Partnering for Improved Protected Area Information

26 October 2015

In the Pacific, the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) programme comes across a number of national and regional projects that have similar aims, particularly for improving the standard of baseline information about protected areas. This feature highlights aspects of the breadth of interaction, trust building and benefits evidence required in order to develop information access and sharing arrangements, supported by a specific example of collaboration between projects and actors in the Solomon Islands.

 Analysis reveal that while the aims can appear to be generally similar, there are always important points of difference between the projects in purpose, function and capacity, for example: having a national or intra/inter regional scope; being subject to data sharing limitations due to the sensitivity level of certain information; having a geographic limit such as being only marine or coastal based; having either a broad or very specific data theme focus or time boundaries imposed by project funding.

With this context, it is essential that similar initiatives don’t duplicate efforts, that project coordinators and stakeholders involved understand the differences between similar looking projects, and that opportunities to enhance the work of each project are found including the sharing of data for various purposes and for a range of outlets and audiences.  

A good example of cross project support for better protected area information is currently occurring in the Solomon Islands between the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), the BIOPAMA programme, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity (MACBIO) project and a number of provincially based NGOs and community groups.

To set the geographic scene, the Solomon Islands have a national Protected Areas Act in place. While a few proposals have been developed, there are still no areas protected formally under this Act. By comparison, recent work facilitated by TNC working with the provinces, and culminating at a final community based resource management (CBRM) workshop in Honiara in October 2015 (and attended by BIOPAMA) has identified some 400 CBRM areas as well as recording attribute values for these areas.

Typical in many Pacific countries, the maintenance of land and sea areas tended through community stewardship to support both people and nature may not always be officially labelled, designated or fully recognised as contributing to a national protected area system. Yet such areas make a substantial contribution to biodiversity conservation and health, well-being, culture and livelihoods. These areas often constitute the dominant national ’protected area’ network. Additionally, national and provincial legislation and regulations place controls on some uses in land, coastal and marine areas. These measures provide a level of protection and can enhance the network of protected and otherwise conserved areas. For instance, across the Solomon Islands, there are controls on logging and mining on all areas above 400m elevation, which is some 25% of the Solomon Islands land mass.

In terms of environmental information initiatives, the Solomon Islands are currently receiving assistance from multiple projects. TNC is utilising the Coral Triangle Atlas as a storage location for information collected on CBRM sites and has also developed a simple interactive map portal for managed areas.The Australian government, through its science division, is establishing an intranet function that supplies data on a variety of planning information including environmental, for internal access and use by relevant government ministries, i.e. environment, fisheries, forestry. The MACBIO project (implemented by GIZ and IUCN Oceania and supported by SPREP, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme) is gathering data for the creation of spatial information that it makes available to government to assist with planning and management decisions affecting marine and coastal resources. At the global description level, the World Database on Protected Areas correlates and displays protected area information that is provided by countries. There are also a number of grass roots NGO and community based projects that record information about conservation values and trends.

Adding to this energetic array of information related initiative, the BIOPAMA programme (initiated by the ACP Group with financial support from the European Union) is developing a Regional Reference Information System (RRIS) and enhancing the Pacific Islands Protected Areas Portal (PIPAP), both managed by SPREP.

Clearly the need to be well informed about other projects and their scope is paramount, as is the need to reach out openly and cooperatively and to engage constructively. Establishing an initial working dialogue with partner projects is essential and particularly for identifying why and how information should be shared to maximise its benefits to stakeholders.

This relationship process is illustrated as follows. BIOPAMA has engaged with TNC through the Protected Areas Working Group. TNC now understands the functions that will be provided by the RRIS and PIPAP and is enthusiastic to add the RRIS to the Coral Triangle Atlas, MEDCM and WDPA as a recipient of this valuable CBRM information, and as platform that can make information more durable, more widely presented and be better analysed. This information sharing also needs to be supported by the Solomon Islands MECDM as the national institution responsible for protected area matters. Faced with support from multiple information initiatives, government officers need careful explanations to sift out the differences and benefits between initiatives before they commit to agreements for sharing information. MECDM has agreed to share protected area information with BIOPAMA and the RRIS. Additionally, the providers of baseline CBRM information at the provincial and community level need to be aware of the benefits of having their site information available in a regional information hub. They have endorsed this opportunity, based on presentations by BIOPAMA at the CBRM workshop mentioned above.

Tony O’Keeffe, regional coordinator of the BIOPAMA programme in the Pacific concludes: “BIOPAMA is far from a sole regional player in this field and good partnering relationships are fundamental in being able to add usefully to this busy, if yet not entirely effective, operating space. Even at single country level there are highly detailed engagement processes to pursue at both individual and organisational levels. However, the niche roles served by BIOPAMA, the RRIS and the PIPAP are being steadily better understood and the roll-on of information exchange is now occurring successfully with a number of countries, while other countries are also beginning to raise their hands with interest”.

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