Conservation & Sustainable Management

Ocean protection for humans and other animals

People are funny things.  For years and years marine conservationists have been pushing for marine protected areas, but have often struggled to get sites designated.  Then began a trickle of very large marine protected areas, which in more recent years has gained momentum.  For example, in 2010 we saw a giant reserve around Chagos.  2012 came with the announcement of two large areas in the waters of Australia and South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands.  Then earlier this year, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was announced.  In a political sense, bigger has become better and it seems many a nation want in on this game.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a very diverse tool.  Just look at the IUCN  definition of protected areas….

“A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”

That’s a pretty big remit, which presents a challenge for MPA managers. Providing conservation value AND providing benefits to human communities is not an easy thing to do, and perhaps not possible in every single case.  For example, if you want to restore a heavily overfished reef, then it’s best not to allow fishing.  On the other hand, if you want an area that can produce a sustainable fishery, then fishing needs to occur.   This is not to say that all MPAs can’t provide any benefits for conservation AND human communities simultaneously.  Indeed in situations where human populations are heavily dependent on marine resources, conservation is vital for sustaining long-term human benefits.  Understanding how win-win (or as close to as possible) situation can come about is hugely important for successful conservation management.  There has been a wealth of papers that show how well thought-out, well-managed MPAs can achieve their objectives – whether those objectives primarily focus on ecological/biological benefits, or improving human welfare.  There is also a host of literature that is highlighting how poorly designed and managed protected areas have reduced conservation value – both for people and the animals that reside in them.  Contrary to what World leaders may thing, when it comes to MPAs, quantity is not everything.  For researchers like Nathan Bennett of The University of British Columbia and Phil Dearden of the University of Victoria  ensuring that MPAs are quality products that benefit all species that use the ocean ecosystem – that is to say humans and other animals, is of vital importance.  So what are the factors that can contribute towards MPAs that have both positive ecological AND socio-economic outcomes?

Every MPA is different, and not just in terms of their objectives.  They are situated in different environments, with different collections of flora and fauna.  The threats MPAs face (or are attempting to mitigate against) also vary in type, frequency, and magnitude.  How humans use MPAs and the surrounding areas also varies, and the communities that utilize the ocean resources are also very different from each other.  The governance structures are different, and the resources available to managers and stakeholders are different.  The result is that there cannot be a one-stop framework on developing better MPAs, but there are some overarching themes for increasing MPA success.  Focusing on MPAs in ‘Low Development Countries’, Nathan and Phil divided these themes into three overarching – and indeed related inputs: governance, management, and local development.  Very human-centric yes, but we can only manage our interactions with the environment so if we want to look after it better, it is on ourselves we need to focus management.  There is a fair bit of information in this paper, so here’s just a quick look at what comes under each of these inputs:

Nathan and Phil define this as ”the structural, institutional, ideological, and procedural umbrella under which development programs and management practices operate” .  Some of the indicators of effective governance in terms of MPAs are pretty specific, like clearly defining any rights and tenure arrangements, having a broader scale form of management in which the MPA sits, like ecosystem-based management, or inter-coastal zone management plans.  Some are more related to good governance in itself, like having laws, policies, and local norms clear and consistent, transparency in the decision-making process, and stakeholder participation.

It’s pretty obvious isn’t it -a successful MPA needs effective management.  Unfortunately there are many a MPA without a management plan let alone an effective one.  Management is influenced by, among many things, the “ availability of resources, legislative and public support, levels of cross-scale coordination and cooperation ”.  So let’s just say that there is actually a management plan in place.  This needs adequate financial and human resources to carry the management out.  There needs to be effective enforcement, baseline data collection, and ongoing monitoring and evaluation – and not just of the MPA, but of the management plan itself.  Is it achieving the objectives?  Are those objectives realistic? Do we need to adapt the plan?  Then there is the people-side like conflict resolution processes, ensuring that there are sufficient facilities for visitors, education and environmental awareness programs, and effective communication.

Local Development
If we want to reduce our pressure on marine ecosystems then we need viable alternative livelihood options for those who depend on marine resources.  For fishery dependent communities, such alternative may be few and far between.  So we need to create them.  And by we, I mean a participatory process, not just because it is the ethical thing to do, or because including local knowledge and systems into conservation management is extremely useful for effective MPAs, but because ” Rarely are livelihoods initiatives imposed by organizations from the outside sustained over the long-term” .  Conservation isn’t just about places and non-human animals, it’s also about people.  Aside from participation, things like capacity building programs to provide people with new skills, ensuring that the MPA benefits result in a benefit to local people equitably, and of course monitoring and crucially evaluating the socio-economic outcomes of local development to ensure that they are on track.  And if things aren’t shaping up so well, we need to adapt again.

Nathan and Phil have by no means produced an exhaustive framework.  Give it a few years and I would expect to see some alteration as our understanding of what factors produce successful MPAs increases.   Sure, increasing our understanding of these factors won’t mean that creating MPAs with both positive ecological AND socio-economic outcomes suddenly becomes a walk in the park, but it could make the journey for managers and stakeholders a little less rocky.

The open access paper is published in the journal Marine Policy – you can have a read of it yourself here

Image: Small-scale fishers from Koh Yao Noi on the Andaman Coast of Thailand.  Credit: Nathan Bennett.

Conservation & Sustainable Management, Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Sustainable Seafood, What The Oceans Do For Us

Marine conservation and the human equation

People are as much a part of this planet as any other species.  We are ecosystem engineers, modifying and creating new environments to suit our needs.  We are incredibly adaptable, and our ability to make tools – both simple and technologically complex – has allowed us to prosper and rise above many of the restrictions that limit other species.  This doesn’t mean we can now act completely in isolation from the rest of the world.  Many of our activities have altered ecosystems in ways that mean they are less likely to meet our current and future needs.  Conservation efforts are attempting to remedy many of the problems we have created, but conservation isn’t just about nature – it’s about people too.

Nathan Bennett has been actively researching the links between the environment and human societies for many years.  His work takes a perspective that historically has often been forgotten in conservation management; what about humans.  This isn’t about developing opportunities of industry – it’s about conservation initiatives that look to sustain environment and communities together.  This week he has shared three of his papers on his blog – one from 2013 and two from this year.  Thanks to Nathan, all three are now open access…all three very much worth a read.  Here’s a brief overview of each paper to whet your appetite.

The trouble with marine protected areas
So here’s the deal.  We can find an area of the ocean that is becoming heavily degraded because of human activities.  To try to reduce the damage and allow recovery we can place a boundary around that area and place restrictions on the sorts of activities that take place inside.  But what of those people whose activities have been displaced?  We aren’t just talking about recreational fishers here.  In some circumstances, communities which are heavily dependent on the marine environment can be affected.  In this paper, Nathan and his colleague Phil Dearden surveyed coastal resource dependent communities living on the Andaman Coast of Thailand – an area which boasts 17 National Marine Parks.  The perspective of these people makes for grim reading.  They saw little benefit in the parks for their community, they felt that fishing and harvesting was negatively impacted by the parks, and they felt little incentive to support let alone participate in conservation efforts.  What needs to happen, writes Nathan and Phil, is for managers to start including socio-economic development considerations within protected area management planning.  This won’t just be better for the communities, but better for marine conservation.

It’s not just about how vulnerable you are, it’s what you can do to adapt
We’re back to the Andaman Coast of Thailand again, this time to consider their vulnerability and ability to adapt to climate change.  There are a whole host of different factors that can affect a community’s ability to adapt to climate change – and indeed any other sort of stressor.  Some of these are biophysical – climate change related impacts such as coral bleaching, or increasing number of storms, as well as environmental impacts such as marine pollution and overfishing.  Some of the factors are economic – like increasing costs of fuel, social – like increasing immigration, and some are related to governance, like corruption, policies, or illegal fishing.  Nathan and the team wanted to find out how communities felt about stressors.  They surveyed 237 households across 7 coastal communities to ascertain which of the 36 stressors identified in the region were considered having highest impact on the communities.  The results were a bit of a mixed bag, and despite the communities being just 10 km apart, differed between each community.  There were a few common factors though.  Many of the stressors were heavily intertwined.  Climate change impacts like more extreme storms and changes to rainfall were rated highly in the stress-rankings.  Economic factors – particularly rising costs – also came out as a major concern among all the communities.  Interestingly somewhat in contrast to the study above, marine protected areas were not really felt to be causing too much trouble.  What about overfishing?  Not a concern either… but then again the fish populations declined long ago, so overfishing isn’t really an immediate concern any more.  The thing about these sorts of stressors is that they aren’t really something that the community can deal with themselves.  They are part of wider regional and global problems.  From an adaptation perspective, this raises a number of issues.  There is not a ‘one adaptation plan to fit all’, but there are common factors that need to be looked at beyond the communities themselves.  Equally important, if we want to help communities to adapt, we cannot treat one stressor as separate from another.  A more integrated approach is vital for the success of any adaptation plan.

The eco-social economy:  How conservation can aid social and economic development
In this final paper the focus is turned to the Northwest Territories Canada and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation.  There have been plans afoot for their traditional territory…plans for a national park/protected area.  This is an old idea, and one that back in 1969 when the Government of Canada (Federal Government) tried to implement met with the opposition of the local people, who were successful in preventing the creation of a park.  In 2006, the First Nation and the Government of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding to look at implementing a park on those very same territories.  So what happened?  This new proposal has come from the local people themselves – a bottom up rather than top-down approach to conservation.  Through this collaborative process the park is taking an eco-social perspective to conservation.  Here, people aren’t just seen as the cause of degradation, but are seen as part of the ecosystem, impacted by the degradation.  The national park is not yet set up but is moving forward.  When it is, it is hoped that the park won’t just protect nature and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation culture, but work to meet social and economic development goals.

If you want to follow more of Nathan’s work head over to his blog  There is a follow option which will automatically update you of any new posts.  Now there’s some emails worth getting.

Image:  The Lutsel K’e Dene on  Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada.  Credit:  Leslie Philipp/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)