World Oceans Day 2019
Securing Globally Important Marine Areas in the Western Indian Ocean
A new partnership will build on political will and community support to ensure a more sustainable future for WIO seascapes.
By Jason Patlis and Michelle Cordray
June 8, 2019
The Western Indian Ocean (WIO), along the coast of east and southern Africa, is a socially and biologically diverse region with a 9,000-kilometer coastline that contains some of the world’s most extensive and climate-resilient coral reefs and mangroves. This area is second in the world only to the Pacific’s Coral Triangle in terms of marine and coastal biodiversity.
The marine ecosystems within the WIO are critical sources of protein, coastal protection, and income to coastal populations, many of whom are poor and marginalized. With high rates of poverty, often above 70 percent, rural coastal populations are highly dependent on small-scale fisheries and coastal resources.
The WIO has a long history of marine conservation and contains some of the oldest and largest marine protected areas (MPAs) in the world. In recent years, the governments of Kenya, Tanzania, and Madagascar have taken greater interest in creating or expanding MPAs as well as locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) to address the needs of local communities, respond to a more engaged civil society, and meet international conservation goals enumerated under the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The use of the ocean and its resources is expanding faster than at any time in the past. The Western Indian Ocean in particular is undergoing a significant economic transformation driven by increased links to Asian markets and global demand for natural resources.
Madagascar counts currently more than 80 LMMAs and 20 official MPAs covering 730,677 hectares — most of which are under IUCN category V and VI managed jointly by NGO and local communities.
However, the use of the ocean and its resources is expanding faster than at any time in the past. The WIO in particular is undergoing a significant economic transformation driven by increased links to Asian markets and global demand for natural resources. Threats affecting critical marine resources in the WIO are outpacing efforts to protect them.
These threats include over-exploited fisheries, destructive fishing practices in both near and offshore waters, habitat degradation, coastal development, and pollution from both land-based sources and increasing marine activities and industrial development.
Exacerbating this, local coastal populations suffering from poverty, high population growth, and persistent marginalization — and who turn to marine resources for their very survival — are degrading coastal and marine ecosystems within WIO at an accelerating rate. Climate change impacts that include sea level rise, sea temperature change, coral bleaching, and storm events add additional pressure to the region’s ecosystems and the people who depend upon them.
WCS’s program in the WIO region seeks to safeguard its global reef species and richness, reverse the decline of sharks and rays, and steward the recovery of marine mammals. At the same time, the WCS marine program in Madagascar aims to promote marine conservation based on sound science, a community-based approach, local capacity building, field conservation action, fisheries management in priority marine landscapes, and adaptive management facing climate change.
Our approach is based on four pillars: partnership and institutional support to develop and implement national and regional frameworks on marine resource management; capacity building for national and local stakeholders; applied researches; and site-based conservation activities through identification, creation and management of MPAs as well as support to LMMAs.
Now, a new partnership between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Blue Action Fund will address these threats at a significant geographical scale, building on existing political will for marine conservation in the Western Indian Ocean region to achieve long-lasting conservation impacts.
This partnership will expand a network of resilient, sustainable, and effectively managed marine protected areas in two seascapes in Tanzania, Kenya, and Madagascar. The goal of the project is to create 6,040 km2 in new, expanded, and existing MPAs and sustainable-use zones, effectively and sustainably managed by NGOs and relevant actors including government, communities, and civil society. This in turn will provide sustainable and resilient livelihoods tied to fisheries and marine-related supply chains for coastal communities in these areas.
The goal of the project is to create 6,040 square kilometers in new, expanded, and existing MPAs and sustainable-use zones — effectively and sustainably managed by NGOs and relevant actors including government, communities, and civil society.
The two seascapes are the Kenya-Tanzania Transboundary Conservation Area (TBCA), which covers 2,200 square kilometers extending from southern Kenya to the Ulenge Island Marine Reserve in Tanzania; and the Northwest Madagascar Seascape, which covers approximately 5,700 square kilometers — including the Ankivonjy and Ankarea MPAs.
These seascapes are amongst the most biologically important in the region, with high degrees of resilience and connectivity, and represent a range of ecosystem types. Currently, these areas contain a mosaic of poorly managed and unmanaged areas and the project hopes to help ensure ecological and managerial connectivity within these seascapes.
WCS will prioritize community engagement and foster the autonomy of local community managers of marine resources. Community stakeholders will be active participants in co-management of MPAs and local marine reserves, in improved small-scale fisheries management, and in alternative livelihoods activities based on marine resource value chains.
WCS will actively engage women and marginalized groups to participate in project activities. We will ensure sustainability by supporting financial sustainability strategies for target MPAs and engaging private sector partners in livelihood activities.
As a result of this project, two globally significant seascapes will be transformed from a poorly managed patchwork of ‘paper park’ MPAs — disconnected and ineffective co-managed spaces, including large areas without any management structure — into a coherent and planned seascape incorporating effectively managed, sustainable, and resilient MPAs; robust community co-managed areas; and productive sustainable use zones.
Without this partnership, we would lose a unique and immediate window of opportunity to build on existing political momentum to conserve these marine areas before their natural resources suffer irreversible damage.
Jason Patlis is Executive Director of the Marine Conservation Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society); Michelle Cordray is the Program Officer for the East and Southern Africa/Madagascar/Western Indian Ocean region at WCS.