Following the success of two prior Learning Exchanges organised by the Ocean Governance project, our partners in the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) in Southeast Asia proposed to co-organise a third such event, designed for the six Coral Triangle countries (CT6): Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and Solomon Islands. The event was held from 3rd to 6th July 2023 at the Coral Triangle Centre (CTC) in Bali, Indonesia, and focused on a common priority: how to preserve and restore ecologically crucial and economically significant coral reefs. Over 40 participants, including government officials, marine protected area (MPA) managers, scientists, NGOs  and international organisations, attended the Learning Exchange.

 

Focus on coral reef restoration

The first day featured presentations on different aspects of coral reef restoration. Government representatives outlined national policy guidelines on the topic, while MPA managers discussed the practical implementation of the guidelines. Academics and scientists offered views on the guidelines and opportunities for improvement, and speakers involved in coral reef restoration projects shared best practices. Participants demonstrated their interest by engaging in thoughtful discussions and posing relevant questions, indicating the significance of the topic. Coral restoration proved to be a novel subject for discussion, as confusion regarding methods, financing, and local community involvement were raised. At the end of the day, participants gathered in country-specific groups to reflect on how the learning could apply in their national context, and presented the results of these discussions to the plenary.

 

Field trip to observe restoration in action

On the second day, a field trip to the marine protected area of Nusa Penida, located off the southeast coast of Bali, provided valuable hands-on experience. Participants observed a demonstration of the MARRS Reef Star restoration method, in which coral fragments are attached to metal structures, and had the opportunity to practise the technique themselves. Snorkelling activities allowed them to observe divers attaching the structures to the seafloor, and to see corals growing on older structures. The field trip also included a locally guided mangrove tour, provided by a community involvement project organised by the Coral Triangle Centre in Nusa Penida MPA. The day ended with a discussion about potential options to improve the MPA, from the perspective of different stakeholders (MPA managers, private tourism operators, media and communications, government, and the local community), guided by Veda Santiaji of WWF Indonesia and Southeast Asia expert for the EU Ocean Governance (OG) project. The discussion was also joined by Andrew C.F. Taylor, founder of a diving school and private restoration project in Nusa Penida.

 

Exploring the potential for an MPA network in the Coral Triangle region

On the third day, the focus shifted to the second objective of the Learning Exchange: initiating the creation of a network of MPA managers in the Coral Triangle region. The OG Project emphasised the importance of human networks to support ecological networks, and the need for ongoing collaboration beyond the project’s conclusion in December. OG Project Technical Team Lead Puri Canals presented the example of MedPAN, the network of MPA managers in the Mediterranean, to illustrate how a network works and can benefit its members. The day was devoted to interactive brainstorming, exploring the formation of a network, its potential members, relationship to CTI-CFF, priority topics, and more, laying the foundation for future regional discussions. The results were presented to the plenary and will be taken to the MPA Working Group of the CTI-CFF, which has shown great commitment to promoting  the creation of the network.

 

As the 3rd Learning Exchange concluded, participants left with enhanced knowledge, strengthened connections and a shared commitment to the conservation of coral reefs. The event underscored the importance of collaboration and knowledge exchange, fostering optimism for sustainable future cooperation and the formation of a strong network. A huge thanks goes out to the Coral Triangle Centre for hosting us at their beautiful premises and for sharing their expertise with the participants; to the Coral Triangle Initiative for their excellent collaboration; and to all the participants for their motivation and valuable contribution throughout the event.