Posted by: Hendra Siry | 21 May, 2009

Can Marine Protected Areas Help Safeguard Fisheries And Coral Reefs?

Article by Alan White and Rili Djohani

That marine protected areas (MPAs) are valuable tools for protecting coral reef habitats and managing near-shore fisheries while playing an essential role in the overall conservation of marine biodiversity is not new information.

Science and experience have supported this fact for the last 20 years in the Coral Triangle countries of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, where various forms of MPA are being implemented to protect coral reef habitats, manage local reef-associated fisheries and generate income for local residents through improved fishing and diving tourism enterprises. But what is not so commonly known is that simply protecting a single small MPA is not sufficient nor the end of the story.

A study presented by the Nature Conservancy (TNC) in association with authors from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) documents the status of emerging MPA networks in Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea as part of an effort to better understand the development and level of success in the implementation of MPA networks in the Coral Triangle region.

Since 2004, a joint initiative of these four large marine conservation organizations has built upon and drawn key lessons from MPA networks globally under the “MPA Learning Partnership” supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In 2008, this program examined, through field visits and interview techniques, six MPA networks in the Coral Triangle. Three of the sites were in Indonesia, namely Wakatobi National Park off Southeast Sulawesi, Karimun Jawa National Park off the northern coast of Central Java, and Berau Marine Conservation Area off East Kalimantan.

Findings reveal that perceptions suggest substantial gaps exist between the theory and practice of creating functional MPAs and MPA networks. Across the sites surveyed in 2008, the practice of known and accepted biophysical and social science lagged substantially behind what is required to build functional and effective MPA networks.

MPA aspects that appeared to require the most attention to improve MPA network effectiveness included social management, institutional arrangements, governance and sustainable financing. These findings depend on the context in which these MPAs are being implemented in rural areas where the economies are weak and the national government support is often not sufficient to make them function as planned. The study determined key variables that contributed to successful management. Two common indicators of success that were tested were the degree to which fish catches increased in the MPA and the quality of the coral reef habitat (e.g. good living coral cover).

These indicators consistently and highly correlated with several independent management variables that included sustainable financing for management, clarity of MPA network rules and enforcement by community level enforcers, local skills development, involvement in management by local elected politicians, a functional management board, multi-stakeholder planning mechanisms and participatory biophysical assessments.

These variables all involve building local government and community capacity in MPA management. All of these factors are important to make the MPAs work as planned in the protection of coral reefs and in the enhancement of fisheries. Needless to say, these factors are not trivial and require management systems to be in place that are not common in rural areas of Indonesia or the other countries’ study areas.

Sustainable financing, for instance, is not generally accessible to most government and private sector programs in rural areas, let alone MPAs. So what is the solution to improved protection of our coastal resources based on the study? Potential solutions explained in the study are consistently associated with the involvement of local stakeholders in the planning, decision and implementation process so they feel ownership of the MPAs.

In addition, the study shows that as local and national stakeholders gain knowledge of the importance of marine conservation and how MPAs and MPA networks contribute to their own well-being, the more likely they are to support their implementation and effectiveness. This all requires education and investment in building capacity.

While the conclusions of the study are sobering and suggest that although considerable investment has been made in MPAs and MPA networks in the Coral Triangle, management effectiveness is still poor. There is hope with the increasing interest on the part of the CT governments in the establishment of MPA networks.

A final conclusion is that MPAs once well-managed, must be networked with other MPAs. This helps ensure multiple areas are protected and fish larvae that originate in one MPA can find places to reside in other MPAs as they drift and grow in the ocean. Finally, networked MPAs must also include people and communities that are networked to support marine conservation at the local level.

Alan White is a senior scientist with the Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Rili Djohani is TNC coral triangle program director

Source: The Jakarta Post – May 12, 2009


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