Strengthening Cooperation Between Large Marine Protected Areas

16 December 2015

The Pacific Islands region has responsibility for 10% of the global ocean surface and hosting the world’s largest tuna stocks. Currently, marine protected areas cover just over 2% of the world’s oceans, and only about 1% is strongly protected in no-take marine reserves. In this context, small Pacific Island states with massive ocean territory are taking a global leadership position by establishing and effectively managing large scale marine protected areas and others are making similar pledges.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of the simplest and most robust marine management tools and can offer high return on investment for marine conservation. By removing certain uses from a marine environment, ecosystems can restore their function, populations can be bolstered and habitats protected.

Leaders are getting more ambitious than conservationists and there is not enough being done for Marine Protected Areas, which are such a vital asset in today’s climate-challenged planet,” said Taholo Kami, Regional Director, IUCN Oceania Regional Office. He further added that “the challenge now is how we, as managers on the ground and on the water, gain that critical involvement shift between now and 2020.”

The BIOPAMA programme recently hosted and facilitated a three-day meeting for planners and managers working with existing or proposed large-scale marine managed areas across the Pacific region. Representatives of Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the Marae Moana of the Cook Islands, and the US Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monuments (PRIMNM), held their fourth meeting in December 2015 at the IUCN Oceania Regional Office in Suva, Fiji.

This meeting space complements other wider regional and global marine conservation partnership fora by providing a safe and informal talanoa space for peers to exchange their practical experiences in proposing, establishing and managing large marine protected areas. This is a particularly valuable opportunity in a region where remoteness and cost limit face-to-face interaction.

Funding for the meeting and participants costs was provided through partnership with the US Embassy in Fiji. The funding acknowledges the informative and collaborative nature of the three meetings of this group held so far as well as additional meetings at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014. The meeting purpose was to share knowledge and further strengthen cooperation and information exchange between the relevant governing bodies. Some of the key areas of joint interest discussed are as follows:

In dealing with such vast ocean realms, surveillance and enforcement of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, mostly tuna, is a key threat for large MPAs in the Pacific, including the US territories. Samantha Brooke, Manager of the US Marine National Monuments Program, presented the range of rapidly improving drone-type technologies currently being live tested. Her organisation, NOAA, is increasingly confident that un-manned equipment will serve a central role in monitoring and transferring information about human activity as well as scientific recording. With patrol work and ‘giving chase’ a critical management activity, Mr Tukabu Teroroko, PIPA Manager, explained how they maintain a fuel depot to ensure enforcement vessels are able to quickly respond to alerts sent from the surveillance control centre. This increases the chances for apprehending and fining offenders as well as placing these vessels on a regional black list. Apart from unwanted fishing activity there is also the issue of nationally licenced fishing which may be at odds with a country’s conservation policy statements.

Dr Leanne Fernandes, Marine Coordinator with IUCN Oceania, presented information about the planning processes that are being developed in supporting the Government of Fiji in achieving its 30% marine protection target. Her insights illustrated the step by step actions that other countries could consider applying in working toward their own targets. A key lesson is that countries will not always make the best decisions in their marine park planning efforts particularly as there are often big gaps in necessary information. However any step taken, even if imperfect, can be positive simply by building understanding, awareness and experiences in the ambitious job of establishing large scale MPAs. 

Paul Allsworth, President of Kautu Nui Cook Islands, and NBSAP Coordinator stated that lessons learned from the efforts by other countries provided invaluable information for countries only just embarking on the process of large MPA establishment. He also reinforced that traditional leaders’ involvement is essential and is something that governments are now acknowledging more fully. This is a particularly unique and widespread requirement in the Pacific where customary use of resources and cultural association with the sea is such a fundamental element of local community existence. Any governance structures, and particularly management committees, put in place to support large MPA establishment must be inclusive of all stakeholders and committed to acknowledging balancing diverse needs appropriately. This in itself is requires specialist capacities by those involved and is an area requiring specific support.

Susan White, Superintendent of Operations for Marine National Monuments with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, portrayed the immense geographic spread of these monuments across the Pacific, north and south of the equator. Even the US, with its perceived weighty resources, is challenged by the distances involved in undertaking practical management activities.  A Cooperation Agreement in place between the US and Kiribati is an important initiative in sharing and extending information and resources, particularly where national ocean boundaries converge via large MPAs.

Importantly, the meeting group reflected on the contributions to the Pacific Oceans Summit to be held in conjunction with the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai’i in September 2016, and developed an agenda of practical actions for discussion at their next meeting in Cook Islands in 2016.

For more information, contact Tony O’Keeffe, Projects Areas Coordinator, BIOPAMA Programme, 

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