Mangrove Blue Carbon for Climate Change Mitigation

NAIROBI, Oct 7 2021 (IPS) – Smelly, boggy, and full of bugs, mangroves’ superpowers are well hidden. However, there is rising confidence that mangroves are the silver bullet to combat the effects of climate change.

“Mangrove ecosystems are a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals and can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Dr Sevvandi Jayakody, a senior lecturer at Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

A natural line of defence

Mangrove forests also act as a natural defence against storm surges, including mitigating the effects of cyclones and tsunamis, says Dr Nicholas Hardman‑Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Within this context, he says, Commonwealth countries are working together under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement made by all 54 member states, to actively work together to tackle ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

The Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group consists of 13 countries, including Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom, is championed by Sri Lanka.

Hardman‑Mountford tells IPS that countries exchange knowledge centred on mangrove protection, management, and sustainability within the action group. Shared knowledge includes a wide range of topics, including policy, legislation, and regulatory frameworks.

Leveraging on the protective power of mangroves, Jayakody says that Sri Lanka is actively building its second line of defence. The country’s first line of defence, the reefs, were heavily compromised by the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – one of the worst disasters in modern history, killing nearly 230 000 people across dozens of countries.

Such was the devastation that the government of Sri Lanka estimated losses of over $1 billion in assets and $330 million in potential output.

Worse still, approximately 35 000 people died or went missing. In Sri Lanka alone, property damage included 110 000 houses, of which 70 000 were destroyed. In all, at least 250 000 families lost their means of support.

Combatting the impacts of climate change

Experts say that mangroves have immense capacity to prevent such catastrophes and combat other devastating effects of climate change.

Bolstered by growing scientific evidence, Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation, has made significant strides in building its defence using mangroves.

Dr Rahanna Juman, Acting Director at the Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, tells IPS that in 2014, the government of Trinidad and Tobago commissioned an aerial survey of the country. Using this data, an estimate of carbon in mangrove forests across the country was ascertained.

“This information illustrated how mangrove and other hardwood forests could offset emissions and was incorporated into the Greenhouse Gas inventory of Trinidad and Tobago. Importantly, the survey conclusively demonstrated that mangrove forests store more carbon per hectare than other hardwood forests,” Juman expounds.

In 2020, the Institute of Marine Affairs received funding from the British High Commission to fund a mangrove soil carbon assessment project involving Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Juman indicates that the assessment found that “the amount of carbon in the mangrove soil was many times larger than the amount of carbon above the ground. This is an assessment that could be replicated in other Commonwealth countries because we have developed a low-cost technique of undertaking this important assessment.”

Adding that Mangroves are starting to be incorporated into the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, which means countries could potentially earn money from protecting and restoring mangroves.

Mangrove blue carbon

Meanwhile, Hardman‑Mountford cites various challenges in exploring blue carbon because it is still an evolving area of science and policy.

Sri Lanka understands this challenge all too well. After the Tsunami, Jayakody says that the government launched vast mangrove restoration projects covering over 2 000 hectares in partnership with other agencies.

Due to limited information on mangroves, she tells IPS that a majority of these projects failed. Undeterred and leveraging on scientific research over the years, Sri Lanka is today a success story in restoring and conserving mangrove cover estimated at 19 600 hectares.

Other challenges facing countries keen on mangrove blue carbon include a lack of protection for mangroves because approximately 75 percent of mangrove forests globally remain unprotected and overexploited.

Over the years, Jayakody indicates that mangroves have been at a very high risk of destruction because their power to prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, and provide livelihoods for coastal communities through fisheries was not fully understood.

Hardman‑Mountford agrees, adding that mangrove forests have declined globally with a loss of between 30 to 50 percent over the past 50 years from over-harvesting, pollution, agriculture, aquaculture, and coastal development.

The Commonwealth has a huge role to play in reversing this decline. Overall, there are 47 Commonwealth countries with a coastline.

“Nearly 90 percent of Commonwealth countries with a coast have mangroves, and at least 38 of these countries with mangroves have provided some level of protection to their mangroves. In all, 16 countries have protected about half or more of their mangroves,” he says.

Mangroves
Image credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

This is a challenge that Sri Lanka is successfully overcoming. With an estimated 40 percent of the population in Sri Lanka living along the coastline, Jayakody says that there was an urgent need to protect both livelihoods and coastlines from further degradation.

“In 2015, Sri Lanka established the National Mangrove Expert Committee, and through that, all mangroves were mapped. More so, several new areas were brought under protection, and there have been relentless efforts to improve the communities’ understanding of the importance of mangrove ecosystem,” she says.

Further, Sri Lanka recently validated the Best Practice Guidelines on the Restoration of Mangroves in Sri Lanka and the national mangrove action plan, in line with the mangrove policy adopted in 2020.

Other countries making strides in the right direction include the Australian government’s involvement with blue carbon and especially ongoing efforts to build capacity in blue carbon science, policy and economics through multi-sectoral partnerships.

“To support its efforts in blue carbon advocacy and outreach, the Australian government launched the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) at the UNFCCC CoP in Paris in 2015,” says Ms Heidi Prislan, a Blue Charter Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Australia is also one of the 28 countries that refer specifically to the mitigation benefits of carbon sequestration associated with coastal wetlands in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. In comparison, 59 other countries mention coastal ecosystems as part of their adaptation strategies.

To increase opportunities for blue carbon to participate in the national emissions reduction scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Australian government has supported research into potential mitigation methodologies that could be implemented to generate carbon credits from domestic projects.

Equally important, she says that Commonwealth member countries have collectively made 44 national commitments to protect or restore mangroves.

As the world stares at a catastrophe from the devastating effects of climate change, the massive potential of blue carbon and, more so, mangrove blue carbon to bolster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts can no longer be ignored.

This article was originally published by IPS.

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

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

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“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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Opportunity to join eXXpedition Virtual Voyage

Commonwealth Blue Charter is working with eXXpedition, a UK-based company that runs all-female sailing voyages investigating ocean plastic pollution, to offer a bursary place for the next stage of eXXpedition’s Virtual Voyage programme.

For the past five years these missions have been at sea, but given the pandemic the experience is now being offered virtually. This means eXXpedition can continue to support a community of changemakers in taking action against plastic pollution.

From live scientific analysis to collaborative problem solving, the immersive leadership experience is designed to equip and support participants in enacting change in their own country. By bringing the best parts of the journeys at sea to life online, the chosen crew have a unique opportunity to network with talented women from across sectors, deep dive into the cause of and solutions to plastic pollution, and receive one-on-one mentorship from mission leaders to find their unique role in helping solve one of the world’s most pressing issues.

Each Virtual Voyage has a 12-person crew of women from all over the world who will be connecting through an online platform. The full programme involves six interactive sessions and some independent research. The condensed programme will be delivered over the course of a weekend.

Applicants – who must live in or be connected to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu or Australia – are invited to complete an application form here.

Climate Vulnerability Assessments in Fiji and South Australia: Two Partnership Models for Measuring Climate Risk

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

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Summary

For many governments, an initial step towards preparing for more severe climate impacts is completing a climate vulnerability assessment (CVA), which can help identify the climate-related risks facing a specific community, as well as potential strategies for mitigating those risks. While there is guidance available for the technical exercise of completing a CVA, one of the most important decisions for a government to make at the outset entails who to involve in the process.

This case study outlines two different partnership models, which may provide useful ideas and examples for Action Group members. In one example, the Republic of Fiji partnered with the World Bank and the EU, allowing them to access outside technical and communications expertise, as well as financial resources. In another, the State of South Australia partnered with regional governments to create a series of local CVAs, which were co-funded by all three (national, state, regional) levels of government.

The issue

Severe weather events are already a reality for many communities around the world. For example, in the island nation of Fiji, tropical cyclone Winston in 2016 caused economic damages equivalent to 20 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product (F$2 billion) (Republic of Fiji, 2017). With these events expected to become more frequent in the future as a result of climate change, communities are faced with the question of how to prepare themselves, their infrastructure and their economies for future climate impacts. For many governments, a first step towards answering this question is completing a CVA. In general, a CVA typically aims to identify:

1. The climate-related risks faced by a specific geographic area and its citizens;
2. The effects of those risks on key vulnerable sectors of the economy; and
3. Potential strategies for mitigating those risks.

While guidance exists for the technical exercise of completing a CVA, one of the most important decisions for a government to make at the outset entails who to involve in the exercise. Below are two partnership models, which may provide useful ideas and examples for Action Group members.

The response

Fiji

As a small, low-lying, island nation in the South Pacific, Fiji is especially vulnerable to severe weather events. Tropical cyclones and floods are the most common, with almost 70 per cent of Fijians having experienced a cyclone and about 25 per cent having experienced severe flooding (Republic of Fiji, 2017).With these events expected to become more frequent as a result of climate change, protecting citizens from extreme weather is a primary goal for the national government. At the same time, Fiji has also set ambitious goals for future economic growth, aiming to double real gross domestic product per capita by 2036, while also providing universal access to basic human services like electricity, clean water and education.

With the dual objectives of increasing climate resilience and economic prosperity, Fiji decided to partner with the World Bank, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and the EU to complete a CVA. The partnership with the World Bank made it possible for Fijian officials from the Ministry of Economy and other parts of the national government to work with over 40 technical experts at the World Bank to create an approach to vulnerability assessment that incorporated the nation’s development goals. The partnership with the EU also made it possible for Fiji to receive financial support for the exercise through the Africa Caribbean Pacific-EU Natural Disaster Risk Reduction Programme (GFDRR, 2018).

Fiji’s CVA was launched in November 2017 alongside a storytelling project called Our Home, Our People, “designed to help decision-makers and members of the public understand what climate change means for Fiji” (GFDRR, 2018).Through the partnership with the World Bank, the assessment ended up incorporating several innovative components, which other governments could adopt:

  • An analytical model that considers the impacts of extreme weather on economic growth and poverty;
  • An analysis of Fiji’s road network (using data from the Fiji Road Authority) that identifies transport assets that are the most vulnerable to extreme weather; and
  • A resilience investment plan that includes a comprehensive list of potential actions and their estimated costs.

“The climate vulnerability assessment will inform Fiji’s development planning and investment decisions for years to come, and provides a specific blueprint that quantifies the resources necessary to climate-proof Fiji, giving us a full account of the threat that climate change poses to our national development,” said Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Attorney-General and Minister Responsible for Climate Change in Fiji.

South Australia

In 2008, having recently experienced a series of record-breaking heat waves, officials in the State of South Australia’s Climate Change Unit also decided to complete a CVA. From the outset, they chose to partner directly with local communities, where the impacts are felt and where many of the resilience measures would ultimately be taken. To accomplish this, they created 12 “regional committees” comprising key local government, industry and community leaders. The committees were given shared responsibility over key elements of the planning process, including coordinating integrated vulnerability assessments, drafting adaptation plans and socializing the results with the broader community. “We wanted to work side by side with local communities to understand their perspective, and to embed it into the planning process,” said Michelle English, Manager of South Australia’s Climate Change Unit.

In agreements underpinning the processes, the committees also agreed to share costs with the state – an arrangement that helped both lower state government costs and increase the sense of ownership on the part of committee members. “Co-investment has been a powerful tool for us,” English added. “Rather than ending up with a long wish list of potential projects, local stakeholders are engaged in prioritising the most feasible actions.”

All 12 regional committees have completed CVAs, and have gone on to take the next step of developing regional climate adaptation plans based on these. “All regions are looking to progress and implement their priority actions from their adaptation plans, and to reduce regional vulnerability.”

“We now have groups of influential, local decisionmakers throughout the state with a vested interest in seeing this process succeed, and a growing culture of sharing that will enable it to,” said Stephanie Ziersch, Climate Change and Programme Adviser, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, Government of South Australia.

Key lessons learnt

There are resources available to support the technical exercise of completing a CVA. But before beginning the exercise, government should consider who they want to involve in the process, as well as what their specific objectives are. The examples of Fiji and South Australia show that different partnership models can lead to successful outcomes, and that choosing the right model depends on the capabilities and objectives of the government in question. When deciding on a partnership model, governments should consider:

  • Objectives: What does the government want to achieve with the CVA (i.e. policy guidance, communications, local partnerships, enhance access to climate finance, etc.)?
  • Next steps: How will the completed CVA be used? (Key stakeholders to be included from the beginning)
  • Resources: Does the government have the resources, both human and financial, needed to complete the CVA, or does it need external support?

Sources and further reading

GFDRR (2018) ‘Assessing Fiji’s climate vulnerability: A blueprint for building resilience’. Results in Resilience Series.

Government of South Australia (nd) ‘A Region-Based Approach to Adaptation’. https://www.environment.sa.gov.au/topics/climate-change/programs-andinitiatives/adapting-to-climate-change/a-region-basedapproach-to-adaptation

The Climate Group (2015) ‘How South Australia Is Engaging Local Communities on Adaptation’. Policy Innovation Briefing. https://www.theclimategroup.org/news/policy-innovation-briefing-how-south-australiaengaging-local-communities-adaptation

Republic of Fiji (2017) ‘Climate Vulnerability Assessment: Making Fiji Climate Resilient’. Prepared with the support of the World Bank and GFDRR.

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

The issue

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

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

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

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

The response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnerships and support

The programme is a partnership between:

GBRMPA – bringing reef management and knowledge;

AMPTO – the industry association; and

TEQ – the government marketing and experience development department.

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

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead contact

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

Source

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

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Blue Charter group gears up to protect and restore ‘priceless’ coral reefs

Commonwealth countries devoted to saving the world’s coral reefs met in Townsville, Australia this week to outline immediate and long-term actions they can take to ensure the health of coral reef ecosystems.

Studies show more than half the planet’s coral reefs have suffered significant losses over the last 30 years. This could rise to 90 per cent within the next century, if current trends continue.

This harsh reality – mainly due to climate change – disproportionately affects Commonwealth states whose waters include 42 per cent of the world’s coral reefs.

In response, Australia, Belize and Mauritius are co-championing an action group made up of like-minded members that include Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Vanuatu.

The action group is part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a milestone commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth nations to cooperate on sustainable ocean governance.

Hosted by the Australian Institute of Maritime Science (AIMS) from 9 to 11 July, the meeting looked at how countries could make a difference by co-ordinating national, regional and global actions, building on each other’s experiences, and upscaling solutions for in-water action.

AIMS Chief Executive Officer Paul Hardisty said the enormous economic, social and cultural value of coral reef systems is worth the effort, adding: “It’s great to see all these members of the Commonwealth countries out here with a common purpose.  They are tackling how to turn the shared ambition of the Blue Charter into very specific actionable elements – that’s where the critical path to success lies.

“There are some fantastic ideas being shared, looking at values – not only for ecosystem services and economic value but also the cultural and indigenous values of our communities – to come up with tractable methodologies that everyone can share.”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, for instance, supports 64,000 jobs and generates $6.4 billion each year for the country’s economy through tourism, fishing, recreational and scientific activities.

Globally, more than 500 million people depend directly on coral reefs for food, income and coastal protection. In fact, one square kilometre of healthy, well-managed coral reef can provide more than 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood each year.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “Coral reefs are priceless. They protect our coasts and populations from the devastating impacts of tsunamis and extreme weather disasters, they are home to a quarter of all marine species, and they provide for our livelihoods and well-being.

“For millions of people in the Commonwealth, especially in small island states, coral reefs are integral to their identity and local culture, centred on the ocean. Yet human activities and above all climate change are devastating reefs at unprecedented rates. This is why the work of this action group is vital.”

Delegates discussed ways to improve government policies, build awareness, and empower communities, while also tackling barriers such as lack of funding, limited capacity and weak governance structures.

They highlighted the need for the action group to monitor progress, share information and work with the right partners, including a strategy to engage scientific institutions, governments, private sector and civil society to support coral reef initiatives.

The outcomes of the meeting will contribute to implementing the short, medium and long term goals of the action group.

Commonwealth countries rally behind ocean action

A gathering hosted by the New Zealand High Commission at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Monday, heard widespread support for the various action groups under the Blue Charter, which was unveiled by Commonwealth leaders at their last meeting in April.

Actions groups are led by ‘champion countries’ and focus on eight key areas: marine plastic pollution, blue economy, coral reef protection and restoration, mangroves, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations and aquaculture.

New Zealand Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage called the Blue Charter initiative a “model for bold, coordinated leadership.” As champion for the action group on ocean acidification,

New Zealand will focus on building a better understanding of the issue, identifying challenges, and connecting Commonwealth countries to ocean acidification networks.

“We are really impressed and pleased by the many Commonwealth countries that are involved in the action group [on ocean acidification],” said Hon Sage, acknowledging Australia, Barbados, Canada, Mozambique, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the UK.

Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Areas added: “The Blue Charter is so important, not only for Commonwealth countries, but for the entire world… I’m really proud to be working with Vanuatu taking forward action on the Clean Oceans Alliance and I’m very proud that we’re also joining other action groups.”

Alongside Vanuatu, the UK leads the action group on marine pollution, which includes 20 members in total from all regions of the Commonwealth.

“This is something that the Commonwealth can celebrate. I’m really pleased the Commonwealth Secretariat is continuing to make sure that these things come through, but together as nations we really can be champions for something that is exceptionally precious to us,” she said.

Special guest at the event, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Peter Thomson, commended the “wave of ocean action” in the international community, and encouraged collaboration with the United Nations Communities on Ocean Action.

Delegates from Fiji and Australia also made presentations on their countries’ ocean activities. Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change, and is planning an event on the Blue Charter in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, to be held in Poland in December.

Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke recognised the crucial role of the ocean in Commonwealth economies, cultures and communities, and called on governments as well as non-government organisations to join the action groups and intensify collaboration on ocean issues.

 

 

Strong partners will deliver on Commonwealth Blue Charter, says Secretary-General

Protecting the ocean today is the best way of ensuring prosperity for future generations, says Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

Her remarks came at a session on the Commonwealth Blue Charter on sustainable ocean governance, held on the margins of the 49th Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, which ran from 3 to 6 September 2018.

The Secretary-General applauded the leadership of Pacific nations and agencies on ocean and climate issues internationally, and Pacific regional agreements on ocean sustainability and governance, such as the ‘Blue Pacific’ framework for regionalism.

“The Blue Pacific Framework and Commonwealth Blue Charter go hand in glove as commitments that lead the world in working towards sustainable ocean governance,” she said.

She stressed that strong regional co-operation will be key to delivering on the charter.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter was adopted in April by Commonwealth heads of government and has eight action groups, including four that are championed or co-championed by Pacific countries.

Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change; Vanuatu and the UK co-champion the group on marine plastic pollution; New Zealand leads on ocean acidification; and Australia, along with Mauritius and Belize, leads the group on coral reef restoration.

“Now is the time to be reaching out to other governments and organisations to join action groups that reflect shared interests and priorities. This will only work if we work together,” said Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The session discussions highlighted a range of initiatives aimed at protecting the ocean and its resources, including from plastics in the waste stream.

A key example is legislation passed in Vanuatu to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene containers. The country began implementing the ban in July 2018. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) assisted with nation-wide awareness building, while the local plastics industry was exploring ways to reduce their impact on the environment.

Participants stressed that good communication strategies were essential to raising public awareness and engagement, as a change in the usual practices could not succeed without a change in attitude.

Pacific regional agencies also pointed out the importance of linking commitments with action, as well as working through existing mechanisms.

The Secretary-General underlined the value of joint action, and said the Commonwealth was keen to collaborate with other partners: “Each of our members is a member of a wider family. This is an opportunity for everyone, led by countries but embracing all of our friends, to deliver something that is better than we can do on our own”.

Learn more about the Blue Charter