementation of a programme, managing relationships is the way to success. Connecting and sharing among the network has allowed all to play a role in the development of the programme, and all feel a sense of ownership, commitment and pride in the Master Reef Guides.

Lead contact

Fiona Merida, Assistant Director Reef Stewardship, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Source

Materials provided by Fiona Merida – image credit Pablo Cogollos http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/our-partners/master-reefguides https://www.icriforum.org/news/2019/03/great-barrierreef’s-first-master-reef-guides

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