Regional Observatories for Protected Areas and Biodiversity: an Update

7 April 2015

The BIOPAMA Observatories for Protected Areas and Biodiversity are regional resource hubs to support better decision-making for more effective protected area management and biodiversity conservation in the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions. This feature provides an update on the regional actions and partnerships towards capacity building and supporting the use of the best available scientific data and information in decision-making processes.

The BIOPAMA-supported Observatories are being set up in each of the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions in close collaboration with selected host institutions. The Observatories will maintain a gateway to data and tools for biodiversity and protected area management analysis. At the heart of each Observatory is a Regional Reference Information System (RRIS), that will provide access to available national, regional and global information on thematic areas relating to biodiversity management and protected areas.

Eastern and Southern Africa

In Eastern and Southern Africa, the regional economic communities (REC) are key actors in the establishment of the BIOPAMA Regional Observatory, and it is envisaged that each REC will eventually host a node of the Observatory. The first of these Observatory nodes is in the process of being established in the East African Community (EAC) Secretariat, located in Arusha, Tanzania. The initial focus is to provide decision- and policy-making support on protected areas and biodiversity in the extractive industry land-use context. Global datasets on land cover, vegetation, and climate are currently available through the Regional Reference Information System (RRIS). The RRIS will provide open access to regional data on land-use, biodiversity, protected areas, mineral deposits, and publically accessible mining, oil, and gas concessions.  More regional and local data will be added as it becomes available. In addition to the free and open access to data and information, the Observatory node will also provide support to the users of the system.

The first product for the EAC region Observatory is a discussion paper entitled Balancing the exploitation of mineral and hydrocarbon resources with conservation of biodiversity: Spatial overlaps and strategic approaches for sustainable  development options. The discussion paper was delivered to the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in March 2015. The paper provides an overview of the spatial overlaps between protected areas and mining, oil and gas concessions in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. Furthermore, the paper makes recommendation on adopting a strategic land-scape approach to decisions on extractive industry activity to minimize potential environmental and societal impacts. A series of maps were produced for each country depicting the spatial overlaps.

West and Central Africa 

Access to reliable information to guide decision making is one of the main protected area challenges in West and Central Africa. Data collection is therefore a central theme for the BIOPAMA work in this region, supporting at the same time the establishment and functioning of the Regional Observatory for protected areas and biodiversity. 

In order to build capacity of protected area managers to use the pilot BIOPAMA Protected Area Management Effectiveness form for data collection, a toolkit has been developed during an experts’ workshop, in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in February 2015. This toolkit, named Coach Observatory Mission Information Toolkit (COMIT), concerns the methodology for data collection, management, and analysis, designed to support protected area decision making.

COMIT includes tools to understand and use the protected area data collection form, as well as to train and build the capacity of protected area practitioners and national agencies to make decisions that will improve their management efficiency.  A recent workshop in Libreville, Gabon (23 March – 3 April 2015) further defined the COMIT elements, preparing at the same time the regional training of Observatory coaches on the data collection form, scheduled for June 2015. The Observatory coaches being trained are representatives of national agencies responsible for protected area management. One of the first missions of the coaches will be to use the form in a large number of conservation areas across the region between July and December 2015.


The Caribbean Observatory is hosted by the University of West Indies (UWI) and located in the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), a department within the Faculty of Science and Technology at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. Launched in November 2014, it is planned that the Observatory will become a mainstay of the UWI, sustainable beyond the current EU-ACP supported BIOPAMA programme. BIOPAMA and CERMES are collaborating with other departments and centres at the three UWI campuses, as well as organizations and initiatives that share BIOPAMA’s commitment to improving protected area management in the Caribbean.

The data and tools of the Caribbean Observatory span several themes, including marine and terrestrial ecosystems, species and habitats, ecosystem services, livelihoods, pressures and threats, and management and governance, as well as providing information on training opportunities, and forums for discussions.

Recently, a call for Expressions of Interest  was issued to hold data management training workshops for organizations actively involved in managing protected areas at the national level. It is the intention that the training workshops will generate data and information that can feed into the RRIS to be shared with relevant authorities across the region. Additionally, the Caribbean Observatory is engaging in discussions with regional initiatives in an effort to collaborate on improving access to information by protected area managers, decision makers, and other stakeholders.


The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and IUCN signed a partnership grant agreement to host the BIOPAMA Regional Observatory for the Pacific on 3 September 2014, in the margins of the 3rd UN International Conference on Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).  The main activities of the BIOPAMA Pacific Observatory Technical Officer, based at SPREP, will include information gathering to update baseline data on Pacific Protected Areas available through the Observatory database, and defining the identity and role of the BIOPAMA Pacific observatory in relation to SPREP’s existing information platforms. SPREP’s Pacific Environment Information Network (PEIN), the Environmental Spatial Information Service (ESIS), and the Pacific Islands Protected Areas Portal (PIPAP) will be linked to serve the objectives of the RRIS. The BIOPAMA- SPREP partners agreed to integrate the BIOPAMA RRIS into the existing SPREP platforms and chose the PIPAP to serve as the Observatory front end and entry point to the BIOPAMA RRIS in the Pacific.

Initial progress has been made in updating Pacific Protected Areas data and information and this can be attributed in part to ongoing efforts to re-mobilise the Protected Areas Working Group of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation. Members of the Working Group have returned initial information on data that require attention in global protected areas databases, and suggestions on cooperative data collection approaches moving forward.

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