Last week the Ocean Governance project held one of its biggest and most exciting events since its launch in 2016. On 12th and 13th October, our team brought together more than 60 ocean professionals from the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia to participate in two intense days of learning exchanges in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. The event was jointly organised by the project consortium partners with the Regional Secretariat CTI-CFF.
At the heart of the learning exchange lay an awareness that – despite being separated by thousands of kilometres – MPA managers and ocean conservationists face many of the same challenges and problems all over the world. Gathering participants from countries around the Atlantic basin with those from South-East Asia created the unique opportunity to gain new perspectives, share lessons learned and connect directly with each other.
The two-day event had a full programme of 16 sessions, covering topics such as the financial sustainability of MPAs, management effectiveness, protection of marine mammals, marine turtles, restoration of corals and mangroves, as well as coastal resilience. Speakers came from countries including Argentina, Senegal, Spain, Dominican Republic and those around the Coral Triangle: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Timor Leste. The lively discussions both during and outside the sessions showed that there is a clear need for MPA managers and conservationists worldwide to connect with one another and share knowledge, successes and even failures.
The event also gave the Ocean Governance project the opportunity to expand its network of partners and extend its twinning projects to South-East Asian countries. Numerous participants expressed their appreciation for the event, which it is hoped will act as a catalyst for new partnerships and fresh approaches to the conservation of oceans and marine protected areas.
The Learning Exchanges ended with a field visit to Manukan Island, part of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a state park located 3km offshore from Kota Kinabalu. This gave participants the chance to converse more informally while enjoying the beauty of nature, which is so dear to everyone involved.
Ultimately, the Learning Exchanges between the Atlantic and South-East Asia left the participants with new ideas, approaches and opportunities for the effective protection of the ocean in their countries. It was the project’s first big in-person event since the COVID-19 pandemic and was evidence of the added value of bringing people together in real life rather than over video calls. A big thank you goes out to all participants, partners, co-organisers, and the European Union for supporting this invaluable initiative.
Mediterranean and West Africa networks of MPA managers commit to closer collaboration in learning exchange
One of the main objectives of the Ocean Governance project’s Networks Twinning is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experiences among marine protected area (MPA) manager networks in different regions of the world. Learning exchanges have the effect of increasing the capacity of people working in and with the networks and thus promote more effective management.
To this end, the Ocean Governance project held a learning exchange for two MPA manager networks that deal with MPAs in Africa: the Mediterranean Protected Areas Network (MedPAN) and the Regional Network of Marine Protected Areas in West Africa (RAMPAO). MedPAN comprises member organisations and partners from 21 countries in the Mediterranean, while RAMPAO brings together MPA managers from 9 member countries in West Africa. The secretariat staff and board members of both networks are also predominantly French-speaking, which facilitated the exchange.
Following the project’s Global Conference, the two networks convened in Tarragona, Spain, on 23-24 September 2023 for a comprehensive two-day exchange. The discussions centered on how the networks are structured, operated, tackle challenges, manage communications and acquire funding. The networks also explored avenues for potential future collaboration.
Participants discussed the role of the networks, prioritising technical exchanges to support MPA management over political strategising. Participants from both networks mentioned the need to engage local communities in successful MPA management. They also explored their differences, including the duration of governance mandates and the composure of decision-making bodies. And they highlighted the importance of regular and effective communication between the Secretariat and the Board of Directors. Both MedPAN and RAMPAO agreed on the importance of having a strategic plan, validated by a general assembly, along with yearly action plans, for coherent and efficient operation.
In discussing communication methods – and context and budget constraints – participants highlighted the dynamic nature of social media for effective communication. The two networks agreed to work together in the future on certain communication elements, such as webinars and manager toolkits.
The networks shared and compared their capacity-building approaches, including thematic task forces, training guides, exchange visits, webinars and annual workshops. They expressed a commitment to collaborate further through joint webinars and capacity-building initiatives. And MedPAN and RAMPAO discovered that they face similar challenges related to sustainable financing and equitable distribution of funds among MPAs within the networks. This led to discussions on collaborative approaches, exploring trust funds and engaging the private sector as strategies to secure sustainable financing.
The learning exchange set the stage for strengthened collaboration and mutual learning between the MedPAN and RAMPAO networks. Their dialogue not only enhances their individual capacities but also sets a precedent for collective action in their network activities. In order to formalise their commitment to continue working together, the participants plan to develop a joint statement or declaration to this effect.
Improving MPA manager networks worldwide: Networks Twinning learning exchange held in Tarragona, Spain
There exists a variety of tools in the world of marine conservation that aim to assess the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and a number of studies have tried to answer the question of what makes an MPA effective in protecting and preserving marine ecosystems. Of course, MPAs don’t exist in isolation; they are part of much wider ecological networks in the ocean. In a similar way, many MPAs and their managers are also connected to other MPAs via human networks focused on improving management effectiveness. At the Ocean Governance project, we believe that these human networks of MPAs are crucial in laying the groundwork for effective marine conservation by offering valuable support to managers. The value of networks in marine conservation is – also through the work of the Ocean Governance project – increasingly recognised at the international level of ocean policy.
Learning exchange based on the desk study on MPA manager network effectiveness
Despite the widely appreciated value of MPA manager networks, little research has been done on the question of what makes such a network effective. This prompted the Ocean Governance project’s MPA Networks Twinning to address this. The result is an evaluation framework for MPA Manager Networks, which includes an in-depth analysis of 13 existing networks from a wide geographical scope. The study was first presented during the Fifth International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver, Canada. Since then, partners of the MPA Networks Twinning have been keen to apply the evaluation framework to their own MPA networks. To this end, the Twinning held a two-day learning exchange on MPA manager network effectiveness based on the desk study from 18-19 September in Tarragona, Spain.
Participants from around the world at one table
The learning exchange convened 15 representatives of MPA manager networks from the Caribbean, North America, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, the Patagonian Sea, West Africa, the Western Indian Ocean, the Yellow Sea, the ASEAN region and the Coral Triangle Region. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Puri Canals, Team Leader of the Ocean Governance project and the MPA Networks Twinning, and Charles Besançon, key expert for the project and lead author of the desk study on MPA manager network effectiveness. The study identified seven ‘enabling conditions’ which each network needs to assess in order to understand its current level of effectiveness and identify opportunities for improvement. These are: (1) legal and administrative arrangements, (2) sustainable finance, (3) clarity of purpose, (4) model good governance, (5) adaptive leadership, (6) capacity building, and (7) communication and performance monitoring.
Guiding questions from the study
The guiding questions for each enabling condition provided in the desk study structured the meeting and inspired lively discussions and exchanges. The participating MPA networks were in different stages of development, from the SPAW RAC network whose first planning meeting takes place in October, to MedPAN, which has been operating in the Mediterranean for 14 years. The meeting was therefore a great opportunity for knowledge-sharing, with newer networks greatly benefiting from the advice of their more experienced counterparts. Lucie Labbouz, Protected Areas and Networks Officer at the SPAW RAC Regional Activity Centre, expressed her appreciation for the initiative:
“Like many people, I don’t have time during my day-to-day work life to take a step back and to deeply think about the processes we are implementing. During this learning exchange, we had two entire days to think, reflect, learn, discuss and exchange between peers on MPA manager networks. I felt really empowered and can’t wait to bring back to the Caribbean all the experiences and lessons learnt during this Network Twinning Learning Exchange.”
There is no one-size-fits all solution for MPA networks
Participants discussed a range of topics and shared examples and anecdotes from their individual experience in running MPA manager networks. All shared the sentiment that it is challenging to effectively communicate and demonstrate the benefits of MPA manager networks to national governments, as well as potential donors. Many of them spoke of the need to raise awareness about the importance of MPA manager networks both internationally and within their respective regions. The MPA Network Twinning members highlighted the importance for networks of setting clear goals and objectives. Differences between the networks were also identified, and it became clear that the models of governance, legal and administrative arrangements and monitoring processes varied greatly between them. While some approaches may be better than others, the participants agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to MPA networks. Catherine Dougnac from the Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea concluded:
“The learning exchange was an amazing opportunity to learn from each other not just about technical issues, but about ourselves, and enhance our understanding of the world and the ocean. In our differences, we share a common vision for the governance of the ocean, and it is inspiring to face the challenge of effectively managing MPAs together.”
Food for thought, innovate ideas and new connections
The learning exchange on MPA manager network effectiveness left the participants with food for thought, innovate ideas and new connections that should serve them to strengthen and grow their MPA networks. As members of the MPA Networks Twinning, they also attended the Ocean Governance project’s Global Conference, which took place in the three days following the Learning Exchange, where they presented their work and how they benefit from the global network of MPA manager networks.
If you are interested in the desk study on MPA manager network effectiveness, you can download it here.
Derawan Islands MPA and Tun Mustapha Park: First MPA exchange visit for ecosystem restoration and collaborative learning in Sulu-Sulawesi seascape
The Sulu-Sulawesi seascape, shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, harbours some of the most diverse and productive marine biodiversity in the world. However, due to rapid population increase, unsustainable development and growing risks from climate change, coastal ecosystems and the livelihoods they support are under tremendous pressure. Against this backdrop, the EU Ocean Governance project is implementing ecosystem restoration initiatives in the region: these include coral restoration in Tun Mustapha Park (TMP), Sabah, Malaysia, and Derawan Islands marine protected area (MPA), Indonesia, and mangrove restoration in Balabac Island, the Phillippines. These sites are important for marine biodiversity and the coastal communities that depend on this, hence the restoration methods are tailored to each particular environment.
In order to continue improving the management of the MPAs involved, the project has established a number of dialogue platforms and networking opportunities. One of these networking opportunities was an MPA exchange visit between Derawan Islands MPA, Indonesia, and Tun Mustapha Park, Sabah, Malaysia, that took place from 14 to 18 August 2023. The visit consisted of a learning exchange, coral monitoring workshop and field visit, to exchange ideas and knowledge about coral rehabilitation using rock piles in Derawan Islands MPA. Each session involved the relevant stakeholders, including MPA managers, NGOs, public and private sector representatives, and community members from Derawan Islands MPA and Tun Mustapha Park.
Learning Exchange and Coral Restoration Workshop
The learning exchange is designed to foster dialogue about coral restoration and rehabilitation methods, MPA management, community involvement, sustainable fisheries and tourism practices, surveillance, and effective marine protection policies. A dialogue platform created by the learning exchange aims to build and strengthen continued networking between the MPAs. On the second day of the exchange visit, a coral restoration monitoring workshop was held to update on the progress of coral restoration in Tun Mustapha Park and in Derawan Islands MPA. The workshop was attended by the Coastal and Resource Management Authority of Pontianak, the Marine and Fisheries Authority of East Kalimantan Province, the Fisheries Authority of Berau, the Cultural and Tourism Authority of Berau, the Derawan Village government, the Surveillance and Control Marine and Fisheries Agency, the women’s groups of Derawan Village and the representative community group involved in the coral rehabilitation project in the Derawan Islands MPA.
Progress of coral reef restoration in Derawan Islands MPA
Joni Ramadani, representative of the community group of Derawan Islands MPA, stated, “Based on the reef health monitoring in the Derawan Islands MPA in 2021, generally, the percentage of hard corals’ live cover was 32.80 per cent. This number shows the relatively moderate coral reef health condition category, which is 35 to 40.9 per cent”. “However, damage to the coral reefs, presumably due to bombings, and to the anchors of the tourist and fishing boats, has been found in some places. Thus, in order to improve the coral reef ecosystem, a suitable rehabilitation method is needed for Derawan Island,” he added.
In Derawan Islands MPA, WWF-Indonesia, working with the authorities and the community, used the rock-pile method for coral reef rehabilitation in selected areas such as the North Gusung Senggalau, the East Gusung Senggalau and the Karang Tebba Binga. Monitoring showed that the rock pile structure has provided a natural substrate to attach coral planula in three rehabilitation sites. The average density of hard coral recruitment corals in rock pile structures was 2.4 colonies per square metre in May 2023, or 10 months after the rock pile installation. Furthermore, it also showed an increasing rate of coral recruitment and new coral colony establishment, as well as fish abundance and biomass.
Progress of coral restoration in Tun Mustapha Park
In Malaysia, the coral restoration project is continuously expanding. Similar to the restoration method used in Derawan Island, the MARRS Reef Star (RS) method is implemented in Tun Mustapha Park as well. Currently, 980 units of reef star frames with 14 700 coral fragments have been installed at three different sites with varying site characteristics and water conditions, covering about 800 square metres of the park.
Four hundred units of RS frames were deployed at Maliangin Kechil (Site A) and, later, 300 units of RS in Pitas Floating Coral Bar (Site B), the result of cooperation with a local tour operator known as Archangel Borneo Holidays Sdn Bhd. The most recent deployment of 280 units of RS was effected from 27 to 29 June 2023 at Site C, also at Maliangin Kechil. Twenty RS units were handed to the team in Semporna to test MARRS Reef Star, and today the restoration with RS is culminating as a result of the deployment activities carried out. In many cases, the engaging process of preparing and deploying the RS empowers local communities who then serve as catalysts for the empowerment of neighbouring communities, creating a ripple effect.
Many local actors were involved in the process of MARRS coral restoration, from fabrication to coating to deployment of the RS. They included participants from Sabah Parks, WWF-Malaysia, nearby local communities of Tun Mustapha Park, who participated voluntarily, and several academic representatives as well as students from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).
All restoration sites are being monitored regularly by community divers from Banggi Coral Conservation Society (BCCS) and Kudat Turtle Conservation Society (KTCS), research teams from Sabah Parks, as well as officers from WWF-Malaysia. Representatives from UMS are also often involved in consultations and provide input to the restoration efforts. The restoration work at Tun Mustapha Park will also potentially grow in number and area as Sabah Parks is soon to launch a Coral Adoption Program with a web platform designed for coral conservationists and enthusiasts alike.
Fostering Collaboration and Inspiring Change
Topics such as MPA management, fisheries, tourism and MPA community empowerment were discussed extensively by representatives from each respective discipline attending the MPA exchange visit. Through these exchanges, the Derawan and Tun Mustapha teams were able to build lasting networking relationships.
The Malaysian participants were genuinely impressed by the impeccable cleanliness and efficient management observed at Derawan Islands MPA. Equally noteworthy was the warm hospitality extended by the island’s community. Notably, the participants had an invaluable opportunity to engage in discussions with the village chief of Derawan Island, gaining unique insights. This encounter served as a powerful source of motivation for all attendees throughout the rest of the event. The Malaysian participants, in particular, expressed a strong enthusiasm to incorporate some of the practices they learned about at Derawan Islands MPA into their efforts at Tun Mustapha Park.
In sum, the six-day event proved to be exceptionally engaging and fruitful for all involved.