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

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

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

“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”.

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

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

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

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

Summary

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

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

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

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

The issue

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

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

The response

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

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

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

Partnerships and support

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

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

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

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

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

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

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

Challenges

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

Key lessons learnt

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

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

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

Lead contact

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

Sources

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

Download as PDF |  View all case studies

Webinar explores ways to raise money for ocean protection

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

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

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

Webinar Panelists

Watch the highlights video

Watch the full webinar

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

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

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

High costs, new funding sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Engaging NGOs, private sector

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mauritius expertise to back Commonwealth fight for coral reefs

The Republic of Mauritius will share valuable marine protection know-how with other Commonwealth countries, using the Commonwealth Blue Charter as a platform to exchange best practices, collaborate on research, and carry out training workshops.

As one of the ‘champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted by 53 countries in April, it co-leads an action group on coral reef restoration along with Australia and Belize.

To highlight the issue of coral degradation and the need for ocean regeneration, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland took part in a coral-planting ceremony in Mauritius this week, together with the Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries, and Shipping, Mr Premdut Koonjoo.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our small island states, and has lasting impacts on marine ecosystems,” she said. “The vigour, energy and expertise expended in Mauritius to conserve and restore coral reefs is commendable.”

She also hailed the country’s actions in setting up voluntary marine conservation areas, promoting the blue economy, and hosting the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access hub. The hub helps small and vulnerable countries tap into international sources of climate finance for their adaptation and mitigation needs.

“Saving the ocean is a programme for the whole world and we have to work together. I believe if any nation or any person has knowledge, they have to share it, especially where the ocean is concerned,” added Mr. Koonjo.

Ministry officials cited coral reef monitoring, data compilation and analysis as areas where they can share experiences and best practices with other Commonwealth members, aiming to learn from each other.

Meanwhile, they are working to enhance their expertise in ocean-based coral farming, monitoring marine ecosystems, and good fishing practices, seeking also to raise public awareness on coral conservation.