Hack the Planet competition seeks solutions to the world’s most pressing ocean challenges

To celebrate Earth Day on 22 April, the Commonwealth Secretariat and Satellite Applications Catapult are launching the first-ever Hack the Planet competition, in search of innovative, impactful and scalable ideas that will tackle the threats facing communities around the world, linked to ocean degradation and the climate crisis.

Virtual ideas competition

The virtual ideas competition will advance outstanding home-grown solutions from across 54 Commonwealth countries, targeting some of the world’s most pressing ocean-related challenges, such as eliminating plastic pollution, accelerating sustainable energy uptake, climate change, developing sustainable ‘blue’ approaches for the ocean economy and protecting nature in marine areas.

With £10,000 in prize money to be won, the competition will encourage entrants to utilise and explore the information and connectivity available from satellites as part of their ideas.

Announcing the initiative, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said:

“The Commonwealth is an extremely diverse group of 54 countries, including some of the smallest and most vulnerable in the world, that have made a shared commitment under the Commonwealth Blue Charter to work together to tackle ocean-related challenges.

“I am therefore encouraged by the sheer range of possibilities this competition will open up to identify new and improved ideas on how to address ocean sustainability. We look forward to receiving ideas from individuals, teams, and organisations from across our regions, which we could then support and amplify globally.”

Lucy Edge, Chief Operating Officer at the Satellite Applications Catapult added:

“We are very excited to launch Hack the Planet today and look forward to the innovative ideas we will see from around the world. Satellites provide a unique view of our planet Earth – they are vital for meaningful monitoring and mitigation of the effects of climate change and will be an important part of any solution looking at the world’s oceans.

“It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for people around the Commonwealth to come together and develop innovative ideas into world-changing concepts that take significant and measurable steps towards solving some of the world’s biggest ocean challenges.”

Competition details

The deadline for online submissions is 31st May 2021. The theme of the competition is closely aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 14 (ocean), 13 (climate) and 7 (energy).

Specific examples of issues that could be addressed include those covered by the Commonwealth Blue Charter: marine plastic pollution, coral reef protection and restoration, mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods, marine protected areas, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations, sustainable aquaculture and sustainable coastal fisheries.

In the second phase of the competition, 30 shortlisted teams will be invited to participate in a knowledge exchange programme where they will learn about satellite technologies and elements of design thinking that could support their ideas, and hone these into robust, compelling pitches. The training and support provided during the knowledge exchange programme will be highly valuable and will support participants to improve their ideas with the help of a wide variety of industry experts.

Six finalists will be selected to pitch their ideas live in front of a panel of judges. The winner of the competition will receive £10,000 and the announcement of the results will take place at a final showcase event in October 2021.

For details on how to enter, visit HackThePlanetCompetition.com (live from 22 April) or or download the media toolkit.

Event: Path to Action – Addressing the Impacts of Ocean Acidification

 New Zealand, as the Champion for the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Acidification has developed a Handbook to support policymakers’ efforts to identify and implement ocean acidification response strategies. This handbook will be unveiled at a special web event in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat. 

Key recommendations from the handbook will be presented to highlight region-specific actions and implementation plans and will consist of comments from the panellists followed by a general Q & A with the audience.

Speakers

  • Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs New Zealand (video remarks) 
  • Dr Nick Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans & Natural Resources, Commonwealth Secretariat (mod.) 
  • Dr Christina McGraw, Chair – New Zealand Ocean Acidification Community Council and Senior Lecturer, University of Otaga 
  • Dr Jacqueline Uku, President – WIOMSA, Kenya Marine & Fisheries Research Institute (Session I) 
  • Jessie Turner, Project Manager, Secretariat for the OA Alliance (Session I) 
  • Alexis Valauri-Orton, Program Officer, The Ocean Foundation (Session II) 
  • Dr R Duncan McIntosh, Oceanography Officer, SPREP (Session II)

webinar speakers

Register

More information

For more information contact: [email protected]

Event: Official launch of the Hack the Planet Competition

We are pleased to announce the official launch of the Hack the Planet Competition by Satellite Applications Catapult and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The climate emergency, demonstrated through ever more damaging climatic events across the planet, has intensified the need to attack the major sustainability challenges for life on this planet.

The ocean, as Earth’s primary life support system, is central to tackling these challenges. Covering more than 70% of the planet, it is the ocean that makes this planet liveable and allows people and societies to prosper. It has continually buffered us from the impacts of rising temperatures and rising atmospheric CO 2 levels, but is now itself under threat.

Virtual ideas competition

Hack the Planet is an entirely virtual international ideas competition that will bring together ideas from diverse communities living on the front-line in facing the challenges of the climate emergency and ocean sustainability across the Commonwealth, together with the technical resources to support the innovation of new solutions.

The competition aims to stimulate discussion around the development of new concepts relating to the sustainability of the ocean, incorporating satellite data and technologies. Solutions will be aligned to the 10 action areas of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

Join us at the launch to find out more. RSVP NOW

Competition Highlights

  • 22nd April 2021 – Competition opens for entries
  • 21st June 2021 – Announcement of shortlisted entries
  • 1st July – 31st August 2021 – Delivery of Knowledge Exchange programme for shortlisted entrants, including training and mentorship from a range of technical and investment experts
  • 22nd September – Finalists announced
  • 14th October – Final pitch event and winners announced

For any interview requests or if you are unable to attend the event at this time and would like to watch the recording, please get in touch via [email protected]

Case Study: Assigning IUCN Protected Area Management Categories – The Bahamas Experience

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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“The process of assigning management categories to our national parks will help facilitate the planning of protected areas and protected area systems managed by BNT and other agencies, improve information management about protected areas and assist to regulate activities within protected areas.”

Eric Carey, Executive Director, Bahamas National Trust¹

Summary

At its first meeting, the Commonwealth Blue Charter Marine Protected Area (MPA) Action Group identified training on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management categories as one of its capacity development needs. Each protected area should be assigned to one of these categories, and governments should provide information on categories when submitting data on protected areas to the World Database of Protected Areas. IUCN has produced detailed guidance on the categories but there are few documented examples of the assignment process.

Participants at the BIOPAMA-facilitated workshops
Credit: Lynn Gape, BNT

As part of the process to improve the management and expansion of The Bahamas MPA network, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Clifton Heritage Authority, undertook a process to assign IUCN protected area management categories to all sites under its purview, through a series of workshops in 2014.

Recommendations for categories for all designated protected areas, including MPAs, were made. This case study explains the purpose of the categories and the assignment process used in The Bahamas. Although the recommendations are still awaiting adoption and formalisation, this initiative provides useful lessons learnt and demonstrates the challenges involved.

The issue

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management categories were designed with the aim of providing a tool to help with planning protected area systems; to encourage the development of protected area systems that include a range of conservation objectives tailored to national and local circumstances; to help global and regional data centres collect and report on conservation efforts; and to facilitate comparisons between countries.

The category assigned to a protected area must reflect the primary management objective(s) of the site. A category gives direction to site management and helps ensure that a protected area is designed and managed to meet its intended purpose. For example, if a development such as a tourism operation is proposed for a protected area, its category needs to be considered in case the development will prevent achievement of the protected area objectives. Since each protected area has its own goals and objectives, each site is likely to have a different management strategy, and the category helps ensure appropriate measures are implemented. Without categorisation, management may drift away from the original aim of the site. All the categories are important and a successful protected area network is likely to include sites of different categories.

Protected areas of
The Bahamas (as of 2015)
Credit: Lindy Knowles, BNT

Assigning categories can be difficult if there are multiple objectives and values for a site, as is often the case, or if the objectives are evolving and complex. IUCN provides guidance on assigning categories for all types of protected areas (Dudley, 2008), as well as specific guidance for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (Day, 2019), since the marine environment has certain unique characteristics. Both of these documents should be used for MPAs (given that the general guidance explains the key principles underlying the categories).

As part of the national effort to meet its commitments under the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) decided to assign categories to its protected areas. The CCI was launched in 20082 to promote the protection and management of the marine and coastal environment with a goal of effective management of at least 20 per cent of a country’s nearshore and marine environment by 2020. The Bahamas was one of the first governments to participate, signing the Declaration in 2013. The 2012 Master Plan for the Bahamas National Protected Areas System (BNPAS) (Moultrie, 2012) had laid out a process to achieve this, and a series of research programmes and gap analyses were undertaken subsequently.

The Bahamas MPA network, currently covering just over 10 per cent of its territorial waters, has sites ranging from highly protected fishery replenishment areas to marine managed areas with multiple zones that allow varying levels of human interaction and extraction. Four MPAs are marine reserves and are managed by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR); a number are managed by the BNT; and those declared in 2015 have yet to be assigned a management agency. A three-year project, Bahamas Protected: Realising the 2020 Goal to Effectively Manage and Expand Bahamian Marine Protected Areas (Knowles et al., 2017), produced recommendations for 43 new and/or expanded MPAs to meet the 20 per cent area target; the BNT and its partners have submitted these (Anderson et al., 2018) to The Bahamian government and they are currently in the pipeline for approval.

As a component of the overall process, it was decided to assign the IUCN categories to ensure that the protected area system was aligned with international standards. It was also felt that formalised management categories would help address the increasing trend, in the Caribbean, towards de-gazetting protected areas, a consequence of rapid economic development.

IUCN categories and definitions MPAs

The response

The IUCN guidance was used in designing the categorisation process. Workshops took participants through a sequence of exercises aimed at both ensuring a good understanding of the objectives of each site and building skills in decision-making using the categories.

Participants came from all the organisations involved in supporting, establishing and managing protected areas: BNT, DMR, the Department of Forestry, The Nature Conservancy Bahamas (TNC), The Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission, the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation and Clifton Heritage National Park.

A three-stage process was used, that took place over a nine-month period:

  • Workshop 1: Issues identified; management categories and their role as an adaptive tool discussed; context of protected areas reviewed;
  • Workshop 2: Issues and context identified in Workshop 1 organised into a conceptual framework;
  • Workshop 3: Decisions made on potential categories; future activities identified in terms of requirements for new competencies, capacity and legal processes; process for completion

The last workshop doubled as a knowledge-sharing exercise and had participants from six other Caribbean islands – five Commonwealth countries (Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago) and one other (Dominican Republic).

Partnerships and support

The BNPAS categorisation workshops were undertaken in 2014 and were facilitated and sponsored by the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) programme, which is an initiative of the Organization of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States, funded by the European Union under the 10th European Development Fund. IUCN and the European Commission Joint Research Centre implemented the process. Funding totalled about €48,000 and covered IUCN staff time, costs of the workshops, travel, accommodation and per diems.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

At the final categorisation workshop, agreement was reached on proposed categories for all designated protected areas (BNT, 2014), as shown in Annex 1 and summarised below:

In 2019, the BNT Council, which is a member of IUCN and responsible for this part of the process, approved the recommendations for the proposed categories, which are currently awaiting formalisation and implementation, at which stage the categories will be reported to the World Database on Protected Areas. Although the workshop developed a process for classification of new protected areas, categories were not proposed for the MPAs designated in 2015; these sites have not yet been assigned to a management agency and it is recognised that category assignment is best undertaken in the course of preparing the management plans.

Challenges


COVID-19: The greatest current environmental, as well as economic and social, challenge for The Bahamas, as for most countries, is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. All countries and MPAs around the world have suffered a massive negative impact. With the cessation of tourism, many sources of income have dried up. MPA managers have had to focus on ensuring the safety and security of their staff. Reduced visitor numbers and disrupted supply chains for fishery products have significantly affected the livelihoods of local communities that may normally both depend on and help manage MPAs. MPA management is focusing down on core operations to maintain basic functioning. However, there is consensus that effectively managed MPAs will be more resilient and that a sustainable managed ocean, encompassing MPA networks of adequate size, will be an essential component of recovery. This pandemic, combined with the devastation to the northern Bahama islands by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, has left the country in a position where unfortunately environmental considerations are a lower priority than the environment.


The workshop participants found that some concepts behind the categorisation process were complex, and that, despite the IUCN guidance, definitions and terms were not necessarily easily understood. The technical advice and training provided by BIOPAMA was therefore invaluable. Training was needed for managers, wardens/ rangers, fisheries superintendents and others involved in the assignment process and tasked with subsequently interpreting the categories for other stakeholders.

The stakeholder engagement and workshop process needs careful design and facilitation to ensure that developers, investors and others with a vested interest do not influence the assignment process and reduce the level of ambition at a site for biodiversity protection.

As IUCN categories are assigned according to the objectives of a protected area; they do not necessarily reflect the name of the site or level of protection. This is clearly demonstrated by this example for The Bahamas, where most MPAs are called either national parks (used in the IUCN guidance for Category II sites) or marine reserves (Category I sites in the IUCN Guidance). The BNT plans to retain the current branding of national parks and on-going marketing approaches, thus clear explanations of Categories I and II sites will be needed. This issue of terminology will also need to be addressed as the proposed new MPAs are designated.

The other Commonwealth countries that participated in the final workshop have also had difficulties assigning categories and have found the process challenging. Categories have been assigned to all the sites in the Saint Lucia national protected area systems plan, but legislation to formalise this has not been implemented, and the other countries have not yet completed the process.

Key lessons learnt

The Bahamas process has validated much of the guidance provided for assigning the IUCN protected area management categories in terms of:

  • The need to involve key stakeholders, and base the assessment on best available natural and social The three workshops were designed to ensure enough time for assimilation of information and also to facilitate the research and analysis required.
  • The need to carefully assess the MPA objectives before assigning a IUCN category; this has additional value in that it can help with development or revision of a management plan and identification of appropriate management measures for a site.

As is recognised widely, the management categories are primarily a tool for protected area management agencies and the international conservation community, to help focus on objectives and to develop well-balanced frameworks for MPA systems. They do not lend themselves very well to use in external communications – a problem identified in many countries – except perhaps where they could help explain regulations and management interventions for a particular site.

Given this challenge, workshop participants discussed the possibility of creating new categories specifically for The Bahamas. In fact, this issue had been addressed, and resolved, previously. In the 1980s, when the protected area system was being expanded in The Bahamas, three broad categories were adopted: national park, protected area and national reserve. Over time, these names started to determine which agency managed a site, rather than the objectives of the site. A widely understood national “branding” for protected areas thus became established, as happens in many countries. However, the value of adopting the IUCN categories was also understood, since it provides a mechanism to align protected areas with international standards. It was nevertheless considered important to retain the existing naming system and so the management category, once agreed, is placed in brackets after the protected area name. Thus, for example, “national parks” in The Bahamas are those sites managed by the BNT but they have a variety of objectives that are reflected in their categories that help determine management.

Lead contacts

Eric Carey, Executive Director, Bahamas National Trust, [email protected]

Lakeshia Anderson-Rolle, Director of Parks, Bahamas National Trust, [email protected]

Annex1 MPAs of The Bahamas as of 2019

Endnotes

¹ https://www.biopama.org/news/bahamas-moves-to-assign- protected-areas-management-categories52

² https://www.caribbeanchallengeinitiative.org/about

References

Anderson, L., Dahlgren, C., Knowles, L., Jupp, L. et al. (2018) “Bahamas Protected: 20 by 20 White Paper: Marine Protection Plan for Expanding The Bahamas Marine Protected Area Network”. Proposal Prepared for the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Environment and Housing and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources

BNT (2014) “2014 Protected Areas Management Categories Analysis for the Bahamas January– September”. Final Report.

Day, J., Dudley, N., Hockings, M., Holmes, G. et al. (eds) (2019) Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas. 2nd Edition. Gland: IUCN.

Dudley, N. (eds) (2008) Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland: IUCN. Updated as Stolton, S., Shadie, P. and Dudley, N. (2013) IUCN WCPA Best Practice Guidance on Recognising Protected Areas and Assigning Management Categories and Governance Types. Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 21. Gland: IUCN.

Moultrie, S. (2012) “Master Plan for The Bahamas National Protected Area System”. Nassau: The Nature Conservancy, Northern Caribbean Office.

Knowles, J.E., Green, A.L., Dahlgren, C., Arnett, F. and Knowles, L. (2017) “Expanding The Bahamas Marine Protected Area Network to Protect 20% of the Marine and Coastal Environment by 2020”. A Gap Analysis.

Case Study: CLEAR: Putting Equity into Ocean Plastics Research (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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“Part of why I think CLEAR is so good at what you would call gender equity is because everything we do, whether it’s taking out the trash or figuring out what metrics we’re going to use, we say, ‘How can we do this with more humility? How can we do this more equitably? How can we do this with good land relations?’ It [equity] is literally baked into everything.” 

Max Liboiron, Director, Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, Memorial University, Canada

Summary 

The Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR)¹ at Memorial University, Canada, specialises in marine plastics and plastic pollution. The lab, directed by Max Liboiron, Associate Professor of Geography, is run on the principles of equity, justice and humility, and puts equity at the heart of all of its work. Since 2015, 76 per cent of CLEAR members have identified themselves as women, trans, non-binary and/or two-spirit. 

CLEAR uses practices that make science more accessible. The lab co-designs research questions with communities, hires community co-researchers, and keeps the lab equipment in the communities. This empowerment within local communities has meant that, during the pandemic, CLEAR’s Nunatsiavut plastic monitoring program has not been disrupted by quarantine measures, because locally based co-researchers continue monitoring in their “backyard”.

CLEAR also has a living document, the CLEAR Lab Book,² that lays out the lab’s principles and protocols to support equitable work in the lab. For example, CLEAR includes procedures (facilitation, round robins, consensus-based decision-making, collaboration) for meetings to ensure that all lab members have opportunities to contribute. This allows lab members to develop the diverse range of skills needed to effectively implement these procedures throughout their careers. 

CLEAR members Max Liboiron, Jessica Melvin and Melissa Novacefski gather cod samples at Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, Canada, during the recreational food fishery Photo credit: Bojan Fürst

Principles 

The “leaky pipeline” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields refers to the fraction of women in sciences, globally, from bachelor’s graduates to researchers. In 2013, more women (53 per cent) than men graduated with STEM bachelor’s and master’s degrees (but for PhDs male graduates (57 per cent) overtake women), yet women made up only 28 per cent of researchers globally – though this figure varies regionally. Therefore, the fraction of women graduating STEM programmes is not yet translating to equivalent representation at later career stages.³

At CLEAR, because of its core values, Liboiron reports that women and other underrepresented groups are staying in the STEM pipeline and flourishing. Liboiron explains the critical difference in CLEAR’s principles between the concepts of equality and equity. “It’s equity, not equality, that is one of our ideas of justice, meaning that people in places and groups start in very uneven positions, and it’s those uneven positions you have to address. There are all sorts of things that intersect to give people privilege or oppression unevenly, even within an experience, or a group. There’s so much unevenness within those groups that makes it very complicated.”

Implementing equity: Results, accomplishments and outcomes

CLEAR members Coco Coyle, Emily Wells, Melissa Novacefski and Max Liboiron hold up three models of build-it-yourself surface water trawls during testing at Holyrood, Newfoundland, CanadaPhoto credit: David Howells, MEOPAR

Examples of how CLEAR leads with equity

Integrating equitable research practices at the community level

CLEAR’s work predominantly involves the monitoring of plastics, particularly in food webs. It conducts beach and surface water surveys and analyses the gastro-intestinal tracts of fish and seabirds to assess plastic ingestion. The lab’s work directly impacts and can inform communities, including related to the ingestion of plastics by marine animals destined for human consumption.

CLEAR begins a relationship with a community by co-creating research questions. It then has the community hire co-researchers (who are paid by CLEAR), and who bring their own knowledge and expertise. CLEAR supports the projects, and in so doing research equipment is provided to the community, and stays in perpetuity with the community. Once samples have been processed and data analysed, CLEAR begins a community peer review,⁴ which involves the co-researchers presenting findings and seeking inputs about next steps in their own community. Key to the process is allowing the community control of the data and its use.

CLEAR and its community partners’ mutual engagement supports capacity sharing, and impacts how research is conducted. Through these partnerships, CLEAR is also making ocean science and its outcomes more accessible to communities.

Equity in innovative ocean science instrumentation

The standard oceanographic instrument for sampling surface waters for microplastics is a manta trawl. The manta trawl is a net that is dragged through the water, collecting particles down to about 300 μm (300 microns). A manta trawl’s cost is around €2,000. Instead of using a manta trawl, CLEAR set about inventing LADI (Low-tech Aquatic Debris Instrument), which Liboiron reports is equally effective. A LADI trawl can be constructed at home with local materials, and the design is open source and available on the CLEAR website,⁵ with instructions for use.

The cost is one-tenth that of a manta trawl. CLEAR has developed BabyLegs that costs less than one-tenth the cost of the LADI trawl, which can be made at home using another of CLEAR’s open-source designs and is nearly as effective as either the LADI or the manta trawls. 

More broadly, CLEAR aims to make ocean science more accessible and equitable, and hence increase opportunities for participation. This includes creating entirely new processes for marine science sampling. For example, CLEAR develops portable, inexpensive monitoring instruments that can be easily operated, and that can be repaired using local materials. Liboiron explains how sharing the research equipment CLEAR has developed leads to more equity in science: “We invent monitoring instruments and we specifically design them for people who are systematically left out of instrument use because they don’t have grants, they don’t have labs, there’s not two of them, their boat isn’t big enough, etc. You can make almost all of our research tools in a garage. That means all sorts of people can do monitoring that couldn’t before, and that’s systemic.” 

CLEAR’s impacts 

Since 2015, 76 per cent of CLEAR members have been women, transgender, non-binary and/or two-spirit. Over the same period, CLEAR has always had at least one Indigenous lab member: a protocol of the lab states that samples from Indigenous Lands, such as Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut in Canada’s north where CLEAR conducts sampling, are processed by people from those Lands. 

Liboiron reports that CLEAR is changing who gets postgraduate degrees, that some Indigenous people who would not normally pursue postgraduate studies are completing them with CLEAR. Liboiron says, “We launch more careers of a different type.” 

Another impact of CLEAR is its effects on the communities it works with. Liboiron explains that having its protocols in place means its monitoring programmes have the potential to continue running over generations: “There are people who are growing up with these monitoring programmes who will do it the rest of their lives, and their kids’ lives, and their grandkids’ lives. It’s how you do longitudinal monitoring in the Arctic in particular.” 

Key lessons learnt 

When it comes to women’s participation in CLEAR’s work, the lab has not strived to be inclusive or welcoming. Rather, Liboiron explains, CLEAR’s culture resonates with the values and experiences of women and members of other underrepresented groups. These are the people most likely to be part of CLEAR. 

The culture of CLEAR and its methods directly reflect the experiences of the individuals who are part of the lab. CLEAR welcomes diversity, and is developing new modes of research because it welcomes diverse experiences and perspectives. It is thriving as a result, building more resilient long-term monitoring programmes across the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The main model of CLEAR, and I think the reason that we’re so successful, is that we always lead with our values. We never lead with the status quo or the way other labs do it or the way it’s been done before. Because those things will only reproduce the sort of invisible but underlying values of elitism or ideas that some knowledge counts and other knowledge doesn’t. These things go unquestioned because they’ve become so normal, especially in science. As soon as you say, ‘That’s not the thing we’re reproducing: we’re reproducing equity; we’re reproducing justice,’ then you end up with different people doing different things with different results.” 

Key contact 

Max Liboiron, Associate Professor, Memorial University, Canada

Footnotes

1 https://civiclaboratory.nl/ 

2 https://civiclaboratory.nl/clear-lab-book/

3 “This estimate by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics for 137 countries excludes North America, owing to the international incomparability of these data. The global share of female researchers would not rise more than a few percentage points, however, even if the share of female researchers in the USA could be included in the calculation. Hypothetically, a 40% share of female researchers in the USA would push the global share up from 28.4% to 30.7%” (Huyer, S. (2015) “Is the Gender Gap Narrowing in Science and Engineering?” Chapter 3 in UNESCO (ed.) Science Report: Towards 2030. Paris: UNESCO, p.85, footnote 1). 

4 https://civiclaboratory.nl/methods/community-peer-review/process

5 https://civiclaboratory.nl/2016/06/29/ladi-trawl/

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Case Study: Malaysia – Two MPA Candidates for the Green List

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“By giving recognition to well-managed and well-governed protected and conserved areas, the IUCN Green List aims to increase the number of areas delivering long-lasting conservation results for people and nature.” – Dr Agnes Agama, Malaysia’s Expert Assessment Group for the Green List¹

Summary

Participants at Green List workshop in Malaysia, 2019

The International Union for Conservation of Nature Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas is a global standard of best practice for area-based conservation, covering all forms of protected and conserved areas. It is a certification programme that recognises effectively managed and fairly governed terrestrial and marine protected and conserved areas that are achieving their conservation outcomes. These areas include marine and terrestrial protected areas, natural World Heritage sites, indigenous peoples’ and community conserved areas, and wildlife sanctuaries, among others. The Green List standard has criteria for good governance, sound design and planning, and effective management that underpin a fourth fundamental component: positive conservation outcomes. Several marine protected areas (MPAs) have now achieved Green List status and many others are registered as candidates.

This case study describes the programme and illustrates how two MPAs in Malaysia are applying for Green List status.

The issue

Expansion of the global system of protected and conserved areas to secure the most important areas for biodiversity conservation will be successful only if these areas are well governed and managed and deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity and for society. However, protected areas, whether marine or terrestrial, find it a major challenge to achieve conservation outcomes and meet a site’s objectives while also implementing fair and equitable management of human activities.

Corals, Tun Mustapha Park Photo: WWF Malaysia

As is widely recognised in the business world, evaluation and assessment of performance is a key tool for improving management and ensuring success. Evaluation of protected areas is therefore increasingly undertaken using a range of assessment methods. However, the lack of an accepted standard for “good” governance and management has meant that assessors are often unsure exactly what expectations they should measure against. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Green List programme was set up in 2012 to develop an agreed global standard that can be used everywhere, for protected areas in both low-income and high-income countries and regardless of the extent of their financial resources (Hockings et al., 2019).

The response

The IUCN Green List Standard is organised around four components — good governance, sound design and planning, effective management and successful conservation outcomes. Each component has a set of Criteria, each of which has indicators against which to measure achievement. A marine protected area (MPA) must be evaluated to achieve all Criteria, across all four components, in order to be accepted for the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas.

Fundamental to the process are the Expert Assessment Groups for the Green List (EAGLs), which are composed of experts in protected area management who volunteer their time and are selected by the relevant Regional Vice-Chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). A site, or several sites, or the jurisdiction responsible for the sites, initially registers as a Green List candidate. The relevant EAGL then adapts the global Green List indicators to the local context, referring any suggested adaptations to the Green List Standards Committee for ratification. Managers of the protected areas that are applying then prepare evidence for five basic indicators, at which point the protected area becomes a Candidate Site.

Supported and assisted by the EAGL, the site managers then assemble the evidence required to assess the remaining indicators, and this, with supporting documentation, is uploaded onto the web-based portal used to manage the Green List. Targeted consultations are then undertaken with key rights-holders and stakeholders, the method to be used for this having been approved by both the EAGL and an independent reviewer from the organisation Accreditation Services International (ASI); ASI provides mechanisms and procedures that assure independence and credibility of the decision-making processes.²

At least one member of the EAGL must visit the site to assess the operations and performance of the protected area, speak with staff and stakeholders, and view information not available electronically. EAGL members then meet to consider the application; site managers and the independent reviewer may attend the meeting to ensure proper processes are followed. The EAGL can either recommend the site for addition to the Green List or indicate to the site managers that additional work is needed to meet the Standard. EAGL recommendations, with a summary of site compliance and the report of the independent reviewer, are sent to the international Green List Committee, which takes the final decision on admitting the site to the Green List.

Successful sites are placed on the Green List for a period of five years, with a mid-term review (which involves a similar but slightly reduced process). For full relisting after five years, a site visit is required and further review. There is also a mechanism for stakeholders or the public to raise an alert if they feel that a site on the Green List has suffered from a material change in management effectiveness or in outcomes, and if necessary a site can be removed from the list. Information on the Green List process and Standard is available in the Green List User Manual.³

By 2020, the Green List programme was operating in 40 countries (including several Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, Kenya, Malaysia and Tanzania), with 46 sites in 14 countries admitted to the Green List. Eight sites on the Green List are MPAs, and there are some 15 candidate MPAs, as well as the entire California MPA network, which has registered as an entity and will provide the first test of how a protected area network can be Green Listed. The Seychelles has also expressed interest and the IUCN Green List staff organised an initial workshop in June 2020 to introduce the concept to relevant national protected area experts and organisations in this country.

Malaysia is the first of the Commonwealth countries involved in the Green List programme to register MPAs as candidates. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia took on the role of the implementing partner and a Malaysian EAGL was established in October 2017. The EAGL adapted the global Green List Standard to the Malaysian context, and the IUCN Green List Committee approved this in 2019; the national standard is now available in Bahasa Malaysia as well as English. The EAGL asked protected areas in Malaysia if they would be interested in participating and five agreed to do so: three terrestrial protected areas and two MPAs:

  • Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) at the northern tip of Sabah covers 8,988 km2 and was designated in 2016 to protect mangroves, sea grass beds, coral reefs, whale sharks, marine turtles, dugong and associated marine biodiversity.⁴ As the first multiple-use MPA in Malaysia, its establishment involved a 13-year participatory and consultative process facilitated by WWF Malaysia and Sabah Parks (the responsible management agency), critically important as the MPA provides livelihoods for over 80,000 coastal inhabitants (Boey et al., 2019). Sabah Parks and WWF Malaysia signed a 10-year memorandum of understanding in 2017, which covers technical and funding support for the implementation of the TMP Integrated Management Plan and which was approved in 2018.
  • The Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area (SIMCA) was designated in 2001 following an approach to the government by the owners of the Lankayan Island Dive Resort (LIDR), who realised there was a need to halt illegal and destructive fishing in the surrounding waters and to protect the environmental integrity of the island. SIMCA is comanaged by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and a private company, Reef Guardian, covers 463 km2 and includes three islands and the surrounding waters, with shallow coastal reefs and sea grass beds (Teh et al., 2008). Visitors to LIDR are charged a fee, which generates funding for management. The SWD trains and certifies Reef Guardian staff as Honorary Wildlife Wardens, and occasionally participates in sea patrols to enforce SIMCA boundaries and prevent illegal fishing and turtle egg poaching.

To introduce stakeholders and staff from the five protected areas to the Green List process, a three-day workshop was held in 2019, attended by representatives of relevant government agencies, WWF Malaysia, IUCN and other linked organisations, along with some of the EAGL members. The participants were given an overview of tools and approaches that can help with implementation of the Standard, including governance methodologies, sound design and planning tools, and management effectiveness methodologies. Workshop participants conducted an initial self-assessment of site performance against the Green List Standard criteria.

Sugud Marine Islands Conservation Area, Malaysia. Photo by: Fungchen Chung

Partnerships and support

WWF Malaysia is the implementing partner for the Green List candidature process for both terrestrial and marine protected areas; achieving Green List status for TMP is a specific target under the memorandum of understanding between WWF Malaysia and Sabah Parks for implementation of the TMP Integrated Management Plan. Support is also provided through Blue Communities, a four-year programme funded by the UK’s Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports research aimed at management of marine ecosystems in four sites in Southeast Asia; the University of Malaya undertakes research in TMP . The Asia Protected Areas Partnership and the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Korea also provide support.

SIMCA has no external funding to support its Green List candidature, and is using revenue generated by tourism and other fundraising activities within the MPA. Existing technical capacity within Reef Guardian is being used to support the application process. IUCN is also assisting both sites.

IUCN estimates that it costs about US$10,000 to evaluate three to five protected areas for the Green List, with half of this financing the operation of the EAGL and half funding the work of the independent reviewer. The cost of site visits, staff time for compiling evidence and other involvement of protected area staff is generally met by the management agency.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

Currently, the sites are preparing the necessary documentation to submit to the EAGL. It will be some time before the sites go through the final certification (Green Listing can take two to three years), but as, explained in the section below on lessons learnt, the process itself has valuable outcomes in terms of building staff capacity, ensuring the management plan is fit for purpose and developing the necessary monitoring programmes, documentation processes and financial plans.

Challenges


COVID-19: The greatest current environmental challenge in Malaysia, as in most countries, is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. All countries and MPAs around the world have undergone a massive negative impact. With the cessation of tourism, many sources of income have dried up. MPA managers have had to focus on ensuring the safety and security of their staff. Reduced visitor numbers and disrupted supply chains for fishery products have significantly affected the livelihoods of local communities that may normally both depend on and help manage MPAs. The impact on fishing communities has been documented for TMP (Jomitol et al., 2020). MPA management is focusing down on core operations to maintain basic functioning. However, there is consensus that effectively managed MPAs will be more resilient and that a sustainable managed ocean, encompassing MPA networks of adequate size, will be an essential component of recovery.


A review of the MPAs that participated in the Green List pilot phase (Wells et al., 2016), the experiences of those that have registered more recently and the Malaysia Green List workshop mean that the main challenges in the Green List process are beginning to be well understood:

  • The capacity, resources and funding for undertaking the assessment are not insignificant. Extensive data and information have to be assembled, collated and analysed, much of which may lie in dispersed sources. This work often falls to MPA managers and their staff, in addition to their normal duties. For example, at SIMCA, a major challenge is to gather past records of communications, meeting minutes and letters prior to the establishment of the MPA in 2001, but much of this is no longer available.
  • Language and terminology may create obstacles, and the concepts involved are not always easily understood by different cultures. In particular, site staff must understand that the process is not an evaluation of individual performance but that it is aimed at helping authorities and overall management. This may require advance training and external support.
  • Participants at the Malaysian workshop noted the following particular challenges: stakeholder engagement, funding, proving the legal basis of the site and obtaining data on social and economic impact. At TMP, a newly gazetted MPA, the parks authority had to focus on getting the MPA operational at the same time as initiating the Green List candidature process, and the limited, relatively new staff, with limited knowledge and assessment experience, posed a challenge.
  • There is general agreement among the sites involved to date, and in the public consultation on the Green List Standard, that a single unified approach is appropriate for all types of protected area, whether terrestrial or marine. Nevertheless, the fluidity and dynamic nature of marine ecosystems, which make MPAs particularly sensitive to events occurring outside their boundaries or globally (such as climate change), must be considered. For example, in Malaysia, future developments in the vicinity of TMP (e.g. potential silica mining, oil and gas extraction, port and harbour development) that are the remit of other government agencies could threaten the effective management of the MPA, if legislation and enforcement arrangements are not harmonised with the interests of TMP and marine biodiversity protection.
  • When adapting the indicators, consideration must be given to measuring how well MPA management is integrated with wider efforts to sustain and restore the functioning of adjacent ecosystems and address upstream and downstream effects.

Key lessons learnt

The MPAs that have participated in the Green List process have felt that it has led to a clear improvement in the processes involved in achieving effective management. The availability of a global standard against which sites can measure their performance means that all protected areas can start to put in place the necessary measures to improve their management effectiveness. Regular assessments and registration with the programme should be seen as a part and parcel of the development programme for any MPA, and government agencies and management bodies should be promoting this.

Initiating a regular programme of assessments of management effectiveness is an important first step.

Sites that have conducted such evaluations (e.g. using the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT)) will have a sound basis of documentation available. In Malaysia, TMP staff received training in 2017 in the assessment method (similar to the METT) that is used for the Coral Triangle Marine Protected Area System (CTMPAS). SIMCA is learning of the importance of preparing and organising documentation so that management can benefit from past experiences and become “adaptive”.

The Malaysian workshop identified the value of scientific research to inform a number of the components of the Green List Standard, particularly the assessment of planning and design, and demonstration that a site is having a positive impact on biodiversity, for which sound monitoring programmes are needed.

Appropriate training for all involved in a Green List assessment is essential: the Standard and overall approach and requirements must be fully understood and supported by national protected area authorities and incorporated in the overall management framework so that managers use them automatically. This requires clear communication about the process and on the benefits of achieving Green List status.

The Green List Standard can also be used more generally to demonstrate the measures required for achieving successful biodiversity outcomes: protected area managers, planners, educators and scientists can use it to help guide the management of any conservation areas. For example, Mexico has indicated that it will apply for Green List status for its most important reserves in the first instance, but also use the Green List Standard as a guide for all other protected areas in the country.

Lead contacts

IUCN Green List programme: James Hardcastle, Project Manager

IUCN Green List Implementing Partner for Malaysia, c/o WWF-Malaysia, Elyrice Alim

TMP: Augustine Binson, TMP, Sabah Parks, Malaysia

SIMCA: Davies Spiji, Reef Guardian Sdn. Bhd., Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Endnotes

¹ https://www.wwf.org.my/?26645/The-Malaysian-Standard-forthe-IUCN-Green-List-of-Protected-and-Conserved-Areas-Launched

² https://www.asi-assurance.org/s/post/a1J1H000002JeDTUA0/p0136

³ https://www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/ourwork/iucngreen-list-protected-and-conserved-areas/user-manual

http://www.sabahparks.org.my/index.php/the-parks/tun-mustapha-park-newly-gazetted

References

Boey, S., Wan Mohamad Ariffin, W., Yang Amri, A., Liew, S. et al. (2019) “Initializing Multi-Stakeholder Engagement in the Context of Marine Protected Area Management and Capacity-Building Programmes: A Tun Mustapha Park Case Study”. Journal of Research Management & Governance 1(1): 27-33.

Hockings, M., Hardcastle, J., Woodley, S., Sandwith, T. et al. (2019) “The IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas: Setting the Standard for Effective Area-Based Conservation”. PARKS 25(2). https:// parksjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/ PARKS-25.2-Hockings-et-al-10.2305-IUCN.CH_.2019. PARKS-25-2MH.en_-1.pdf

Jomitol, J., Payne, A.J., Sakirun, S. and Bural, M.O. (2020) “The Impacts of COVID-19 to Small Scale Fisheries in Tun Mustapha Park, Sabah, Malaysia; What Do We Know So Far?” Preprints 2020. doi: 10.20944/ preprints202005.0287.v1

Teh, L., Teh, L. and Chung, C.C. (2008) “A Private Management Approach to Coral Reef Conservation in Sabah, Malaysia”. Biodiversity and Conservation 17: 3061–3077.

Wells, S., Addison, P., Bueno, P., Constantini, M. et al. (2016) “Using the IUCN Green List of Protected Areas to Promote Conservation Impact Through Marine Protected Areas”. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26 (Suppl.2): 24-44.

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Towards a ‘blue recovery’ in the Commonwealth

By Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of oceans and natural resources, Commonwealth Secretariat

We have one interconnected ocean that sustains life on this planet. Yet it is under threat from a myriad of human pressures, such as climate change, marine pollution, and overfishing, with no holistic approach to tackle these.

Worldwide, marine conservation and other ocean solutions continue to be severely underfunded, ocean climate change under-researched, while global frameworks for governing the ocean, particularly beyond national jurisdictions, remain weak and inadequate.

Many opportunities have been missed, but 2021 presents a rare opportunity to tackle these ocean challenges, and the Commonwealth Blue Charter offers a unique platform to catalyse multilateral actions to do so.

2021 – A ‘make or break’ year

The coronavirus pandemic has compelled governments to overhaul national, regional and international priorities. It has also taught us that we can adapt to new realities. A growing call for a “green recovery” has put sustainability as a realistic option for post-pandemic rebuilding strategies.

Two major global summits this year – the UN conferences on biodiversity (CBD-COP15) and climate change (UNFCCC-COP26) – present a prime opportunity for ocean states to also rally round a post-Covid “blue recovery”.

Such a step forward would highlight the central role of the ocean in upholding vast natural ecosystems, the climate system and economic systems. The focus would be on the sustainable development of the global ocean economy, which was already generating $2.5 trillion worth of goods and services each year before the pandemic, on top of an estimated asset value of $24 trillion.

In particular, this could help support vulnerable ocean-based economies that have been most severely impacted by Covid-19, such as small island states.

A blue recovery would also maximise innovative financing for ocean protection (‘blue finance’), and explore new ways of creating economic value, such as monetising the carbon storage capacity of coastal and marine ecosystems (‘blue carbon’).

A fresh take on multilateral ocean action

With 47 out of its 54 member countries bordering the ocean, 25 being small island developing states – or ‘large ocean states’ – the Commonwealth is well-placed as a global leader on ocean action to champion a thriving blue economy in a post-Covid world.

The historic Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted in 2018, captures the shared commitment of 54 countries to working together to actively solve ocean-related challenges.

To date, 15 countries have stepped forward to lead 10 action groups, working on a range of ocean issues. Focus areas and champion countries include: sustainable blue economy (co-led by Kenya, Antigua & Barbuda); sustainable aquaculture (led by Cyprus); coral reef protection and restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius); mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods (Sri Lanka); ocean acidification (New Zealand); ocean and climate change (Fiji); ocean observations (Canada); marine plastic pollution (known as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, co-led by the United Kingdom, Vanuatu); marine protected areas (Seychelles) and sustainable coastal fisheries (Kiribati, Maldives).

Forty-six countries (and counting) have signed up to one or more of these action groups, supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat, along with a range of partners from the private sector, academia, civil society and the philanthropic sector.

Action-oriented

In a world of complex multilateral structures and well-intended declarations, the Commonwealth Blue Charter seeks to support existing global ocean commitments by bringing a fresh approach focused on active and innovative collaboration.

As membership of the action groups is voluntary, countries that do sign up are already motivated to deliver real progress on a particular issue. These action groups have met over the past year and developed joint action plans and priorities. Different action groups also feed into each other, given the strongly interrelated nature of their work areas.

Today, hundreds of focal points and partners from across the Commonwealth use the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s online network to share strategies, exchange information and highlight best practices.

More than 60 detailed case studies of good and best practices have been developed and are being shared on the network, in addition to 10 training programmes and webinars delivered by the Secretariat, benefitting thousands of professionals in the ocean industries.

Collaborators from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Royal Foundation’s Earthshot Prize, Vulcan Inc., the Nekton Foundation, and eXXpedition,  among others, are working together with the Blue Charter family of nations on targeted projects and partnerships.

Very soon, countries will also be able to leverage a new database that aims to support them in accessing US$ 170 million of available funding for ocean projects.

Moving forward, the Commonwealth Blue Charter will continue to be a testament to what can be achieved when countries work together, sharing passion and commitment, to save the ocean and the livelihoods that depend on it. A thriving blue economy is indeed within reach.

To find out how to join the action, visit https://bluecharter.thecommonwealth.org/or email [email protected]

Case Study: Ocean Womxn: Supporting Black Women to Earn Postgraduate Degrees in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town, South Africa

Ocean Womxn: Supporting Black Women to Earn Postgraduate Degrees in Oceanography at the University of Cape Town, South Africa
(on-going)

“The Ocean Womxn Fellows have made becoming an oceanographer a cool aspiration for young
black women across South Africa – everyone wants to be like them!”

Katye Altieri, Senior Lecturer at University of Cape Town and Principal Investigator responsible for founding
Ocean Womxn

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Summary

In 2018, the University of Cape Town (UCT) launched the Advancing Womxn Initiative (AWI) to fund projects that build capacity among black South African womxn.¹ Senior Lecturer in the Department of Oceanography at UCT, Katye Altieri and three colleagues submitted a successful proposal to create a prestigious fellowship for black womxn to undertake postgraduate and postdoctoral studies in oceanography.
Ocean Womxn’s² inaugural cohort of five black womxn (Fellows) entered the program in 2020, and two more joined in early 2021. Ocean Womxn’s goal is to create a generation of black womxn leaders in oceanography who become role models and mentors for future generations.

The programme hired diversity consultants who held focus groups with current and past students, and supported an understanding of the cultural barriers to black womxn in the Department. As a result, Ocean Womxn offers the Fellows tailored support in three areas: financial, professional and personal.

Ocean Womxn is ever-evolving. For instance, the programme offers formalised mentorship opportunities, connecting the Fellows with black womxn mentors in other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields (since there are few black South African womxn oceanographers). The Fellows have begun seeking out mentors to participate in the programme, and are creating a growing network of black womxn in STEM.

Ocean Womxn is in its second of five years of funding. Altieri reports that the Fellows are flourishing and that the programme is enabling discussions about diversity in the Department, catalysing a culture change within UCT’s Department of Oceanography. There is also a plan in place to determine how the programme could be applied more broadly, potentially to other science departments in South Africa, and other oceanography departments abroad.

The issue

The 2011 South African Census found that 76 per cent of the population is black. At the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2018, 31 per cent of professors were women; while that meant there were 76 woman professors, only 15 were black South Africans.

In the Department of Oceanography at UCT in 2018, of 73 postgraduate students 12 were black women, and there were no black women in the faculty. Altieri says, “It’s so different from the demographics of the country. It’s impossible to miss.”

In a study of black South African women holding science scholarships, the students reported experiences of nonbelonging, inside and outside the university classroom, and feelings of alienation from their field of study. The study notes that, even though these are high-performing students, there are still barriers to their success: “They may still enter university study with limited access to dominant forms of cultural capital, including English proficiency and scientific terminology, and other forms of less tangible knowledge.”³

The response

In 2018, the Vice Chancellor of UCT⁴ launched the Advancing Womxn Initiative (AWI), calling for proposals from women and transgender researchers from the  university community to lead projects supporting the training of postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows. The emphasis was on building capacity among black South African womxn, including a category for “conducting research in a field in which womxn are in short supply.”

In the AWI, Altieri saw an opportunity to support more black South African womxn to enter oceanography and become successful oceanographers. The Ocean Womxn programme has three aims:

1. Develop a prestigious research and leadership programme for black womxn that recruits, retains and enables success for the next generation of black womxn oceanographers;

2. Identify and overcome barriers by creating an environment that allows black womxn to succeed and become leaders;

3. Determine if the Ocean Womxn model could be applied more broadly in other ocean science programmes in South Africa or to other oceanography programmes beyond South Africa.

Ocean Womxn hired a professional consulting team specialising in diversity and transformation, which held three focus groups over several days with 15 womxn of colour from the Department and its past graduates. The consultants identified cultural barriers facing black womxn in the Department. They also reported as the most important outcomes of the focus groups the importance of co-production (involving the Fellows in creating Ocean Womxn) and the need to change the departmental culture, including involving all staff and students in the transformative process.

Based on the focus group work, the Ocean Womxn leadership identified the types of support it thought the fellows may need, and the areas where, Altieri says, “There was a way for Ocean Womxn to intervene and provide some degree of support.” As a result, Ocean Womxn provides support in three areas to help Fellows overcome fundamental barriers (Table 1).

Partnerships and support

Ocean Womxn is a project of UCT’s AWI, championed by the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. The project, which began in 2019, receives funding of R5 million (or about €2.8 million) over five years. It is led by Lead Principal Investigator Katye Altieri and Co-Principal Investigators Juliet Hermes, Isabelle Ansorge and Sarah Fawcett, all from UCT’s Department of Oceanography.

Table 1: How Ocean Womxn supports its Fellows

Ocean Womxn has partnered with multiple people and organisations to give the Fellows a multitude of opportunities to support their development as oceanographers and leaders. In the development of Ocean Womxn’s strategy for how best to support its Fellows to overcome barriers, and to reach potential applicants for the programme, it engaged professional services related to diversity and to social media and website development. Ocean Womxn has partnered with the South African Earth Observation Network (SAEON),⁵ which provides opportunities for the Fellows outside of academia. There are plans through SAEON to involve the Fellows in leadership opportunities with the South African government and the National Research Foundation. The programme has also partnered with South African womxn leaders in STEM fields, who act as mentors to the Fellows.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The first cohort of five black women graduate students began as Fellows in the Ocean Womxn programme at UCT in 2020, studying diverse aspects of oceanography.⁶ Two more Fellows were selected and entered the programme in early 2021.

Establishing Ocean Womxn has led to more than just supporting the Fellows: it has engaged the Department of Oceanography with the issue of diversity. In working with the diversity consultants, focus groups began with the Department’s past and present students of colour, and moved on to all students in the Department. Altieri says the next steps will be focus groups involving the staff, “to have discussions around race and talk about what’s troubling.”

Of the monthly mentorship program with successful black womxn in STEM fields, Altieri says the Fellows rave about the opportunity to speak with these womxn, finding inspiration in their stories. Led by the Fellows, they are quickly growing a network of black womxn in STEM.

The Fellows are also already becoming leaders and mentors. They provide curriculum-based marine education outreach to students in Grades 9 to 11, and one Fellow meets monthly with three young women who are interested in STEM careers, as a mentor to them.

Challenges

The biggest challenge for Ocean Womxn has been responding effectively to the needs of the Fellows. Because Altieri and her co-leads are women, but all white women who come from different cultures than the black Fellows, the programme and its leaders are learning to adapt as they learn more about the needs of their Fellows.

For example, the department held a pub night for staff and students to socialize that had the unintended effect of making the Ocean Womxn feel uncomfortable. The result was “showing that we are culturally disconnected with our black students.” The programme is designed to be flexible, to respond to individual needs and how those needs change over time. As the leadership team learns more about the cultural barriers facing the Fellows, it is adapting Ocean Womxn.

Altieri reports that the Fellows are thriving, and says that missteps are not a reason for inaction. “If you’re trying to make a change, you need to say things and you need to do things. You need to embrace that you’re going to completely mess it up, and that’s fine.”

Key lessons learnt

Co-development of the programme

As the researchers running the programme are not black womxn, they realised early on that it was important to know when to step aside to provide opportunities for the Fellows to make leadership decisions about Ocean Womxn. Ocean Womxn has often seen its best successes when Fellows lead the decisions about the programme. For instance, in the development of Ocean Womxn’s logo, Altieri says the Fellows worked with the graphic designer and the design went in a direction she would not have chosen. Altieri notes the importance of “listening to them to figure out what the Fellows need.”

Expert help

Ocean Womxn brought in experts in diversity and in social media and website development early in the process. The diversity experts helped identify the cultural barriers facing black womxn to entering and completing oceanography studies in the Department.

The social media and website consultants supported multiple aspects of the project, including effectively reaching out to black womxn on social media to find potential applicants.

Ocean Womxn has set about identifying the barriers for South African black womxn to their participation in oceanography and created a prestigious graduate and postgraduate programme that supports its Fellows to overcome those barriers and succeed.

Key contacts

Katye Altieri is an oceanographer and Senior Lecturer at UCT, South Africa, and the Principal Investigator leading Ocean Womxn.

Juliet Hermes is an oceanographer, Associate Professor at UCT and Manager at the South African Environmental Observation Network, South Africa. She is a Co- Investigator of Ocean Womxn.

Connect with Ocean Womxn on Twitter or at the Ocean Womxn website

 

Endnotes

1 AWI uses the term “womxn” spelled with an “x”, recognizing this as a more inclusive term than the word “women”. “Womxn” is pronounced the same as “women”.
2 https://oceanwomxn.co.za/

3 Liccardo, S. and Bradbury, J. (2017) “Black Women Scientists: Outliers in South African Universities”. African Journal of Research in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education 21(3): 282-292
4 https://www.uct.ac.za/main/about/management/vicechancellor

5 http://www.saeon.ac.za/
6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlAuNqhWrUE