Case study: Katy Soapi – A Leader in Ocean Science and Conservation in Fiji and the Solomon Islands

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“We need to start changing what our young people think of when they think of a scientist. My hope is that I see more Pacific Islanders, and women, taking up leadership roles, being successful in their career and thriving.”

– Katy Soapi

Background

Katy Soapi is the Coordinator for the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science at the Pacific Community in Fiji, a position she took up in January 2021. Before that, Soapi was the Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji. Soapi grew up on the island of Rendova, part of the Solomon Islands, in the Pacific.

She completed her bachelor’s degree at the USP, a master’s at the University of Sydney in Australia and a PhD at the UK’s University of East Anglia. Soapi then returned to the Pacific, taking up a position at the USP as a lecturer and eventually becoming the Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre, housed at the USP.

Katy Soapi conducting seawater carbon chemistry analysis in the lab. Photo credit: The Ocean Foundation

In the Solomon Islands, Soapi is a founding member and board member of the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, which is dedicated to conserving the largest uninhabited island in the Southern Hemisphere. As part of that work, she supports a seagrass monitoring programme that is led and conducted by women. For the past ten years, the programme has been gathering annual data on seagrass coverage, diversity and health, all of which are ecosystem health indicators for the island’s lagoons.

Soapi is also part of the advisory team to the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) supporting Pacific Island Countries on the marine genetic resources component of the UN Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) negotiations (an international instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the BBNJ, once finalised, will address the management of marine biological diversity of ocean areas beyond countries’ ocean borders).

Soapi attributes her success to good mentors and seeking out and pursuing opportunities. Having grown up in a matrilineal culture, Soapi has always felt her voice is important in her community. Even away from her coastal village, she says that a sense of empowerment has stayed with her.

Women conducting seagrass monitoring for the Tetepare Descendants Association. Photo credit: Katy Soapi

What is your background and the path that led you to where you are today?

I grew up on a small island called Rendova. My village was right by the sea, so I grew up by the sea. My primary education was on that island in the village. Later, I went to boarding school on another island for high school.

After completing high school, I went to the USP to do a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. I decided upon further studies at the University of Sydney in Australia on chemistry. I wanted to investigate the natural products from medicinal plants, such as plants that were used traditionally in my village, that I grew up using as a child. I wanted to look at the links between traditional medicine and bioactive natural products isolated from the medicinal plants.

However, when I got to the University of Sydney, it was hard to get the plants that I wanted to work on from the Solomons, so I changed my course and studied synthetic chemistry instead. My study involved working towards the synthesis of a natural product called Phomopsin which has anticancer properties. I continued my research in synthetic chemistry studies, enrolling in a PhD program at the University of East Anglia, when my family moved to the UK. I was successful in receiving a scholarship to study nitrogen-containing biologically active compounds.

At the end of my PhD, I returned to Fiji with my husband who had found a job there. I went to visit some of my old professors at USP. One of them, the late Professor Aalbersberg, who I had worked with previously as an undergraduate encouraged me to apply for a position as a research fellow in a project on marine natural products in Fiji and the Solomon Islands. I applied and got the position.

After about a year, I got a job as a lecturer in chemistry, and eventually as Manager of the Pacific Natural Products Research Centre. I was at the USP for almost 13 years teaching and later, leading the research efforts of the Centre investigating antibacterial, antifungal and anti-cancer properties of marine natural products from marine invertebrates, algae, soft corals and bacteria in sediments.

In January 2021, I joined The Pacific Community (SPC) as Coordinator for PCCOS. It’s a new role and I am really excited about this new challenge and the opportunity to work for and with our members states within the ocean space.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

What has been your impact on gender equity in your field and region?

At the community level, I am engaged with one of our conservation projects, the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, which has been on-going for almost 14 years. It is a project where we’ve conserved one of our islands and tried to sustainably use and manage our island’s resources through monitoring efforts to inform decisions. We have set aside the seagrass monitoring especially for the women.

Tetepare Descendants Association (TDA) women conducting seagrass monitoring

For seagrass monitoring it was easier for the women because they are already involved in artisanal fishing and often spend time on the reef or mudflats to collect shellfish for food. The women were quite keen on being part of the monitoring activities and it was quite an appropriate activity for them, being in shallower areas and sometimes involving their children. I have done it many times dragging along all my kids. I am glad that this activity was set aside for women because being in their own space, they were free to lead the monitoring activities and to participate fully.

How did you support the marine genetic resources component of the BBNJ negotiations?

One of the key elements in the BBNJ instrument is marine genetic resources. When the negotiators from New York came to Fiji, we were able to present our work to them and talk about what is meant by marine genetic resources, the importance of drug discovery and pharmaceuticals. They also visited our labs to see our collection and our testing facilities. We tried to show them the whole process from extraction to testing and purification of bioactive compounds including how and to whom we send our samples. We wanted to ensure that they have a good understanding of the research and development processes involved in biodiscovery and pharmaceutical research to help them with their BBNJ negotiations.

Overcoming barriers

What do women in your region need to become ocean leaders?

In the Pacific, where there is such a strong family network, often it is the female who must drop out to look after a parent or the wife who must drop out to look after the children. We need to raise more awareness that women do not have to do that. I think that more should be done to create an enabling environment for women to continue working and to not have to choose between a career and a family.

I think we are getting more marine science graduates in the Pacific now, but getting a job in marine science is very hard. Most of them end up as teachers or in a non-marine science job. This affects both men and women, but I think it is worse for women. If recruitment for a science job is between a female and a male candidate, often it is the man who gets selected. There is also a lack of funding, for women and men, to participate in ocean science projects and ocean science employment.

One of the barriers is not having enough women scientists to look up to. Sometimes it is hard to imagine where and what you can be when you do not have that image of a woman you want to aspire to. Female role models help overcome those barriers, so you do not have that feeling of being an imposter because there is no one around you who is like you, who is doing the same kind of work that you are doing.

What allowed you to succeed despite the barriers?

I think it was a combination of many things. I was lucky to be given opportunities, but I also had to seek out these opportunities, like scholarships or employment opportunities. I was quite determined as well and from a young age decided that if given an opportunity to study on a scholarship, I would do my best to do justice to the opportunity.

I also had good mentors and a partner who encouraged and believed in me. The late Professor Aalberberg was one of those mentors who gave me a chance. When I was a student at USP, I assisted him on a research project for six months and it was an amazing experience that really opened my eyes to research work which I was so grateful for. When I returned to Fiji after finishing my PhD, I again worked with him and had another opportunity to learn from him.

At the community level, despite the barriers we face as women, I find strength in culture. I grew up in a matrilineal system and heard stories of fierce tribal women who made decisions about the land and settled disputes. I also grew up observing the strong voices of my mother, my aunties and grandmother. Sadly, in our modern society, women’s voices are not as elevated anymore. But I ride on the recognition my culture gives my voice and I find it empowering. I am often consulted on matters relating to our tribal land or our conservation projects back at home and I am grateful for that. Solomon Islands is so diverse culturally, and I am painfully aware that the voices of women are often overlooked or ignored even now in my own community as society, culture and lifestyle change.

My mother has always been my biggest supporter, always encouraging me. She was a school teacher. She said to me, “Go as far as you can.” Even after I finished university, she said, “I’ll leave it to you to decide when you want to stop studying.” She encouraged me to go after what I wanted and supported me as much as possible financially. Having somebody who believed in me and encouraged me has been quite influential in my career.

Advice for the next generation

Do not wait for opportunities, look for them or create them. Seek out opportunities to do an internship or temporary work or scholarships or even volunteer work. Be proactive. I did the same when I left University and this approach has benefited me over the years. I got my PhD scholarship by directly contacting the university and they responded with potential opportunities for scholarship.

The other advice is to not give up easily. Always remember that if it were easy, somebody would have done it already. I was the first in my family to go to university and it was not by luck that I ended up there. It was through hard work and perseverance that I progressed through my studies and my career. STEM is hard for everybody and there were many, many times I wanted to give up, but I kept going. It was all worth it in the end.

Maintain your network

We do have a good number of women scientists but there’s not enough networking. We need to work together to provide a platform for women to learn from each other. For small communities, like those found in the Pacific, it is important for women to maintain their networks. You need these networks as you progress in your career and they can become your support system during tough times or when you need career advice or just to connect and share experiences in a safe space.

You can influence the world, wherever you are along your path. A lot of young people think that they need to be a leader to influence others. It is important to start where you are. You can learn so much and be a positive influence even through volunteer work. My community engagements are all voluntary work. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience conservation work while at the same time participating in community science. The work has kept me grounded and connected to my community even from abroad.

Hopes for the future

I hope to see more Pacific Islanders, if not Pacific women, in positions of leadership. We need role models for the younger generation. We need to learn, hear and see what our Pacific Island women are doing and their contributions to science and development so our young people can see themselves in these leaders. My hope is that we have more Pacific women in leadership whom our young people can look up to.

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Case study: Community-Based Fisheries Management in Kiribati (on-going)

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“Fishermen catches have once declined nearshore before the arrival of CBFM in 2014. The creation of management plans brought in positive impacts to our marine resources and fishermen are getting more catches now than before.”

– Biita Ioane, Kuma fisherman from Butaritari

Summary

The coastal fisheries of Kiribati are typically artisanal and local. Rapid population growth has increased pressure on these resources, as evidenced by declines in abundance of target species such as goatfish, clams and bonefish.

In 2013, the Government of Kiribati made Community Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) a short-term priority strategic action in its National Fisheries Policy. This was followed, in 2014, by a three-year pilot project on CBFM focusing on two islands, North Tarawa and Butaritari, as a partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development of Kiribati (MFMRD), the University of Wollongong (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security– ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC), with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). There were four phases to the work: scoping threats and opportunities, identifying stakeholders and how they wished to manage their fishery, developing management plans, and monitoring and evaluation.

Five communities took part in the pilot project; over the three years, all of them produced CBFM plans. These are supported by the Island Council and elders association promoting measures such as banning the use of destructive fishing gears and practices. Legal backing is planned under the recently agreed Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Coastal Marine Resources) Regulations 2019.

Data-gathering through community meetings has improved knowledge across different stakeholder groups of fisheries resources and their sustainable exploitation. This work has been supported with training for community members and MFMRD staff by the project team. Community leaders have also been given a valuable sense of empowerment as part of the management cycle.

As knowledge and understanding of the CBFM approach and its benefits has spread, well over 40 communities across 11 islands of Kiribati are currently working in this way. At the national level, the project has created momentum within MFMRD to use and incorporate CBFM principles.

Community meeting to discuss CBFM in Butaritari in 2014

The issue

Fishing contributes significantly to the economy, food security and employment in Kiribati and, in the long term, relies on the sustainability of fish stocks. The coastal fisheries of the country are typically artisanal, targeting finfish, bivalves, cephalopods and gastropods, and are mostly carried out at a household level for subsistence consumption. There is some trade through the main markets in urban areas and via individual stalls along the roadside.

Rapid population growth (increased requirements for food) and development of a cash economy (the need to sell catches to fund other purchases) was placing increasing pressure on local resources through overharvesting and increases in fishing capacity.

When combined with some destructive fishing methods, pollution and habitat damage, target species important for the coastal fisheries, such as goatfish, clams, bonefish, red snapper and octopus, were in decline.

The response

In 2013, the Government of Kiribati made Community Based Fisheries Management (CBFM) a short-term priority strategic action in its National Fisheries Policy. In 2014, as part of a larger project that operated across three countries (Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu), work started on piloting CBFM in five communities on the islands of North Tarawa and Butaritari. These were places where community members shared many of the same resource use issues and concerns. The three-year pilot project was carried out to develop community-based fisheries management plans.

After the Government made the CBFM project, a new Fisheries Regulation for – Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Marine Resources) Regulation 2019 was developed and endorsed in 2019. CBFM was recognised under this new regulation given the provision subject to Part II. The regulation empowers the management plan under the CBFM given the authorised officers are able to enforce the management measures under the management plan. An important objective was capacity-building, and therefore working with communities to understand how they could be involved in ensuring the sustainable management of their fisheries.

There were four phases to the work: scoping threats and opportunities, identifying stakeholders and how they wished to manage their fishery, developing management plans, and finally monitoring and evaluation. Five pilot communities were initially suggested by Island Councils and interest in participating in the project was confirmed by the local communities in these areas. Sixteen community engagement activities were held in Tarawa and Butaritari, over the 3-year period with different objectives at different stages.

Initially the objectives were to introduce the project and enable community members to talk about their potential involvement in it, to define priorities for a model of CBFM in Kiribati and to collect relevant data. CBFM plans were drafted in the second year and meetings were held on enforcement and implementation in the final year. The project was promoted to the wider Kiribati community during Fisheries Awareness Weeks, when activities and achievements were showcased.

Training sessions on data collection were organised for community members and MFMRD staff by the project team at various stages. There was also training for Fisheries Extension Officers in CBFM engagement approaches throughout the project and MFMRD is currently working on a manual specifically for Kiribati on CBFM.

 

Partnerships and support

The CBFM project started in May 2014, as a threeyear partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource Development of Kiribati (MFMRD), the University of Wollongong (Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security – ANCORS) and the Pacific Community (SPC), the project was later renewed for another four years. The funding for this work has been supported by the Australian Government through ACIAR projects FIS/2012/074 and FIS/2016/300. In the first phase, staff from MFMRD and ANCORS identified and evaluated the social, economic, environmental, and governance context, while they focused on establishing a strong enabling environment, scaling CBFM to more communities and monitoring, evaluating and learning during the second phase.

The development of the pilot CBFM plans was a collaborative process, with participation and actions undertaken at a local level as well as with the involvement of Island Councils and national agencies – principally MFMRD but also the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA).

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

All five pilot communities established CBFM committees as the voice of the programme in their villages. Butaritari has also established an island-wide CBFM committee. All five have developed community based fisheries management plans. Common elements include banning destructive fishing gear and practices, including prohibiting; the use of small-size nets and excessively long gillnets, encircling corals with gillnets, destroying corals to reach fish or octopus, fishing on spawning aggregations and the catching of juvenile fish. All five plans also recommended establishing a marine reserve, with Bikati the first community to establish a communityled marine protected area.

With the involvement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, MFMRD and the Attorney General’s Office there has been clarification and guidance on how Island Councils can introduce local bylaws for coastal fisheries management (out to 3 nautical miles) under the Local Government Act 1984. By 2017, four communities had taken steps towards drafting a bylaw to formalise their CBFM plans. Legal backing for CBFM plans is now intended, using provisions of the recently agreed Fisheries (Conservation and Management of Coastal Marine Resources) Regulations 2019. This sets out a consultation process and lists the key elements required by such plans, such as specifying the conservation and management measures to achieve stated objectives, a programme for implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and arrangements for surveillance and enforcement.

Data-gathering through community meetings has improved knowledge across different stakeholder groups on fisheries resources and their sustainable exploitation. This was done using matrices to capture information on aspects such as fish catches, who fishes, seasonality of catches and perceived status and conditions of the stocks. The process was also very successful at involving and motivating community members, especially in the case of ‘participatory mapping’, where community members were encouraged to draw maps, identify fishing
grounds, spawning aggregation sites and other elements of the marine ecosystem.

As knowledge and understanding of the CBFM approach and its benefits has spread, other communities and islands of Kiribati expressed an interest in developing similar management plans for their local areas. In 2016, through a follow-on project, CBFM approaches were extended to Maiana, Abemama and Nonouti Islands and in 2017 the Island Councils of Abaiang and Marakei requested formal assistance from MFMRD to help develop community fisheries management plans. A second phase of CBFM has added islands such as Aranuka, Marakei and North Tabiteuea.

A combination of existing CBFM resources, training on facilitation skills and applied fieldwork with trained CBFM officers was found to be a very effective method to reach out to more officers within MFMRD and, through them, to disseminate the principles of the project to a growing number of staff. At the national level, the project has created momentum within the National Coastal Fisheries Division of MFMRD, to incorporate CBFM principles such as facilitation rather than presentations into their work.

Challenges

A challenge identified by community members was that, unless formal legal recognition is created to honour CBFM efforts, any village-level management plan will be unsuccessful owing to a lack of effective compliance and
enforcement mechanisms.

A related issue was that considerable confusion existed across government, Island Councils and community stakeholders about the process involved in creating and applying fisheries bylaws. These were important tools for CBFM as they enabled local communities to push for statutory backing to underpin their CBFM plans; however, they have since been superseded by the new Fisheries Regulations 2019, which make provisions for entire CBFM plans to be incorporated into law.

Another challenge lies in sustaining lines of outreach, communication and action beyond one or two key individuals. There is a need to make sure that community and government officers remain aware of their options as leadership and staff changes. The roles of community leaders in the management cycle also need to be clarified, perhaps through a new and more formal process of engagement between MFMRD, MIA and Island Councils.

Key lessons learnt

Continuous positive stakeholder engagement and participatory problem-solving are required, given that sharing management responsibility with communities is on-going and complex because so many parties, with a wide variety of views, need to be engaged. The acceptance and long-term enforcement of communitydriven resource management decisions require strengthened connections and support within and between villages, as well as across levels of government and regulation.

To achieve the best results, there was a need for bylaws to underpin CBFM plans, so as to legitimise local authority over fisheries management and enable effective enforcement. In the longer term, if CBFM were recognised in national regulations, this would not only enshrine this approach in the law but also give community leaders a valuable sense of empowerment as part of the management cycle. This has since happened with the new Fisheries Regulations 2019.

The implementation process has highlighted the importance of establishing clear protocols for community engagement with relevant key institutions (national, subnational and village) to ensure transparency. Relevant institutions should know about project objectives, progress and timing of visits to communities. Clear communication between different institutions is also key to avoid misunderstandings or misconceptions about CBFM.

The inclusion of institutions other than those directly in charge of fisheries management, such as MIA and the Environment and Conservation Division of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, has served to strengthen institutional links and broaden government support for the CBFM process in the long term.

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Case study: Developing a National Marine Litter Action Plan, Belize (on-going)

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“The development of the Marine Litter Action Plan with the assistance from CLiP shows Belize’s continued commitment in the protection of our marine environment and work to reduce
marine litter.”

Maxine Monsanto, Environmental Officer, DOE, Belize (October 2019)

“It’s my hope our work under CLiP with Belize will help the country to continue to significantly reduce marine litter and support its world leading efforts to protect its globally precious environment.”

Peter Kohler, Country Lead for Belize, Cefas, on behalf of CLiP (October 2019)

Summary

Belize adopted its national Marine Litter Action Plan in 2019 following extensive stakeholder engagement and a public awareness campaign, which is still underway. The Belizean Department of the Environment developed this in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, through the Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP). CLiP worked with Belize to support science and evidence development and awareness-raising on the issue of marine litter, and included several components, all of which supported the development of the action plan, which will guide Belize’s work towards addressing the issue of marine plastic pollution over the coming years.

The issue

Plastics enter the marine environment from a variety of land- and sea-based sources, including (but not limited to) accidental or deliberate littering, poor wastewater and solid waste management, and deliberate illegal dumping.

Marine plastics disproportionately affect smaller coastal nations like Belize, where the economy is heavily reliant on tourism and there is an active fishing sector, and where often waste management infrastructure is limited.

In Belize, the Department of the Environment (DOE) began looking into the country’s use of single-use plastic items in 2017, prompted by the prevalence of discarded Styrofoam food containers found on the streets. The DOE convened an ad hoc working group to understand the issue further and undertook a snapshot analysis of the rate of import, manufacturing and disposal of single-use items in Belize. The results indicated that Belize imported over 200 million single-use plastic bags and 52 million Styrofoam and plastic food containers annually, and locally produced and manufactured an estimated 35 million single-use plastic bags and 5 million pieces of Styrofoam. As a result, the ad hoc group was formalised, and began working on a plan to reduce the amount of waste coming from this type of plastic in Belize.

The response

Although Belize had information on the volumes of single use items being manufactured and imported, it did not have data on the quantities being found in the environment (either terrestrial or marine). Therefore, when the Belize Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) project was proposed, it was at an ideal time for the country to build on the work already started, and to begin the establishment of a national marine litter monitoring programme. CLiP included several components to support Belize in its efforts to tackle the issue of marine litter. These included:

  • Review of existing best practices for Marine Litter Action in Belize and how these could be scaled for the national action plan;
  • An initial baseline study of quantities and types of litter and microplastics in the marine environment, which was used (alongside importation, production and manufacturing data) to engage with stakeholders;
  • Additional studies on waste generation and management, port reception facility capabilities and desktop studies assessing single-use plastic alternatives;
  • Capacity-building activities, supporting the set-up of a microplastics testing lab and providing microplastics and macro plastics testing and monitoring training to government scientists and University of Belize staff and students; and
  • Education and outreach activities, including an awareness-raising campaign aimed at the general public, an art competition and an innovation competition, as well as a number of workshops and beach clean-up events held with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), businesses, government agencies, academia, representatives of the tourism sector, fishing cooperatives, private sector, church groups and rural communities. At these events, the findings of the initial studies were presented, and the environmental impacts of marine litter were discussed, alongside current best practices and ideas for reducing quantities of marine plastic pollution.
Belize Scouts Association and Cefas on outreach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019
Belize Scouts Association and Cefas on outreach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019

Partnerships and support

The Government of Belize, specifically the DOE, worked closely with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) through CLiP, which is funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Belize Marine Litter Action Plan was developed in approximately four months, a period that included all stakeholder engagement activities. However, it should be noted that Belize already had in place an established working group and stakeholder group working on how the country could tackle the issue of single-use plastics in the environment. The established working group included six different government departments, including representatives from the DOE, the Solid Waste Management Authority, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, the Directorate General for Foreign Trade, Beltraide and Belize Customs and Excise. Sub-committees involving academia, NGOs, private sector businesses and civil society were in place to help address and reduce pollution from single-use plastics. In addition, development of the Marine Litter Action Plan also involved consultation of stakeholders across multiple sectors including government, businesses, schools, and fishing communities.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The collaboration between Cefas and the Belizean government under CLiP has produced many clear and connected results. The main achievement is the adoption of the Belize Marine Litter Action Plan, which will guide Belize’s efforts to reduce marine plastic pollution over the coming years. The action plan was developed through extensive stakeholder engagement and supported by a series of policy papers. Stakeholder workshops identified gaps and actions related to policy, stakeholder coordination, waste management and auditing, outreach and scientific knowledge. A total of 25 marine litter actions were identified in consultation with the government and other key stakeholders. These actions provide a framework for all sectors to coordinate and tackle marine litter in Belize over the coming years. The Belizean Cabinet formally adopted the Marine Litter Action Plan on 27 August 2019. Belize aspires to take a leading role in supporting other Caribbean nations in tackling marine litter.

In addition to adopting the Marine Litter Action Plan, Belize has prohibited and restricted certain single-use plastics items (including plastic shopping bags, drinking straws, Styrofoam, plastic food utensils, clamshells, flat plates and cups). The adoption of this ban was supported by the evidence and stakeholder engagement activities undertaken within the CLiP project.
See the action plan.

Although progress on implementing the action plan has stalled temporarily owing to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the public awareness campaign has continued. Once the situation begins to normalise, Belize will focus on implementing some of the key actions in the plan, including (but not limited to) the development and implementation of a national plan to address waste from vessels at national level and incorporate pollution from ships under marine pollution prevention legislation.

Challenges

The main challenges facing Belize when developing the Marine Litter Action Plan were:

  •  Lack of technical expertise (both governmental and in the private sector), for example knowledge on which alternatives to single-use plastics would be most appropriate for use in Belize;
  • Lack of equipment, for example to undertake the microplastic analysis; and
  • Lack of funding, for example for awareness-raising campaigns and stakeholder events.

In terms of the CLiP project, the challenges related mainly the time constraints, with just four months to work together to collect an initial baseline, analyse the results, present them to stakeholders and develop targeted actions. The initial work already undertaken by the Belizean government in advance of the CLiP project contributed greatly in terms of speeding up this process. The already present government commitment and established working group provided a good foundation for the Cefas project team to build on. The stakeholder network was already being established and this aided with activities within the short timeframe available.

Marine Litter Monitoring Training on Belizean beach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019
Marine Litter Monitoring Training on Belizean beach. Source: Crown Copyright 2019

Key lessons learnt

The key lesson learnt during the development of the national action plan was that, as a first step, any country wishing to develop such a plan should undertake stakeholder analysis to understand the different players involved. Through early engagement with stakeholders, any existing work already underway can be identified and built on. Second, a scientific evidence base should be compiled to present to the relevant stakeholders the need to develop the plan. Finally, a clear outline of the different steps to follow to develop the action plan and a timeline for completion should be shared with all stakeholders. These three steps are essential if the action plan is to have buy-in from the different stakeholders and members of the public. Another important lesson is to ensure that national work complements any regional plans already in place.

The UK-funded CLiP project in Belize has highlighted the necessity of having good collaboration with the country in question, but more specifically the importance of mapping stakeholders across sectors and working with them to identify how to add-value to ongoing work. This will enable smoother running of workshops, events and general logistical challenges but also help avoid any potential cultural misunderstandings.

Acknowledgments

UK-Defra funds the Commonwealth Marine Litter Programme (CLiP), which is led by the UK through the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The programme supports a number of countries across the Commonwealth to tackle plastics entering the oceans. CLiP contributes to delivering the objectives under the UK and Vanuatu-led Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA), which calls on other countries to pledge action on plastics. CCOA also promotes actions in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water) to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, as well as contributing to the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

This work has been graciously supported by the Department of the Environment, Belize and the British High Commission in Belize.

Lead contacts

DOE, Belize: [email protected]
Peter Kohler, CLiP Country Lead, Cefas: [email protected] cefas.co.uk

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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: Belize – Towards Expansion of No-Take Areas in the MPA System

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“The fact that our two main commercial species, the spiny lobster and the queen conch, have remained stable for several years is a direct indicator of the success of the combination of protected areas and managed access.”

Beverley Wade, Fisheries Administrator

Summary

Belize has a network of 14 marine protected areas (MPAs), with an additional 13 protected fish Spawning Aggregation sites, covering some 23.5 per cent of the country’s marine waters. Only a small proportion of this area is fully protected in no-take areas, and so an initiative was launched in 2013 to identify locations for replenishment zones (the name proposed for areas closed to extraction). This involved a multi-partner programme to gather ecological and socio-economic data and undertake stakeholder consultations. Recommendations for replenishment zones in deep sea areas and re-zoning of three existing MPAs have been approved by government and work is underway to implement these new areas; work is also underway on the remaining recommendations. Two innovative fishery management interventions were developed in parallel, and will contribute to effective management of replenishment zones: 1) a “Managed Access” system whereby fishers are licensed to access certain areas and provided with a mechanism for their involvement in management (described in the Sustainable Fisheries AG case study) ; and 2) the introduction of a new technology and enforcement approaches to assist with reporting.

The issue

Belize has a long history of marine protected area (MPA) establishment and management, with an MPA network covering some 23.5 per cent of the Territorial Sea (which covers the area extending out to ~12 nautical miles from Halfmoon Caye). The network comprises:

  • Nine Marine Reserves under the mandate of the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD), which are zoned: Preservation zones (no extraction); Conservation zones (recreational activities including sport fishing and scuba permitted); General Use zones (artisanal commercial fishing permitted but use of SCUBA
    is prohibited – fishing using free diving, traps and handlines is allowed);
  • Two Wildlife Sanctuaries, two Natural Monuments and one National Park, under the mandate of the Forest Department;
  • Thirteen fish Spawning Aggregation sites, under the mandate of the BFD.

The 2015 National Protected Areas Act made the following a legal requirement: 1) stakeholder and community consultation and participation in the designation or revoking of protected areas; and 2) the use of a standardised management planning process. Most MPAs are therefore managed through co-management arrangements with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), a term that in Belize includes community-based organisations.

Currently, no-take zones account for 7.61% of territorial waters (approx. 0-20 nm offshore) and 6.28% of the EEZ (approx. 20- 200 nm offshore). Fishing is a key activity for coastal communities, both for domestic consumption and for revenue generation through the tourism industry and exports, notably the lucrative queen conch and spiny lobster markets. The Conservation and Preservation zones have been effective in increasing fish biomass within the Marine Reserves but the extent to which they can protect overall marine biodiversity and enable the recovery of damaged or degraded ecosystems is limited by their small size and fragmented nature (Cox et al., 2017). There is now global consensus that at least 10 per cent and preferably much more of marine waters must be closed to extraction for successful marine biodiversity conservation outcomes and mitigation from climate change impacts (Dahlgren and Tewfik, 2015; Roberts et al., 2020).

Belize conservation zone map

The response

The National Replenishment Zone project was established in 2013 through a partnership between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the BFD, with the aim of identifying locations for new or larger no-take zones. These are called “replenishment zones” and are designed to ensure representation of all major marine habitat types in the MPA network, including open deep sea areas that are currently under-represented. The project involved an international collaboration of scientists, led by Belizeans, who worked to identify the new areas, combined with a lengthy process of consultation with stakeholders, which resulted in widespread support and a commitment to stewardship from coastal communities. Technical guidance for the identification of the replenishment zones was developed with support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) (Green et al., 2017). The proposed new replenishment zones were identified through an evidence-based process, using the software programme MARXAN, which helps identify locations that will maximise potential ecological and socio-economic benefits of national interest while minimising disruption to livelihoods of stakeholders (note to final editors – we could cross refer to the Seychelles case study, where MARXAN was also used ).

A two-phased approach was recommended by the members of the National Replenishment Zones Steering Committee, with Phase 1 focusing on deep sea areas and rezoning of three existing protected areas. WCS first carried out a scientific review of existing areas closed to fishing in order to identify their ecological and socio-economic benefits to Belize. Consultations were held with fishing communities and other stakeholders, particularly commercial and sport fishers, given the inclusion of deep sea areas. The information from the review and anecdotal information collected through community focus group sessions led to the development of a weekly radio drama Punta Fuego about a fictional fishing village, with stories about illegal fishing. A phone-in segment, Talking Fuego, allowed people to discuss their concerns and led to much improved communication and engagement.

In order to be able to implement no-take zones successfully, it is globally recognised that mechanisms are needed to ensure fisher buy-in and to create incentives for compliance. Until 2016, the marine waters of Belize, as in many other countries, were considered “open access” for fishers: adult Belizeans could obtain a commercial licence to fish, provided that gear and (in the case of conch exports, quota) regulations and MPA legislation were respected. The two components that contributed to improved compliance were the introduction of managed access (described in the Sustainable Fisheries AG case study) and new approaches to enforcement, using developments in technology.

The free software-based system, the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), was developed by a group of conservation organisations1 for use in both terrestrial and marine protected areas. This enables patrols to more efficiently monitor human activity including hunting and fishing, undertake biodiversity monitoring and improve enforcement and data analysis (WCS and BFD, 2017). It has been adopted by 12 governments, and is now being used globally in over 600 protected areas, including 40 MPAs. The SMART software, a mobile app with an analysis and mapping interface that can be customised, enables the collection, storage, analysis and communication of data on patrol efforts (e.g. time spent on patrols, areas visited, distances covered), patrol results (e.g. arrests made), threat levels and other enforcement activities on electronic tablets. The developers provide training in its use and a set of best practices for its effective implementation.

A second new technology being studied for improved compliance and monitoring is drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). These offer a low-cost solution for identifying infractions and monitoring megafauna (such as turtles, dolphins, and sharks), avoiding the use of costly boat fuel (López and Mulero-Pázmány, 2019). In Belize, as in many countries, patrolling is normally done in small boats, which makes it difficult to cover large areas or undertake systematic surveys for megafauna. With the support of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and WCS, and following a pilot study at Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, trials are underway at Turneffe Atoll Marine Reserve,2 using water-landing and waterproof fixed-wing, long-range, multi-camera drones. Additional trials are underway at South Water Caye and Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserves with a waterproof drone obtained through a EU grant.

Partnerships and support

The National Replenishment Zone project ran for six years from 2013 to 2019 and was led by The National Replenishment Zones Expansion Steering Committee, which included the BFD as Chair, WCS as Secretary, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), TNC, Belize Federation of Fishers, Belize Fishermen Cooperatives, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, Belize Forest Department, the National Protected Areas Secretariat, Belize Coast Guard, the Healthy Reefs Initiative, the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations and Toledo Institute for Development. Funding was provided primarily by WCS (from the Oak Foundation, a UK Darwin Initiative Grant, the Summit Foundation and the WCS MPA Fund) with contributions from TNC and the Belize Marine Climate Change Adaptation Project (a World Bank project under the BFD).

The SMART Partnership includes Frankfurt Zoological Society, Global Wildlife Conservation, North Carolina Zoo, Panthera, Peace Parks Foundation, WCS, Wildlife Protection Solutions, World Wildlife Fund and ZSL.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

In April 2019, the Government approved a joint proposal from the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation to create the first phase of a series of fisheries replenishment zones. Preparation of Statutory Instruments for the new replenishment zones is on-going. The Phase 1 expansion, when implemented, will cover 11.6 per cent of Belize’s marine waters in open or deep sea areas ranging from 200 m to 3,000 m deep, including the most under-represented habitats in the current MPA network. The proposed replenishment zones lie either within or adjacent to the existing MPAs (with the exception of Port Honduras Marine Reserve) as well as in deep waters (see Map). The latter includes an area, covering 6.28% of the EEZ, that extends beyond the Territorial Sea, south of the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, which was expanded in 2020 to protect the Corona Reef, at the south-western end of the Cayman Trench. Phase 2 will cover the inshore areas, and requires more engagement, as these areas are most actively used by stakeholders.

Piloted first in 2011, the Managed Access initiative (see the Sustainable Fisheries AG case study ) was initially designed to provide a system that would allow access to fishing within the General Use zones of marine reserves only to bona fide fishers (Martinez et al., 2018) but the success of the pilot initiative led to a national roll-out in 2016 across the Territorial Sea. This means that licensed fishing communities have secured, dedicated access to their own Fishing Area, thereby reducing competition and the incentive to fish illegally. At the same time, communities must take responsibility for helping manage their Fishing Zones and must observe all regulations within their zone including those for no-take areas (see Sustainable Fisheries AG case study).

To help increase the efficiency of enforcement operations, WCS introduced SMART. The Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, Sustainable Development and the Environment, and its corresponding departments, the BFD and the Belize Forest Department, officially adopted the system in 2018. Today, all marine managers, including BFD and NGO co-managers throughout the country, use SMART or SMART Connect (which allows data entries to be linked directly to the national database) to better plan and coordinate patrols. Use of SMART has resulted in the identification of high-priority enforcement areas where there is a greater chance of detecting illicit activity, which means that resources can be deployed more cost-effectively.

More effective management and deployment of patrols and resources has led to an 85 per cent decline in the number of MPA fisheries infractions, and at Glover’s Reef there are anecdotal accounts of a noticeable decrease in infractions since 2009. According to the 2020 Mesoamerican Reef Report Card, Belize now has the highest Reef Health Index in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef region3.

Challenges

COVID-19: The greatest current environmental, as well as economic and social, challenge for Belize, 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.

  • Initial resistance from fishers and scepticism from the fisher cooperatives and associations, which led to minimal fisher participation in the early stages; there is still a challenge in ensuring their on-going participation;
  • The time taken to arrange meetings with, and influence, key decision-makers and to maintain their commitment and support;
  • Insufficient capacity and financial resources for the process; sustainable financing is essential to maintain enforcement even though compliance has improved and more cost-effective methods are being introduced. Fishers are concerned that new areas will be declared while enforcement is still lacking for current protected sites; ultimately, there may be a need for large vessels capable of patrolling all the country’s marine waters;
  • The slow process of enacting the necessary legislation and Statutory Instruments;
  • Insufficient research to date to provide evidence of success, which could lead to loss of support. Securing support for additional fishery closures requires demonstrating to stakeholders that closures offer clear and specific benefits to both fisheries and fishers;
  • Technical difficulties with the devices that some organisations use SMART on, which prevents continuous data collection;
  • Lack of meaningful supplementary livelihoods for those fishers affected in the short term was a main concern brought up by fishers during consultations; a technical sub-committee on livelihoods was set up by TNC to try and address some of these issues.

Key lessons learned

  1. Securing support for the additional fishery closures required demonstrating to stakeholders that these provided clear and specific benefits for fisheries and fishers. This was achieved by producing a report as part of the project, which provided good examples and explained the science involved (Dahlgren and Tewfik, 2015).
  2. Sustained engagement of stakeholders with a targeted communications strategy to reach all stakeholders with an interest in the marine environment and the broader public was essential. About 50 per cent of the fishers surveyed after the first season of the radio drama reported listening to it and feeling that it addressed their issues, and there is evidence that it helped change their attitudes.
  3. The parallel Managed Access programme was a complementary component of the initiative and both programmes benefited from the close collaboration and working arrangements that were established between relevant technical staff and steering committees, and the fact that the same key organisations were involved in each programme.
  4. The new enforcement technologies, with the associated training and capacity-building programme for rangers and other staff present on the water, are having clear benefits. With the SMART system, infractions are immediately linked to the licensing system, which allows managers to have more readily accessible information regarding offenders. The use of UAVs, as piloted at Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve, is looking very positive for efficient monitoring and enforcement, but further work will be required to roll this technology out nationally and ensure acceptance by stakeholders. The Fisheries Resources Act has provisions to allow for admissibility of evidence (López, and Mulero-Pázmány, 2019).

Lead contacts

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator, Belize Fisheries Department: [email protected]

Adriel Castaneda, Fisheries Officer/EMU Coordinator, Belize Fisheries Department: [email protected] fisheries.gov.bz

Nicole Auil Gomez, Country Director, WCS Belize: [email protected]

Ralna Lewis, Assistant Director, WCS Belize: [email protected]

References

Cox, C., Valdivia, A., McField, M.D., Castillo, K. and Bruno, J.F. (2017) “Establishment of Marine Protected Areas Alone Does Not Restore Coral Reef Communities in Belize.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 563: 65–79.

Dahlgren, C.P. and Tewfik, A. (2015) “Benefits of No-take Zones for Belize and the Wider Caribbean Region”. Proceedings of the 67th Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, Christ Church, 3-7 November.

Green, A., Chollett, I., Suárez, A., Dahlgren, C. et al. (2017) “Biophysical Principles for Designing a Network of Replenishment Zones for the Mesoamerican

Reef System”. Technical Report produced by The Nature Conservancy, Comunidad y Biodiversidad, A.C., Smithsonian Institution, Perry Institute for Marine Science, Centro de Estudios Marinos, Healthy Reefs Initiative and Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur.

López, J. and Mulero-Pázmány, M. (2019) “Drones for Conservation in Protected Areas: Present and Future”. Drones 3 (10). https://doi.org/10.3390/drones3010010

Martinez, V., Castañeda, A., Gongora, M., Wade, B. and Requena, N. (2018) “Managed Access: A Rights-Based Approach to Managing Small-Scale Fisheries in Belize”.

http://www.fao.org/fishery/static/tenure-user-rights/root/volume3/C311.pdf

Roberts, C.M., O’Leary, B.C. and Hawkins, J.P. (2020) “Climate Change Mitigation and Nature Conservation Both Require Higher Protected Area Targets”. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 375: 20190121. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0121

WCS and BFD (2017) “Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART): Implementation in Belize”.

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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: Assigning IUCN Protected Area Management Categories – The Bahamas Experience

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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)

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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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