Partnership with Arizona State University will help track climate impact on coral reefs

A new agreement between the Commonwealth Secretariat and Arizona State University (ASU) will leverage cutting-edge coral-mapping technology to protect and restore coral reefs in the Commonwealth.

The partnership aims to support governments in using the Allen Coral Atlas, a powerful web-based tool, to monitor and manage coral reef ecosystems for enhanced ocean policies.

Named for the late Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, the Allen Coral Atlas was conceived and funded by his company, Vulcan Inc., and is now managed by the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

Monitoring ‘coral bleaching’

This year, a ground-breaking new feature was added to the platform, using satellite images to monitor ‘coral bleaching’ – a phenomenon driven mainly by climate change.

Allen Coral Atlas map

Bleaching occurs when extra warm ocean waters cause corals to expel the colourful algae living in their tissues. As the algae also serve as an important food source, extended periods of bleaching will cause corals to starve and die.

Increasingly within the last decade, wide-scale coral bleaching events have been seen across the world, linked to warmer waters and more frequent marine heatwaves.

With 45 percent of the world’s tropical coral reefs located in the Commonwealth, the Allen Coral Atlas could offer vital support to help mitigate these threats caused by climate change and other human pressures.

Welcoming the partnership, Senior Director for Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Paulo Kautoke said:

“Coral reefs act as vital reservoirs of marine life and biodiversity, natural sea defences and a source of life and livelihood for millions of people. This initiative will provide Commonwealth countries with essential geographic data and ecosystem health information to protect and manage their coral reefs in a sustainable manner.

Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups can also facilitate learning and help member countries make the most effective use of this information.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by the 54 member countries to collaborate on solving ocean challenges, implemented through 10 country-driven action groups, each led by a ‘Champion country’.

The Allen Coral Atlas will support the Action Group on Coral Reef Protection and Restoration, championed by Australia, Belize and Mauritius, by providing access to common data sets, shared practices, co-learning opportunities and scientific capacity-building to support marine policy development.

Dr. Greg Asner, Managing Director of the Allen Coral Atlas, and Director of the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science added: “By partnering with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Allen Coral Atlas will reach new countries and communities as a resource to generate and scale coral reef protection and management.

“The true impact will best be achieved as more governments and organizations implement the Atlas tool kit in pursuit of long-term reef sustainability, biodiversity protection, and the preservation of human livelihoods that depend on the world’s coral reefs.”

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “More than half of coral reefs globally have declined since the 1950s. If we continue to burn fossil fuels and drive up ocean temperatures, both ocean life and human well-being will be at risk. Coral mapping tools and technology can help countries monitor the impacts of climate change in the ocean and develop strategies to build resilience in coastal ecosystems.”

The Commonwealth Secretariat will be launching online training modules for coral managers and technicians in member countries to learn how to use the Allen Coral Atlas to map local reefs, study bleaching trends and feed this data into policy and decision-making processes.

The Atlas could also assist other Action Groups focused on mangrove ecosystems, marine protected areas and ocean observations, helping expand the mapping of other aquatic ecosystems and collection of spatial data. Earlier this year it was used to track the impacts of the MV Wakashio oil spill which occurred in Mauritius in August 2020.

This partnership follows on a previous agreement with Vulcan Inc.

Case study: Reef Credits – A New Environmental Market-Based Instrument to Improve Water Quality in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

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“We estimate that the market could generate 6 Million Reef Credits by 2030, opening the door for more businesses to invest in the future of the reef as part of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies.”

GreenCollar (2020)

Summary

Reef Credits is a new, voluntary, environmental market scheme that rewards landholders for actions that improve the quality of the run-off from their land into the Great Barrier Reef catchment. When landholders implement projects on their land that meet approved water quality methodologies that demonstrate reduction in nutrients or sediments, they generate Reef Credits. Reef Credits are tradable units that represent a quantifiable volume of nutrient, pesticide or sediment (Reef Credit, 2020). One Reef Credit equates to preventing 1 kg of nitrogen, or 538 kg of sediment, from entering the Great Barrier Reef. Reef Credits are sold to organisations in the public and private sector that are keen to improve their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance, demonstrate their support for sustainable initiatives or offset their own impacts.

Environmental markets are considered a type of policy response, offering incentives to protect the ecosystem or the services it provides, often complementing other conservation or protection measures. The Reef Credit Scheme is an environmental market instrument that uses standards, accounting methodology (quantification), independent auditing and a registry system to measure and validate pollution prevention that can be bought or sold as a commodity. The system is based on the methodology developed by the US organisation Verra. Reef Credits provide landholders with an additional, diversified income stream over 10-25 years and are generated annually. Under the scheme, landholders implement one (or more) accepted water quality improvement activities based on an accepted methodology. Activities must align with water pollutant reduction targets for the Great Barrier Reef, and must be additional, measurable, monitored and verified by third-party organisations. The concept of additionality refers to the requirement that the activity must be a new undertaking, which is a central notion in other credit schemes as well, such as generating carbon credits.

A new entity, called Eco Markets Australia, has been established to independently manage the Reef Credit Scheme, including adherence to market rules, registry systems and verification. The first credits have already been sold to the private and public sector. Reef Credits do not have a set price and do not function as a cap-and-trade market, but rather as a voluntary scheme. The price of Reef Credits was negotiated between seller and buyer. The Reef Credit Scheme has the potential to improve water quality in other catchment systems (including non-reef ecosystems) because it could be adapted for different catchment ecosystems.

The issue

The Great Barrier Reef is an internationally significant site, a World Heritage area and a national icon. It represents an AU$56 billion asset, provides 64,000 jobs and contributes AU$6 billion to Australia’s economy. However, human impact is threatening this valuable system and recently the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the Great Barrier Reef’s conservation outlook as “critical”. Climate change, poor water quality from land-based run-off, coastal development and fishing are the primary causes of the Reef’s decline, but major storms, a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak and marine debris have also put pressure on the Great Barrier Reef.

Several attempts have been made by public and private organisations to improve water quality, with variable success, but, despite all efforts, the health of the Reef is still declining. Part of the problem is that the Reef represents a public good and is under government control (both Federal and State level), while land along the catchments is under private ownership. Minimum standards for water quality and monitoring are already mandatory under government regulation. Reef Credits seek to capture and incentivise additional, voluntary water quality improvement activities on private land.

The response

In 2017, the Queensland government funded the feasibility study for the Reef Credit Scheme, as part of the Major Integrated Projects initiative for reef water quality improvement. The feasibility study deemed the Reef Credit Scheme potentially viable and led to the establishment of the Reef Credit Secretariat and the Reef Credit Interim Steering Committee. The steering committee included leading environmental market project developer GreenCollar, and NFP organisations Terrain NRM and NQ Dry Tropics. In 2018, the Reef Credit Interim Steering Committee commissioned Winrock International (USA), a global leader in environmental markets and development, to prepare an Options Paper on how to design, establish and operate a crediting system aimed at reducing pollutant loads to the Great Barrier Reef. This work, along with the engagement of a number of water quality market programmes, participants and founders, and standard development organisations in North America, provided the foundations for the drafting of the Reef Credit Standard and the Programme Guide and the first Reef Credit Methodologies. Throughout 2018, farmers voluntarily identified between 10 and 20 project sites to test Reef Credit Methodologies, including agricultural and grazing practice changes, wetland restoration and gully restoration applications. The project sites were identified through voluntary means with the involvement of regional natural resource management bodies, which are not-for-profit environmental organisations.

Reef Credit governance

The Reef Credit Scheme is administered by Eco Markets Australia, a new, independent, not-for-profit company. The company is governed by a skills-based Board
of Directors. The day-to-day administration of the Reef Credit Standard is delegated to the Reef Credit Secretariat. The Board and Reef Credit Secretariat will be supported on technical aspects of the Reef Credit Standard and Methodologies by a Technical Advisory Committee. The Reef Credit Secretariat function is delivered by Eco-Markets Australia, which has now been formally established as a not-for-profit company in Queensland, Australia and the independent skill based Board appointed and operational.

The Reef Credit Scheme consists of a Reef Credit Guide, a Reef Credit Standard, a Reef Credit Registry, Reef Credit Methodologies and the Reef Credit Projects. The Reef Credit Guide is a document that explains the rationale goals, core principles, participants and processes of the scheme, including how Reef Credit Projects generate, register and issue Reef Credits. The Reef Credit Standard sets out the rules and requirements for developing methodologies and projects, as well as the validation, registration, monitoring, verification, crediting and issuance processes and governance arrangements. The Reef Credit Registry keeps track of Reef Credit transactions and ownership of Reef Credits. The Reef Credit Methodology describes how projects can generate verifiable outcomes. Reef Credit Projects are activities that conform to an approved Reef Credit Methodology.

Partnerships and support

The Reef Credit Scheme was founded by Terrain NRM, NQ Dry Tropics (two natural resource management not-for-profit organisations in Queensland, Australia) and GreenCollar, a private Australian project development company that currently delivers more than half of the Australian land sector carbon. Initial funding by the Queensland government through the Major Integrated Projects initiative for reef water quality was vital in the start-up phase. Winrock International’s extensive experience helped settle on how the scheme would operate. Of course, farmers were integral in developing and pilot testing the methodologies and their participation will continue to be vital for the scheme.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

To date, two water quality improvement methodologies have been accepted under the Reef Credit Scheme and three are currently under development. The two accepted methodologies are (i) accounting for the reduction in fine sediment run-off through gully rehabilitation through engineered interventions, revegetation or improved grazing management and (ii) accounting for the reduction in nutrient run-off through managed fertiliser application, which targets dissolved inorganic nitrogen loss through more efficient soil and nutrient management practices from agriculture, including sugarcane, bananas, grains and fodder.

The first Reef Credits were generated in the Tully River Catchment, south of Cairns, by a local cane farmer. The project generated 3,125 Reef Credits between January 2018 and December 2019 under the approved method for reduction in nutrient run-off through managed fertiliser application. The first Reef Credits were purchased by HSBC and the Queensland government in October 2020. GreenCollar estimates aim to generate more than 6 million Reef Credits by 2030.

Challenges

The Reef Credit scheme is the first voluntary environmental market scheme in Australia, barring the carbon and water trading schemes, where government regulation and authorities play a central role. Even though such voluntary environmental markets exist in other countries, such as the USA, the novelty of the scheme in Australia was a challenge in obtaining initial funding for the preparation of the Feasibility Study and Options Paper. Some were sceptical about whether a voluntary scheme could be established within a short time frame and how it would work with other programs and also deliver a tangible outcome.

Environmental market schemes like the Reef Credit Scheme are also often criticised for “rewarding” polluters and this is a challenge. However, it is important to keep in mind that the scheme does not operate on the basis of cap-and-trade and government already has minimum water quality standards and water quality improvement targets in place (both of which may change and become more ambitious over time). Reef Credits incentivise the implementation of additional pollution prevention activities where individual landholders directly receive income. Thus, any new action under the Reef Credit Scheme leads to water quality improvements above and beyond requirements and will have a positive impact on the Reef. Environmental markets can incentivise desired practices but, contrary to regulation, it provides additional revenue for farmers who are already suffering from financial hardship. It can provide individuals and organisation the opportunity to generate income to pay for (and obtain finance to implement) pollution prevention activity that they would otherwise not be able to do.

The novelty of the scheme continues to represent challenges on many fronts. Stakeholders GreenCollar, Terrain NRM and NQ Dry Tropics as well as the State Government of Queensland are all newcomers to environmental markets. GreenCollar is investing considerable time and effort in finding interested and eligible landholders and potential investors and explaining the scheme to them. Setting up and registering Eco Markets Australia as an independent entity also took considerable time.

Key lessons learnt

The Reef Credit Scheme is the first voluntary (non-government-regulated) environmental market credit scheme developed and implemented in Australia. This case provides valuable lessons on how to set up such schemes in developed and developing countries. As it is not restricted to water quality improvement, it can serve as a blueprint for other environmental credit schemes, to achieve biodiversity outcomes for example.

The initial funding by the Queensland government allowed for the commissioning of the Feasibility Study and Options Paper, essential to getting started on the Reef Credit Scheme. It was decided early on that the government would not play a central regulatory role in the scheme (the government is still regulating and monitoring minimum water quality); rather, a new independent entity, Eco Markets Australia, was created to administer the registry and the scheme. This is important for several reasons, including allowing the government to maintain its focus on regulating and overseeing minimum water quality standards and allowing Reef Credits to be pursued entirely through voluntary markets.

Pilot testing water quality improvement projects before the methodologies were fully developed was important for input, but was also challenging. In essence, it meant that the methodologies were developed (rather than tested) during the pilot stage, which was time consuming and sometimes frustrating for the parties involved. However, this option was still the fastest way to develop methodologies in tandem with the scheme administration and this was a priority, given the urgency to develop new investment approaches. As always, partnerships of likeminded individuals who had the tenacity and resourcefulness to see the potential of Reef Credits and pursue this to fruition were key to its success.

Lead contact

GreenCollar contact – Carole Sweatman,
General Manager Water
Email: [email protected]
Eco-Markets Australia Contact – Louise Venz
Email: [email protected]

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Case Study: Coral Communities: Building Socio-Ecological Resilience to Coral Reef Degradation in the Islands of the Western Indian Ocean (2017)

CBC case study 38 coral communities thumbnailThe 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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 “Communities met each other for the first time. This is positive; we want to create exchanges between them again. They really liked shaping the landscapes. Communities felt it was important to use more practical language when describing resilience and livelihood, like how do you survive or cope.” 

 Kathy Young, Managing Director of Reef Conservation 

Summary 

Improving the resilience of communities and coral reefs to changes anticipated as a result of climate change is an issue of global importance. Hundreds of millions of people rely on coral reefs to provide essential services such as food and coastal protection. Coral Communities aimed to examine the effectiveness of different management and development strategies, and to understand what language and messages would be most appropriate to facilitate and implement delivery of these. The project was carried out in two regions of the West Indian Ocean: Zanzibar and Mauritius. 

This project has been included as a case study for the Blue Charter Action Groups as it showcases an in-depth process of engaging with coastal communities on complex topics, such as resilience, and the value of using creative methods to bring different communities and stakeholders together to discuss common challenges (illustrated by the quotation above). 

The facilitation and engagement process provided through Coral Communities allowed in-depth discussion with community members, and highlighted the importance of understanding the values people hold about their local marine environment, and how this may influence future planning for resilience in these communities. 

 The issue 

Coral Communities had two main aims:¹ 

  1. To identify and critically assess the effectiveness and potential of management and development strategies to build the resilience of coral reefs and their dependent communities in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO); and 
  2. To understand to what extent ecosystem services language and approaches facilitate development and implementation of such strategies. 

In particular, the project sought to adopt creative and visual methods of community and stakeholder engagement to stimulate discussion on complex, and sometimes challenging, topics. 

The response 

The project engaged with WIO and UK stakeholders to discuss the concept of resilience and how different strategies could be used in practice to help build social and ecological resilience across the project region. Of particular interest to the Blue Charter Action Groups is the co-development of a novel and creative method that could be applied to engage local communities in challenging topics, such as ecosystem services, resilience, coral reef management and effective stakeholder engagement. 

The project drew together a network of UK and WIO collaborators to address evidence and knowledge gaps around understanding of community knowledge, connection and values towards their local environment, with a specific focus on coral reefs and their resilience. It then used this to support the development of resilience strategies for coral reefs and their communities across the WIO. 

Making a coastscape
Excerpt from Coral Communities newspaper, providing details
about the methodology adopted, photographs from the project and
reflections on the process
Source: https://pml.ac.uk/getattachment/Research/Projects/
Building_resilience/cc_broadsheet_20_03_18_English.pdf

To support meaningful engagement with local communities, the project team set out to develop a visually creative approach to exploring these complex issues. This involved a series of walking interviews, use of participatory videos and creation of “coastscapes” to stimulate discussion on topics relating to resilience and their local coral reefs. Crucially, the project sought to adopt a clear co-development process, moving away from a traditional researcher-led approach, with participants asked to interview each other about the objects they selected to include in creation of the coastscape. The approach was piloted in both Mauritius and Zanzibar, together with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) Reef Conservation Mauritius and Mwambao Coastal Community Network. 

In addition, two workshops were organised with secondary stakeholders (NGOs and government officials) to support understanding of key issues around coral reef resilience and strategic management, as well as to share the visual method with workshop participants. Workshop 1 involved the whole research team travelling to Mauritius and working with WIO and local stakeholders to start to understand the challenges facing coral reefs and to support development of the visual engagement tools, including the trial of a visual method of community engagement, participatory mapping and the creation of mini coastscapes (i.e. building a model of the coast in the workshop space and using it as a discussion tool to engage stakeholders and communities). Workshop 2 brought key people from across the WIO to the UK and built on the first workshop to feed back on the project and showcase the novel visual methods trialled with communities in Mauritius and Zanzibar. 

Partnerships and support 

The project team represented a range of interdisciplinary research and drew on expertise in environmental and health economics, social sciences, development, social psychology, marine geosciences, marine biology, art (including concept and sustainable design, and photography and film making) and religious studies. 

The project was an international project funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, enabling a partnership between academics, NGOs, a development consultant and a creative art and film-making team. It was led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), with partner organisations: University of Exeter (European Centre for Environment and Human Health and School of Geography), Reef Conservation, Tagscape, Truro College, Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Mwambao Coastal Community Network, Indeva Consulting and Cardiff University. It brought together a wide range of expertise, including in the use of creative methods to engage communities, and supported the adoption of co-development of knowledge and engagement techniques. 

Within the partnership, the Mwambao Coastal Community Network, a Tanzanian NGO, could be of particular interest to the Blue Charter Action Groups. This organisation has extensive expertise in using participatory video methods to engage communities in issues around marine and coastal management.² 

Results, accomplishments and outcomes 

coastscape example
An example of a coastscape created through the Coral Communities project Credit: Andy Hughes https://www.andyhughes.net/page37.html

In terms of overall outcomes, the process of stakeholder engagement was the main focus of the project. By involving different actors and community members in a co-developed, visually creative process, the project team was able enhance engagement and awareness of issues relating to coral reefs, and their resilience, within the case study communities. 

Results and outputs from the project include the following: 

  • A novel, arts-based approach was developed and piloted to assess perceptions of the environment and the socio-cultural risk associated with different resilience strategies. This process was used to encourage communities to express how they felt about their environment, how they interacted with it and what their aspirations were for the future. Coastscapes were created through a participatory visual process including walking interviews with participants and collecting of items to include.³ Participants co-created the coastscapes using items they had collected or brought with them to the meeting. This process of community engagement provided a platform for community voices and generated valuable insight into community perceptions and values about their local environment, and issues facing it. The project team is seeking on-going funding to further expand on this work. 
  • A “newspaper” was produced that summarises the aim of the project and provides a detailed overview of the process involved in the visual methods approach described above, including the development and use of the coastscapes as a discussion prompt. This project output was also co-designed with the community – a member of the community designed the logo and centre spread of the newspaper and their work set the colour scheme for the paper’s design.
  • A pop-up project exhibition run in Mauritius showcased the coastscapes as well as photography and objects that project partners and stakeholders selected as representing the topics covered within the project, including the challenges and issues facing these communities around changing coral reef systems and what it meant to them individually and at a community level. The exhibition brought together a diverse range of stakeholders and community members and facilitated discussion on a range of topics. 
  • The project team conducted an in-depth literature review, focusing on 14 resilience strategies. This resulted in the creation of summary report cards, which can be freely downloaded from the project website in both English and French. 
  • The project team produced a number of videos, covering a range of topics including socio-ecological resilience and outlining the process of collecting objects from the coast to produce the coastscapes. 
  • A paper was produced on the resilience strategies applied in the WIO relevant to the development of social and ecological resilience (Hattam et al., 2020).
  • A second paper is currently being developed focusing on the visual method and will be available from the project team (contact details below). 

Challenges 

Through the project, Coral Communities examined and addressed a number of challenges. 

  • Uncertainty and reluctance from project partners and WIO stakeholders around the creative methods being adopted through the project. This is a challenge that frequently faces social science approaches; however, through engaging project partners in the process, and the resulting depth of information and connection created through the methods used, many concerns expressed at the beginning of the project were addressed. WIO project partners have expressed how they have already used components of the methods, and there is considerable interest in adopting the methods for future projects. 
  • Understanding of key concepts and terms being used within the project, such as “ecosystem services”, “resilience” and “socio-ecological” systems, and how these are being adopted and used within the WIO region. 
  • Lack of monetary valuation processes in place to support understanding of cultural values and services that may be linked to coral reefs and their future resilience. This was found to be challenging for meaningful inclusion of cultural values within decision-making and management. 
  • Further challenges around literacy and language when working in different communities across WIO. However, the use of visual methods helped overcome many of these barriers.
  •  The short timeframe of the Coral Communities project, which meant stakeholders and communities were engaged frequently over a relatively short period of time, requiring a significant commitment from both the project team and the participants. Future projects would benefit from a longer timeframe, to reduce the risk of stakeholder fatigue, supported through regular communication to maintain engagement from participants. 
how to video pocket book
Example of a “how to video” pocket book that you can photocopy back to back, fold up and share. Created by Ray Wong

Key lessons learnt 

Coral Communities emphasised the importance of meaningful and effective stakeholder engagement with local communities to support the development of sustainable marine and coastal management. 

Use of visual methods 

  • To address the challenges of literacy and language within project communities, the Coral Communities project adopted a programme of visual and creative activities. 
  • It is important to recognise that care should be taken when using visual research methods, as imagery can mean one thing to one participant/community and something else to another. 
  • Visual and co-developed approaches providing an opportunity for open, transparent conversation and dialogue between different community members can build trust between different stakeholder groups, and can support public engagement with complex and challenging topics, such as resilience. 
  • Data and information collected through the visual activities can be digitised if time and funding allow, creating valuable resources that can be used to monitor changes in the environment, as well as in public perceptions and activities. 

Time and resources 

It is important to spend time with communities to develop a comprehensive understanding of different values and perceptions of their marine environments. For community engagement to be effective and meaningful, sufficient time and resources are required to support the use of creative methods, such as those developed by Coral Communities. 

Reference 

Hattam, C., Evans, L., Morrissey, K., Hooper, T. et al. (2020) “Building Resilience in Practice to Support Coral Communities in the Western Indian Ocean”. Environmental Science & Policy 106: 182–190. 

coral communities report card
Example of Coral Communities Report Cards (available in English and in French) . Logo for the project created by Tooshir Beestobchurn from the Roches Noires community

Additional resources 

Coral Communities drew on experience from previous projects that may be of interest to the Blue Charter Action Groups interested in this type of creative or visual approach of engaging stakeholders/ communities. Information about one these projects can be found below: 

Tagscape explores ways of visualising information about natural landscapes and turning it into innovative maps that will engage the general public: https://www. plymouth.ac.uk/about-us/university-structure/faculties/ arts-humanities-business/creative-cultivator/tagscape 

The process adopted through Coral Communities is also influencing new projects. One example of this is Ruritage – an EU-funded project seeking to examine rural cultural heritage and positioning it as a mechanism for supporting sustainable development and regeneration. More information is available on the project website: https://www.ruritage.eu/project/ 

Lead contact 

Project Lead: Dr Caroline Hattam: [email protected] icf.com 

For more information on creative methods: Dominica Williamson: https://www.ecogeographer.com 

Website: https://www.pml.ac.uk/Research/Projects/Coral_Communities 

Footnotes

1 https://pml.ac.uk/Research/Projects/Coral_Communities 

2 https://www.mwambao.or.tz/ 

3 For the newspaper and other outputs mentioned here, see (unless otherwise indicated) https://pml.ac.uk/Research/Projects/Coral_Communities#videos

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Case Study: A Community of Practice for Coral Reef Rehabilitation – Bali Reef Rehabilitation Network, Bali, Indonesia (on-going)

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“Restoration has become a central topic in the global discussion on how to address threats to coral reefs. In Bali, numerous private and public initiatives have been undertaken to restore coral reefs. The Bali Reef Rehabilitation Network is intended to connect practitioners for the purpose of sharing information, encouraging best practices and facilitating collaboration on restoration projects that benefit Bali’s marine environment and people.”

– Rili Djohani, Executive Director, Coral Triangle Centre

Summary

The Bali Reef Rehabilitation Network is a coalition of non-governmental organisations, government representatives, academics and marine tourism operators who are engaged in coral reef rehabilitation projects around Bali. The Network was launched in August 2019 when participants met to discuss innovations, challenges, best practices, regulations and other relevant topics. As mounting human pressures degrade and threaten coral reefs, interest has grown among governments, coastal communities and marine enthusiasts to proactively counteract these by initiating projects to restore degraded sections of reef. These well-meaning projects, however, stand to fail and even cause environmental damage if conducted without planning that takes into account ecological, financial, social and legislative factors. The Reef Rehabilitation Network was formed with the goal of sharing knowledge and information among people with diverse backgrounds and levels of experience regarding coral restoration.

While this is a very new initiative, the Network has been presented as a demonstration of a mechanism to try and address challenges of inappropriate restoration, using local peer learning network to share experience and provide peer group support. This is presented as model that may be of interest to members of the Action Group.

The issue

Case Study: Coral Reef Rehabilitation Indonesia image 2
Credit: Coral Triangle Center

Bali’s economy depends strongly on marine tourism, every year drawing thousands of divers and snorkelers to its reefs. As depressing news of climate change and the global decline of coral reefs fills traditional and social media, tourists are increasingly looking for ways to “do good” on their holiday. Coral planting and other activities related to coral reef restoration have grown in popularity recently, as tourists will pay significant sums of money for the hands-on experience. This demand, presumably combined with a genuine interest in environmental stewardship, has encouraged organisations around Bali to initiate restoration projects, many of which involve tourists in some stage of the process. Many of these projects, however, have been executed without sufficient knowledge and planning regarding the ecological, financial and social factors that contribute to successful environmental restoration. Many restoration practitioners, too, are unfamiliar with local and national laws regarding coral restoration in Indonesia.

The response

Case Study: Coral Reef Rehabilitation Indonesia image 2
Credit: Coral Triangle Center

In early August 2019, the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) convened a discussion forum as a first step toward establishing a community of practice for reef restoration around Bali. Over 40 participants representing 18 organisations attended. The meeting was intended to introduce a diverse group of participants from different sectors – non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government, marine tourism and academia – with different levels of experience in reef restoration. After a keynote talk delivered by a university affiliate experienced in restoration, each participating organisation was invited to give a five-minute overview of their restoration project. Then, participants discussed challenges related to reef rehabilitation, including:

• Project continuity and building capacity of local communities to participate in reef rehabilitation activities;
• Sources of funding and creating projects that last;
• Coral species and genetic and morphological biodiversity;
• Maintenance of coral nurseries and transplant sites;
• Monitoring and evaluation of project success;
• Coastal water pollution and waste management;
• Site and coral species suitability for reef rehabilitation;
• Unclear regulations, including need for permits;
• Regulations that were written for commercial export of corals but that, by default, apply to restoration projects; and
• Lack of knowledge leading to ecologically inappropriate restoration strategies (e.g. propagating a coral species that does not naturally grow at the depth of the restoration site).

Participants expressed an interest in future activities like touring different project sites and a working group to summarise relevant laws. Facebook and WhatsApp groups were established to encourage further interaction among participants.

Partnerships and support

A coalition of NGOs, government agencies, marine tourism businesses and academics that are actively involved in reef restoration projects around Bali are involved in the Network. CTC staff coordinated and provided funding and the venue to host the August 2019 meeting. CTC staff also set up and monitors the Facebook and WhatsApp groups. The timeframe of this project is open, as it is hoped that the community of practice will continue to persist and expand.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The WhatsApp group has 21 members and the Facebook group has 45. Members share and discuss relevant news stories, coral restoration techniques and events (e.g. coral spawning) around Bali. No further activities have been initiated since the discussion forum, though since the meeting there has been talk of organising project site visits, workshops and other activities in the future.

Challenges

One of the main challenges the Network now faces is lack of attention and time: since the initial discussion forum, enthusiasm to participate and initiate activities has waned. Some consideration is still needed as to how to energise the group, aside from initiating and participating in discussions in the Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Another challenge is language: the group involves expatriates as well as Indonesians, not all of whom are bilingual. Some expatriate participants expressed frustration at not understanding presentations in Indonesian during the discussion forum. The facilitators of the Network are considering how to strike a balance between translating everything – which is impractical– and making no effort – which may alienate non-bilingual participants – in a way that encourages both expatriates and Indonesians to participate in the Network.

Another challenge is the unclear, or in some cases lack of, policies related to coral restoration at the local, regional and national levels in Indonesia. At the discussion forum, there was talk of assembling a working group to find and summarise existing relevant laws and identify gaps.

It would be useful to learn from experiences in other countries, as reef restoration is becoming a more mainstream activity implemented by organisations and companies. Help in enabling this kind of cross-country learning experience would be beneficial.

Case Study: Coral Reef Rehabilitation Indonesia image 3
Credit: Coral Triangle Center

Key lessons learnt

People like to share about themselves, in addition to listening to others, even when they have little experience in or expertise on the topic. Inviting everyone to present on their restoration project during the discussion forum set a precedent that the group would be inclusive, no matter the level of experience.

Lead contact

Kitty Currier, Coral Triangle Center

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Fragments of Hope – Community-Led Coral Reef Restoration, Laughing Bird Caye National Park, Belize (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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Summary

Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) was declared in 1994 and is one of seven protected areas making up the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site. While the land area is just 1.4 acres, the marine component of the park is 4,095 hectares. This protected area is one of the best examples of the unique type of atoll formation in the Caribbean.

LBCNP provides significant social and economic benefits to the local society. It is an important tourism resource, with over 10,000 visitors per year, given its proximity to Placencia Village just 11 miles away, and it provides sheltered snorkeling sites. In 2017, the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University valued LBCNP at almost US$5million/year (Nawaz et al., 2017). Because the site has no fishing allowed, it harbours good populations of conch, lobster and finfish, which then spill into local fishing areas.

Fragments of Hope (FOH) is a non-profit communitybased organisation that was formally established in 2013; FOH focuses on the restoration of coral reef habitats and advocacy for sustainable management of associated habitats. LBCNP was the first restoration site in Belize (2006) by FOH and is considered by most experts the best example of reef restoration in the Caribbean.

This case study is presented as it is an example of responsible restoration that has persisted. There are significant long-term conservation and economic benefits of successful coral reef restoration – for example tourism and fisheries are key industries in Belize that rely on the health of the reef. Restoration is, however, still a new and evolving strategy for retaining coral reefs into the future and so it is important to share and draw from experience.

The issue

Tourism and fisheries are key industries in Belize that rely on the health of the reef. In Belize, the shallow reefs have been valued at more than US$9 million/year in preventative storm damage alone. Over the past couple of decades, there have been significant declines in coral cover in Belize, as is the case for the whole Caribbean region – especially for the dominant and structurally important Acropora palmata or Elkhorn coral. Acroporids are keystone or foundation species in the Caribbean, branching and fast-growing, and therefore provide habitat and shelter for hundreds of other marine species, including the commercially important Spiny lobster. They thrive in shallow water, and it is the top metre of living reef that provides the most shoreline protection. This species has been affected by hurricanes, bleaching and white band disease. Because of these declines, all Caribbean acroporids (two species, one hybrid) were listed as Endangered Species in the USA in 2006 and as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List in 2008.

In 2001, Laughing Bird Caye National Park (LBCNP) was affected directly by Hurricane Iris, a category 4 hurricane, which caused massive damage to the fringing reefs in southern Belize, reducing coral cover to less than 6 per cent.

The response

The response to the decline of coral cover was active restoration through the transplantation of corals (initially acroporid corals) within LBCNP. Fragmentation is a natural form of asexual reproduction for acroporid corals and a form of natural adaptation to the high-energy environments in which they live.

Mapping of existing acroporids has been conducted in the warmest months of the year to identify naturally thermally tolerant corals. Genetic analyses are outsourced to ensure genetic diversity since the corals can sexually reproduce, and many different individuals of each species are needed to ensure self-reproducing/ sustaining restored populations. Long-term monitoring includes tracking these different individuals over time for growth and survival rates, longevity, bleaching and disease responses and evidence of sexual reproduction (spawning). Since the acroporids can reproduce via fragmentation, Fragments of Hope (FOH) began using photomosaics in 2014 to document coral cover changes on 100–200 m2 plots within LBCNP.

The restoration efforts undertaken by FOH engaged the local community, including the local fishers and tourism operators as well as staff from the Belize Fisheries Department.

Partnerships and support

There are significant long-term conservation and economic benefits of successful coral reef restoration. While the FOH team implements all the active reef restoration, the Belize Fisheries Department and the Southern Environmental Association are close partners.

The work has had several funders over the years (2006-present), primarily through short-term grants written and implemented by FOH:

  • World Wildlife Fund (2009-present);
  • The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) (2015-2019);
  • Carib-Save (2015);
  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) (2014-2016);
  • The Mesoamerican Reef Fund (the MAR Fund) (2018-2019);
  • The Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (2011);
  • The World Bank (2010);
  • The Protected Areas Conservation Trust (2006- 2007);
  • Private sector donations (2016-present).

FOH partners with a local licensed tour operator, Placencia Ecology Tours, and with local fishers to provide tours of local coral and mangrove ecosystems. All net profits go back into the restoration activities and contribute to the sustainability of these efforts.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

A total of 82,879 nursery grown corals have been outplanted to LBCNP.

  • Annual coral cover increases of 10–20 per cent, after initial outplanting and without adding more corals, have been documented at LBCNP, where over 1 hectare of shallow degraded reef has been replenished and persisted.
  • Multiple genotypes of each species from these nursery-grown outplanted corals have sexually reproduced each year they were monitored (2014- 2017), with 89 per cent survival of the outplanted individuals after 13 years.
  • The approach has been endorsed by the Belize Fisheries Department.
  • A manual and three-day training curriculum have been developed targeting coastal community members and actors with interests in the reef. This helps transfer the knowledge for restoration of degraded reef areas within protected areas.
  • There are now 23 in-situ coral nurseries throughout Belize.
  • Exchanges, study visits and workshops have been conducted to share experience across the Caribbean, including in Colombia and St Barth’s: In 2016, IADB funded FOH and a coral restoration workshop in partnership with the University of the West Indies in Discovery Bay Jamaica. In 2018, there was a Belize/Mexico exchange facilitated by the MAR Fund and a Belize/ Jamaica exchange funded by GEF SGP.
  • In 2016, FOH received international recognition for its work to demonstrate effective Caribbean acroporid population enhancement from the International Coral Reef Symposium, and in 2017 the Lighthouse Activity Award from the UN Secretariat for Climate Change.
  • In 2018, FOH won a Women as Agents of Change Award from GEF SGP.
  • In 2018 and 2019, FOH was invited to speak at UN Headquarters on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 62) and Solutions for Implementing Gender-Responsive Climate Action.

Challenges

Consistent, long-term funding is always a challenge and, even when sourced, the amount of administrative work (financial and technical) can be time-consuming. Climate change itself continues unabated with the lack of global political initiative to reduce emissions. Challenges include unpredictable weather patterns for fieldwork; increasing severity and frequency of storm events; increasing sea temperatures leading to ever-increasing severity of coral bleaching and disease events; and illegal fishing practices that can cause imbalanced food webs important for keeping coral predators (snails, fire worms) in check. Finally, the methods needed to accurately quantify restoration results (e.g. diver-based photo mosaics, drone mapping for larger areas) are more costly than the restoration work itself, and the processing technology must be outsourced (lack of capacity in country).

Key lessons learnt

What was novel was the ability to engage all the different partners that were needed to enable success, so that everyone was able to move towards a common vision.

  • Involvement of local community and ownership of the restoration work has been very important for success and sustainability.
  • Use of the same practitioners to undertake the restoration work had a positive impact in terms of building expertise.
  • Other success factors identified include a low human population density, the protection of grazing species since 2009, the establishment of no-take zones and only undertaking out-planting outside of hurricane (and bleaching) season, between December and May.

The methods and experiences from the work undertaken by FOH have been documented and made available as pdf resources: https://fragmentsofhope.org/casestudy-manuals/

Lead contact

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator, Fisheries Department, Belize Vivian Ramnarace, Fisheries Department, Belize Lisa Carne, Fragments of Hope

Sources

Carne, L. (2011) ‘Reef Restoration at Laughing Bird Cay National Park, Belize’. Mesoamericana 15(3): 21-30. Nawaz, S., Bood, N. and Shal, V. (2017) Natural Heritage, Natural Wealth: Highlighting the Economic Benefits of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site. WWF Technical Report. http://fragmentsofhope.org/

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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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