Between 6 and 11 March 2023, the Marine Mammal Twinning of the Ocean Governance project’s component 2 attended the 3rd Humpback Whale World Congress, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The congress brought together stakeholders involved in humpback whale conservation and the theme of this year’s edition was “The Blue Economy for Sustainable Development”, reflecting on the importance of humpback whales in their migratory areas.
On the first day of the congress, the twinning presented the Marine Mammals Management Toolkit, an online resource designed to help marine protected area (MPA) managers and practitioners to better understand and effectively manage marine mammals through MPA management plans and policy frameworks. Made up of 4 components (factsheets, self-assessment tool (SAT), good practices and community of practice), the toolkit provides tools and resources to support networks of managers, marine mammal management and conservation. The presentation was attended by 80 scientists, conservationists and managers and served as an introduction to the series of training workshops that the twinning delivered during the congress.
The workshops, entitled “Towards the effective management of marine mammals and MPAs: the Marine Mammals Management Toolkit”, aimed to enhance understanding of the toolkit, with a specific focus on the use of the self-assessment tool and how it can be used in localised settings to support MPA management. The workshops were attended by MPA practitioners, stakeholders and users from Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, representing different stages of the MPA process, from initial scoping and MPA development, to monitoring and evaluation of MPAs and reporting on MPA progress and effectiveness.
The twinning also sponsored the participation of a master’s student, Dalma Sonez from the University of the Republic of Uruguay. Dalma supported the twinning in delivering the workshops and presented the results of her thesis, for which the toolkit was utilised to understand the level of protection afforded to marine mammals across 11 MPAs throughout the Americas.
The congress provided the opportunity to emphasise the toolkit’s adaptability and multi-faceted application for monitoring, evaluating, capacity building and communication. The twinning explored new avenues of collaboration, focused on welcoming new MPAs into its community of users and strengthening its resources, and will be looking to continue to provide valuable support to managers and users for the successful conservation of marine mammals.
To manage new MPAs in international waters, we will need to apply all the existing knowledge acquired from MPA management in jurisdictional waters
The landmark ‘high seas treaty’ agreed on 5 March represents a major advance in global ocean governance as it creates the framework needed to improve ocean biodiversity protection worldwide. The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) treaty creates a legal framework for the high seas, which until now have been largely lawless, and paves the way for the creation of vast marine protected areas (MPAs) outside national waters.
It is often observed that the biggest challenge with MPAs is not in creating them but in ensuring they are effectively managed. Our project is based on the knowledge that networks of MPA managers are ideally placed to share knowledge, tools and experience and thus improve effective management.
Another wise observation holds that the best way that humans can support ecological connectivity is to work between ourselves to this end. Ecological networks would be just fine if only humans could work together to protect and restore ecosystems. MPAs and MPA managers networks are also key in this regard.
Learn from our experience
Our experience – and that of our partners – has shown the benefits of human networking for the benefit of ocean biodiversity conservation. By supporting capacity-building of regional and national MPA manager networks, the EU Ocean Governance project has enabled our partners to boost management effectiveness. This will be instructive for the future implementation of high seas MPAs.
Our project was also designed in part to overcome barriers that exist between countries, whether these are political, economic or cultural. By creating a platform for states and territories in the Atlantic, in South-East Asia and beyond to meet at a technical level to address MPA management, the project builds learning and understanding at a level where it can have immediate impact on the ground. This experience may also be useful for countries as they work together to implement the BBNJ treaty.
A significant achievement
The treaty is a fine cause to celebrate, the result of over 10 years’ international diplomacy and 2 weeks of intense negotiations leading to the agreement at the UN headquarters in New York last Sunday. As the high seas cover 60% of the ocean by surface (and nearly half the planet), the treaty will make it much easier to achieve the commitment to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030, agreed in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Agreement (2022). It will enter into force once it has been ratified by 60 states.
The contribution of the EU to the achievement should not be underestimated. The EU supported the adoption of the treaty through leading the ‘High Ambition Coalition’, and has pledged to support rapid ratification and help developing countries prepare for its implementation, pledging EUR 40 million as part of a Global Ocean Programme, and calling on other members of the High Ambition Coalition to do the same.
The Ocean Governance project took a major part in the Fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5), a global forum for ocean conservation professionals and officials, which was held in Vancouver, Canada, from 3-9 February 2023.
By enabling a large contingent of partners – MPA managers, network managers and experts – to participate in the congress, the EU Ocean Governance project was able to bring a wealth of experience to our official 5 hosted sessions, 1 side event and 4 speedtalks plus 6 additional sessions at the project’s stand.
Building on our strengths: sharing knowledge and building capacity
The congress demonstrated and built on the project’s strength in bringing together MPA managers to share their knowledge, experience and to build capacity, in countries around the Atlantic basin and in the Coral Triangle in South-East Asia, where it is supporting ecosystem restoration works.
The congress, in Vancouver’s stunning Convention Centre, provided the opportunity for the Ocean Governance project’s resilience and marine mammals twinning partnerships to present their self-assessment toolkits developed for MPA managers, with valuable testimonies provided by partners who use these tools. The MPA manager networks twinning held 3 knowledge-sharing sessions: on network effectiveness, long-term sustainability and resilience. Restoration projects in South-East Asia and efforts to promote transboundary cooperation in the same region were presented at separate speedtalks, while partners from Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines shared their roadmaps and strategies towards delivery of the 30×30 target of the new global biodiversity framework. Building on the dynamic of the project and the commitment and engagement of its many partners around the world, the project used the occasion of its side event to launch a call for joint action by networks of MPA managers to build a global network of MPA managers. Please join us in the call by adding your name and organisation to the list of signatories!
The role of networks of MPA managers in supporting implementation of the global biodiversity framework appears to be gaining traction. In a separate initiative, a project to create the Great Bear Sea MPA Network was announced during IMPAC5 on 6 February. This exciting new collaboration brings together 15 Canadian First Nations that co-manage MPAs on the Pacific Rim with Canada’s federal and provincial governments.
The congress provided the opportunity for the resilience and networks twinnings to hold coordination meetings thanks to several partners being present in Vancouver. The Networks partners also took part in talks with conservation trust funds, a valuable source of sustainable funding for MPA manager networks, and the collaboration of the MEDFUND and MedPAN was presented in a well-attended session at the stand.
The project stand in the exhibition area, shared with our partner MedPAN, served as a focal point throughout the event, providing a space for partners to meet, network and host presentations, as well as visibility for the project, with videos and slideshows of the project’s toolkits and ongoing restoration works in the Coral Triangle.
Celebrating our partners’ achievements
The project was also delighted to share and celebrate the success of three of our project partners during IMPAC5.
Dr María del Carmen García Rivas of Mexico was awarded the Kenton R. Miller Award for Innovation in National Parks and Protected Area Sustainability, by IUCN and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), which recognised her leadership of the Hurricane Insurance Project in Puerto Morelos National Park and for being a role model for women rangers and conservation professionals in Mexico. Maria Carmen is a partner involved in both our MPA Networks and Resilience twinnings.
Mamadou Sidibé, president of the West Africa MPA network (RAMPAO) and director of Senegal’s department of community-managed MPAs (DAMCP), was presented with the IMPAC baton – a wooden paddle crafted by the First Nation hosts of the Vancouver congress – as Senegal was announced as host of the next IMPAC, IMPAC6. As director of RAMPAO, Colonel Sidibé is a partner in our networks twinning project, and in his role as director of Senegal’s community-managed MPAs is a partner in our resilience twinning partnership, whose self-assessment tool has been rolled out in the community-managed MPAs in Senegal. (Watch him deliver his speech back at the team hotel on our YouTube channel)
Kelen Luciana Leite of Brazil’s Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), and a partner in our Resilience twinning, was presented with a Marine Conservation Institute Blue Park Award for exceptional marine wildlife conservation at the Tupinambás Ecological Station and Alcatrazes Archipelago Wildlife Refuge, which she heads.
Taking the learning back home
IMPAC5 closed on a high for the Ocean Governance project as our partners who attended and those that we met were able to experience first-hand the benefits and contribution of strong human connectivity for improved MPA performance, ecological connectivity and the delivery of international biodiversity targets.
Our OG project team leader Puri Canals, who had been invited to take part in the Leadership Forum at the close of IMPAC5, used the opportunity to present the work and impact of the EU Ocean Governance project and highlight the call for joint action to create worldwide connections between networks of MPA managers.
It provided a further boost to connections developed thus far in the project by bringing together groups of partners that had previously met only in separate twinning meetings, thus opening new channels of communication and cooperation.
IMPAC5 was an enriching experience and credit for the valuable opportunity must go to the organisers and hosts – the government partners of the Host First Nations (Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh), Province of British Columbia and Government of Canada, and organisations the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).