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Belize – Community Engagement


Freshwater Cup Soccer and Environmental Competition Builds Reef Stewardship in Belize

Location
Toledo District, Belize

In the heart of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) is working with communities to promote sustainable use and management of the area’s rich resources, from the peaks of the highest forest ridges to the coral reefs of the ocean floor. © TIDE

In the heart of the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) is working with communities to promote sustainable use and management of the area’s rich resources, from the peaks of the highest forest ridges to the coral reefs of the ocean floor. © TIDE

The Challenge
Belize is well known for its incredible biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. In the Toledo District in southern Belize, the Maya Mountain Marine Corridor is home to many species including iguanas, ocelots, jaguars, and over 500 species of birds as well as coastal ecosystems with mangrove fringed cayes, soft-bottom seagrass beds, and fringing reefs.

This area currently has a low but rapidly growing human population. Watersheds are still relatively pristine and water quality is high but land-based pollution is increasing. The main sources are agricultural runoff, soil erosion due to clearance of riverside forests, detergents from clothes washing in rivers and plastic trash from littering or improper disposal of solid waste. Land-based pollution impacts marine ecosystems but people living far from the sea can often be unaware of the impacts they have on the reef. The local nongovernmental organization, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) is working on projects to protect water quality in southern Belize despite the growing population by enhancing stewardship of freshwater resources.

Local environmental stewardship can be one of the most important ingredients in conservation success. An innovative program in southern Belize is using sporting competition to engage local communities in environmental issues, building their awareness about climate change risks and the role they can play in helping coral reefs. © TIDE

Local environmental stewardship can be one of the most important ingredients in conservation success. An innovative program in southern Belize is using sporting competition to engage local communities in environmental issues, building their awareness about climate change risks and the role they can play in helping coral reefs. © TIDE

Actions Taken
Belizeans love football – playing it, watching it, talking about it. Local tournaments are some of the most popular social activities in the south and competitions with prizes always draw a crowd. Capitalizing on this passion, in 2004 TIDE set up the Freshwater Cup. This is a football tournament with a twist – in order to enter, each team must first plan and execute a project to protect freshwater resources. Typical projects include planting trees to protect riverbanks, removing trash from creeks, painting murals celebrating nature or installing signs with environmental messages.

Originally, the competition was exclusively for adults. A children’s competition was introduced in 2007 and in 2011, the adult competition was removed in order to accommodate more children’s teams. The competition is now for primary school children (male and female) aged twelve or under. Approximately 20 schools participate.

TIDE’s Approach Step by Step
1.  TIDE’s environmental education coordinator visits schools to present the competition, explain the rules, and encourage teams to enter.

2.  In a second visit, the education coordinator gives presentations on aquatic and marine ecosystems, land-sea interconnectivity and human impacts; facilitates a discussion on problems affecting local freshwater resources and encourages teams to suggest solutions; and uses examples of past projects to illustrate how to design a good project and encourages teams to seek input on the design from the wider community.

3.  Teams then plan projects tailored to their community’s needs and fill out a project plan form that includes a budget (typically less than US$250), funding plan and timetable for completion of activities.

4.  Teams register for the Freshwater Cup by submitting their completed project plan form, a list of team members and a team contract agreeing to abide by the rules of the game and the principle of fair play.

5.  TIDE staff members evaluate each project plan. Proposals are accepted or returned to the team for modification. A team whose proposal is returned must improve its project plan or withdraw its application.

6.  Once approved, teams have four months to complete their projects. In this time, they receive at least one visit from the education coordinator, who monitors progress and provides advice and encouragement. A small budget is made available to support the projects.

7.  By the deadline, each team must provide a project report. Teams unable to complete their project or provide a report must provide justification for an extension or be disqualified.

8.  TIDE personnel judge the projects according to pre-determined criteria. They read the project reports and visit the sites, where the children present their projects. The winners are announced at the football tournament finals (see below).

9.  The football component of the Freshwater Cup has two parts, a league stage and a knockout stage. First, male and female teams are divided into two leagues by geography (giving a total of four leagues). Over several weeks, each team plays the others in its league. TIDE provides the schools with equipment, arranges transportation for away teams, and organizes volunteer coaches and referees.

10.  The two teams earning the highest number of points in each league advance to the knockout tournament, which is held on one day toward the end of the school year. On the championship day, the semi-finals, third-place play-off and final are played before the prize-giving ceremony.

11.  First, second and third placed winners of the best environmental project and football tournaments (male and female) receive prizes consisting of school supplies, a trophy and a framed photograph of the team for the school, plus school supplies, school fees and winners medals for the individual team members.

How successful has it been?
The TIDE Freshwater Cup has been remarkably successful. It has mobilized schools and entire communities to develop greater awareness of and commitment to freshwater ecosystems.

Enhanced Environmental Stewardship

2014 marked another successful year for the Freshwater Cup environmental football tournament. More than 700 school children implemented 20 mini-projects to protect freshwater resources and the Belize Barrier Reef. © TIDE

2014 marked another successful year for the Freshwater Cup environmental football tournament. More than 700 school children implemented 20 mini-projects to protect freshwater resources and the Belize Barrier Reef. © TIDE

Through the mini-projects, many people have seized the opportunity to improve their local environment. “In many cases, the environmental projects transcend the football championship” (UNICEF 2009). For example, in 2007, the adult team from Bella Vista cleaned up an area at the edge of their village that had inadvertently become a garbage dump. They used a dump truck to remove the garbage to a nearby landfill. The following year, they took up the issue with the village council, constructed a new sanitary landfill and arranged regular waste collection for the village. Similarly, in 2008, the senior team in Jacintoville cleaned up a garbage dump and put up signage to discourage dumping. They formed an environmental club, which continues to organize regular village clean-ups.

In order to participate, the children must undertake an environmental project that is specific to protecting freshwater resources or reducing the effects of climate change on human populations. © TIDE

In order to participate, the children must undertake an environmental project that is specific to protecting freshwater resources or reducing the effects of climate change on human populations. © TIDE

The most popular projects have often been the ones that create green spaces in schools and communities. For example, in 2012 Bladen Primary School cleared trash from a local creek and created a pleasant riverside space with benches to enjoy nature. Other successful projects have included setting up organic vegetable gardens at schools, installing garbage bins by rivers and highways, tree planting and finding imaginative ways to recycle, such as building garbage bins and fences from used plastic bottles. There have been some bold education projects too. In 2013, the school team from San Marcos gave presentations to their parents, most of whom are farmers, to educate them on the harmful effects of pesticides and herbicides on aquatic life.

Players, classmates, and family members join in the environmental projects, thereby creating a domino effect of environmental awareness in the wider community. The reward that children get from successfully completing an environmental project (not just the competition prizes but also the appreciation and praise of their parents, teachers and peers) helps children to develop a sense of social responsibility and environmental stewardship. What is more, the TIDE Freshwater Cup is the first time that many of these children (and even teachers) are exposed to key environmental messages. Many had never heard of climate change, or were aware that the Belize Barrier Reef can be harmed by activities of people hundreds of miles inland. The majority of participating children seem to have internalized these ideas because school principals and teachers comment that since the Freshwater Cup, school compounds are much cleaner and they hear children telling others not to litter. TIDE provides the opportunity for these children to carry enhanced stewardship into their adult lives.

Other Social Benefits

The tournament not only teaches the children and their communities about the environment, but it also fosters teamwork, empowering the children by making them realize what can be achieved through working together. © TIDE

Being part of a team that comes up with a shared vision for a project and successfully realizes it is tremendously rewarding for the children. It fosters teamwork and empowers kids by making them realize what can be accomplished when they work together. The sports component has given thousands of girls, boys, women and men the opportunity to participate in a sports competition, helping to promote a healthy lifestyle, gender equality, teamwork, self-esteem and friendship between people of different ethnic and cultural groups. Three members of the current Belize national team played in the TIDE Freshwater Cup. “Given the shortage of leisure activities and the overall poverty of the local area, the programme also acts as a sound source of entertainment that contributes toward a healthy lifestyle for adolescents and children” (UNICEF 2009). The competition has proven so popular that is has become a household name in Toledo.

Next Steps
To increase the impact of environmental projects, TIDE plans to start encouraging schools to conduct multi-year projects, and will be assisting other organizations with replicating the program within Belize and internationally.

International Recognition
The TIDE Freshwater Cup has won several international awards for innovation in sustainable development, namely: the CEPAL Social Innovation Award in 2008 (from among over 800 entries), the Green Apple Award in 2010, and the International Olympic Committee’s Award for Sport and Sustainable Development in 2012.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Prioritize schoolchildren: Originally, the TIDE Freshwater Cup only involved adult teams but we have gradually shifted to only involving schoolchildren. This is because children are generally more receptive to learning and behavior change than adults and working with schools brings advantages in terms of organization. Teachers ensure projects are completed on time and teams consistently show up for games. Lastly, family and friends almost always get involved in the children’s projects, leading to more widespread awareness in the community.

Projects that have been undertaken have included starting recycling programs, creating green spaces in schools and communities and planting trees. Other activities have involved being engaged in clean-ups of rivers and streams, creating eco-parks and environmental clubs and the management of solid waste. © TIDE

Projects that have been undertaken have included starting recycling programs, creating green spaces in schools and communities and planting trees. Other activities have involved being engaged in clean-ups of rivers and streams, creating eco-parks and environmental clubs and the management of solid waste. © TIDE

Support teams to improve their environmental projects: Teachers and students sometimes enter the program with a low level of awareness and do not know what effective steps they can take to protect freshwater ecosystems. Teachers also have many demands on their time and leading a project can easily slip to the bottom of the pile. TIDE overcomes this lack of capacity by providing guidance and encouragement at key junctures, such as:

  • Meeting with school principals to gain their support
  • Hosting classroom lessons on human impacts on freshwater ecosystems
  • Facilitating project inception meetings with teams
  • Visiting projects and calling team leaders to check on progress
  • Providing a clear set of criteria for judging projects
  • Publicly rewarding and recognizing good performance, not just with prizes, but with praise and certificates of appreciation

All this takes a lot of time and effort – we estimate at least one hour per team per week for the four-month duration of the projects – but it is worth it because you will be leveraging orders of magnitude more time and effort and building capacity for environmental stewardship at the same time.

Children can be effective agents of change but they must be enabled: Children and adolescents are open to new ways of thinking and can challenge older generations to do more about the world’s problems. They can be influential environmental advocates, as recognised by UNICEF (2009), who have sponsored the program for a total of three years. “There is no doubt that respect for children and adolescents as subjects with full rights provides enormous benefits for society as a whole. This process… includes involvement and respect for young people as prime movers in environmental protection and the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters” (UNICEF 2009). For this to happen, children must be enabled to come up with their own ideas and have their say. Unfortunately, busy teachers sometimes find it easier to write projects themselves without consulting the children. Do your best to encourage teachers to include the children in the project design as this will maximize the personal growth of environmental stewardship from within.

Encourage teams to include other stakeholders: The most successful projects often enlist the support of multiple stakeholders, such as village councils and community groups. Obtaining input from these stakeholders during project planning will help garner their support. Local businesses may be keen to be associated with a popular community environmental and sports event. Your organization and the participating teams may be able to capitalize on this to get sponsorship for team kits, equipment, transportation and prizes.

Use the games for environmental awareness: Once the environmental projects are done and the soccer competition is underway, it can be easy for some to forget stewardship of freshwater resources. There are several things you can do to ensure the environmental focus is not lost. Have the teams present their projects at the games – enthusiastic teams will give performances every bit as entertaining as the match! Insist that each team displays a banner illustrating their name and project. Get volunteers to talk to people in the crowd about ways they can protect downstream environments. And, if you can, get a PA system and have an MC commentate on the games and remind everyone of your environmental messages. Use the event to draw media attention and get your message out to a much wider audience.

Hold a debriefing: A focus group meeting to evaluate the program will provide useful feedback to continually improve.

Make the most of volunteers: Use local and international volunteers. Try to establish a committed set of long-term volunteers (e.g. referees, coaches, project leaders). Build their capacity through training and give them incentives to show they are appreciated.

Make the competition prestigious: Use official FIFA rules and, if possible, invest in kits, boots, trophies, official size and weight balls, pitch improvements, trained referees, floodlights, a PA system, video projection and other frills. These will give the event a degree of cachet and boost eagerness to participate.

Lead Organizations
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE)

Partners
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration (AusAID)

Resources
Watch a video about the Freshwater Cup
Freshwater Cup Environmental Football League

This case study was adapted from: Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) 2015. Reef stewardship in Belize: TIDE Freshwater Cup soccer and environmental competition. A case study developed for the Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration.

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Belize – Community Engagement


Community Researcher Program Builds Reef Stewardship in Belize

Location
Port Honduras Marine Reserve, Belize

Fish in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve in Belize. © TIDE

Fish in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve in Belize. © TIDE

The Challenge
The Port Honduras Marine Reserve (PHMR) is a national protected marine reserve in the Toledo district of Belize. It covers 40,470 hectares (100,000 acres) of mangrove and coastal ecosystems, and encompasses over one hundred small, mangrove-­fringed cayes, benthic habitats comprising soft-bottom seagrass beds and fringing reefs.

A local nongovernmental organization, the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) employs rangers that carry out management and enforcement throughout the reserve, and until recently, had also been primarily responsible for monitoring in the reserve. However, the large area and limited staff resources made monitoring and effective enforcement difficult. The other main challenge is that of building support for the MPA and fisheries regulations among stakeholders. Until the Port Honduras Marine Reserve was founded in 2000 and TIDE and the Fisheries Department began to enforce regulations, local fishers were unaccustomed to being regulated. Fish stocks were, and still are, in a relatively healthy state, making it difficult to convince fishers that regulation is needed. In particular, the ban of gill nets in the reserve is perceived as having had a negative economic impact, increasing conflicts and hindering efforts to build stewardship.

Port Honduras Marine Reserve Ranger Station. © TIDE

Port Honduras Marine Reserve Ranger Station. © TIDE

Actions Taken
With the logistical challenge of monitoring fisheries, endangered species, ecosystem health and water quality over 100,000 acres of water in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, TIDE began the Community Researcher Program. Through this program, TIDE has trained 15 young people from PHMR’s buffer communities (five per year for three years) to SCUBA dive and conduct environmental monitoring, then employed the best performers to conduct monitoring in PHMR on an on-going basis.

Trainees in the Community Researchers Program receive SCUBA training. © TIDE

Trainees in the Community Researchers Program receive SCUBA training. © TIDE

The monitoring activities performed by community researchers include:

  • Coral reef health using the MBRS method (specific to the Mesoamerican Reef) and AGGRA method (for comparison with the rest of the Caribbean)
  • Seagrass health using the SeagrassNet method
  • Mangrove ecosystem productivity using the MBRS method
  • Turtle nest monitoring
  • Conch and lobster surveys
  • Water quality monitoring, including nutrient and sediment analysis
  • Fish stock assessment (catch and market surveys)
  • Lionfish monitoring and culling
  • Collection of fish otoliths and observation of gut contents and gonad development.

As well as the monitoring techniques, community researchers are trained in:

  • SCUBA diving (PADI Open Water Diver)
  • GPS use and basic GIS analysis
  • Emergency first response
  • Basic environmental science, including basic coral reef ecology, land-sea interconnectivity and the impact of human activities.

How successful has it been?
The program has been very successful at addressing the challenges of monitoring and building support for the reserve. Zoe Walker, an independent assessor, concluded that “the Community Researcher Programme provides a good model for other organizations, with integration of community researchers into the science programme activities, and capacity-building targeted to ensure reliable data collection.” To date, the main successes of the program are:

TIDE community researchers training

Community Researchers in training. © TIDE

Building Stewardship: The initiative has excelled at building passion for conservation in the young participants. Community researcher Willie Caal was studying to be a primary school teacher when he joined. Within six months, he had switched to natural resource management and is excited about a career in conservation. “Being a community researcher can actually change your life. It changed me because I got more chance[s] to be in the ocean. I’m now more interested in conservation, in protecting the environment.” Community researcher Alana Barillas put it this way, “it makes you appreciate the environment more. It makes you see what’s really happening. [For example,] you see what is affecting the sea grass and the benefits that sea grass brings in terms of the nursery and controlling sedimentation. Knowing that makes you want to cherish it.” Those community researchers who are also fishers say they have improved their practices. “I have more commitment to practicing the right things that will benefit the environment,” said one.

The impacts don’t end with the community researchers – they are rippling through the wider community. Fishers now have more confidence in the use of scientific research as a basis for reserve management. One recently commented that he believes TIDE’s research results because his own daughter is involved in the data collection. “I come from a fishing family,” says Willie Caal. “My family loves to see me working in this kind of field. They ask me about the abundance of conch and lobster in the sea. I tell them they are more abundant in the conservation zones and they are reproducing there.” The community researchers are ambassadors for conservation and sustainable management. They communicate with resource-users about human impacts on ecosystems in a way they understand, creating deeper understanding and building stewardship. Fishers are starting to buy in to the idea that resource management is something that should be done by the community, for the community.

Building capacity for conservation: The program has increased TIDE’s research and monitoring capacity greatly by enabling the survey of more sites more often and to a higher standard than before. It is also providing trained personnel for other organizations. For example, our community researchers have done monitoring work for the Healthy Reefs Initiative and collaborated on projects with Blue Ventures and the University of Belize.

Employment opportunities outside of fishing: TIDE is employing up to ten community researchers on a part-time basis. Furthermore, the training is enabling participants to find good salaried positions, for instance in the Belize Coast Guard and at a local dive resort. Over the coming years, we expect more to find jobs with the University of Belize, Fisheries Department and NGOs around the country.

Personal development: The program has created an exciting environment in TIDE’s research and monitoring department. Community researchers are exposed to exciting projects and interact with international volunteers. They like working alongside likeminded people passionate about the environment. With the initial group of community researchers, it was very difficult to get them to do anything without paying them. Now, most of them volunteer for extra duties because they care about the work and the research results, they want to gain experience and they enjoy the work.

Next steps

A Level 2 TIDE Community Researcher course is being planned, in which participants will be trained in ecology, basic data analysis, laboratory techniques and communications skills and receive PADI Advanced Open Water Diver certification. Next steps also include having the community researchers talk at schools about life as a community researcher and what it means to protect the environment. They will also receive media training and act as spokespeople to help build reef stewardship across Belize.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Make an effort to recruit the right people: Having the right people is key and using a widely publicized competitive application process including an application form and interview will maximize your chances of finding good quality candidates. TIDE recruits people who not only represent the community but also have a commitment to the environment and the right aptitudes. To be eligible, candidates must:

  • Come from the local community
  • Be aged 18+
  • Have graduated from high school
  • Be able to swim
  • Be contactable by phone and email
  • Demonstrate an interest in the environment and willingness to learn

Put due effort into training: As with selecting the right participants, this is key. Get the training right and everything that follows will be easier. ‘Continual reinforcement’ is used throughout the training. Provide handouts to avoid note-taking and enable trainees to listen. Most importantly, make the trainees learn by doing. The best way to learn anything is to do it and practical, hands-on training works best for most people. Allow the trainees plenty of time to practice techniques under supervision and be prepared to throw out your initial data as practice runs. Even classroom lessons can be interactive – don’t just state facts, get them to discover concepts for themselves by asking them the right questions.

Save yourself time and resources by using teaching resources from organizations: Find out what monitoring methods other organizations in your area are using. Standardize methods with them and see what they can offer in terms of training – they may be able to provide methods training or at least materials. For example, TIDE’s coral health monitoring methods and protocol for monitoring mangrove productivity were taken straight from the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Survey manual. The Healthy Reefs Initiative has training materials for the AGGRA method and ECOMAR provides training and materials for turtle nest monitoring.

Quality control mechanisms are necessary: To ensure a high quality of data collection and management, quality control checks must be performed at multiple stages. Trainees must pass theoretical and practical exams to qualify as TIDE community researchers and all research and monitoring activities are carried out under the supervision of an experienced marine biologist. The supervisor performs duplicate measurements alongside the community researcher on the first occasion that they use each technique and at random intervals thereafter. Any discrepancies between the results are discussed and problems resolved. All data entry is double-checked and there is an accountability trail for all data (the names of the people who collected, input and checked the data are recorded). Only community researchers who demonstrate competence and reliability continue to be employed.

Ensure high safety standards: Clearly an accident could undo a lot of your good work and so health and safety must be maintained. TIDE’s community researchers are insured for diving (the cost is shared) and they receive training in emergency first response and practice implementing an emergency action plan. The research vessel is equipped with an O2 kit and first aid kit and TIDE ensures that a rescue diver is present on all monitoring trips involving diving and insists that community researchers submit their dive logs before they can get paid.

Lead Organizations
Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE)

Partners
Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration (AusAID)

Resources
TIDE Community Researcher Program
Mesoamerican Barrier Reef Health Assessment
Healthy Reefs Initiative

This case study was adapted from: Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) 2015. Reef stewardship in Belize: TIDE community researcher program. A case study developed for the Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration.

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WE ARE 10!!!

Can you believe it? A decade ago, TNC – with the support of partners AROUND THE WORLD– launched the Reef Resilience Network, creating what would grow to become a global network of resource managers sharing ideas, experiences, and expertise to effectively manage our coral reefs and reef fisheries. Curious to see what ten years can do for managers and reefs? Take a look below and here!

RRonline

Special thanks to NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and International Union for Conservation of Nature, whose committed support to the Network has helped managers innovate, accelerate, and leverage solutions for improved global coral reef health and restoration of reef fisheries.

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Toxicopathological Effects of the Sunscreen UV Filter, Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3), on Coral Planulae and Cultured Primary Cells and Its Environmental Contamination in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Managing exposure of corals to oxybenzone, a common ingredient found in sunscreen lotions, is critical for managing for coral reef resilience. A new study found that coral planulae exposed to oxybenzone became deformed and sessile, and had an increased rate of bleaching which increased with increasing concentrations, affecting coral recruitment and juvenile survival. Because oxybenzone is a photoxicant, high light levels at or near the surface of the water where planulae of broadcasting species spend 2-4 days before settling may place them at higher risk than was seen in this laboratory study. Water samples were also collected in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii to determine oxybenzone concentrations occurring around swimming beaches. In this study, cell death was seen in seven Indo-Pacific and Caribbean coral species at concentrations similar to the water samples taken. Caribbean species sensitivity to oxybenzone was similar to the model of coral tolerance to other stressors (Gates and Edmunds 1999)—boulder corals and other slow growing species have a higher level of tolerance to stressors. For management, the data from this study can help predict changes to coral reef community structure in places with significant oxybenzone exposure and can be integrated into reef resilience management plans.

Author: Downs, C. A., E. Kramarsky-Winter, R. Segal, J. Fauth, S. Knutson, O. Bronstein, F.R. Ciner, R. Jeger, Y. Lichtenfeld, C.M. Woodley, P. Pennington, K. Cadenas, A. Kushmaro, and Y. Loya
Year: 2015
View Full Article

Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. doi: 10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7

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Environmental and Biotic Correlates to Lionfish Invasion Success in Bahamian Coral Reefs

Lionfish (Pterois volitans) from the Indo-Pacific have recently invaded the Caribbean and southeastern coast of North America. This study looked at lionfish abundances and the physical and environmental characteristics of the invasion process of reefs on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Lionfish abundance was significantly higher at sheltered sites compared to wave-exposed environments. This finding suggests that high-energy environments can provide native fish populations with natural refuges to lionfish invasions. It was further found that the abundance of medium prey fish and large native predators (large native groupers) did not negatively affect abundance of lionfish, however there was a relatively low biomass of large grouper on the island. The authors recommend that managers continue to protect and restore lionfish predators in the Caribbean.

Author: Anton, A., M.S. Simpson, and I. Vu
Year: 2014
View Full Article

PLoS ONE 9(9): e106229. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106229

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It’s not loo late for coral reefs

In a new article published today in the world’s leading academic journal, Science, Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy looks at the broad issues surrounding the current situation of coral reefs and highlights points of hope.

“There is growing concern around coral reefs,” said Spalding. “For decades they have had to survive a growing array of human threats and now climate change has added to this. It’s the new threat on the block and it’s a deep worry, but it is too early to proclaim the end of reefs.”

Many corals are showing some degree of adaptive capacity to both warming and to acidification, more than some scientists were expecting. Spalding notes that such adaptive capacity, alongside the natural resilience of reefs can enable them to recover even from quite severe perturbations. For example, most reefs in the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Seychelles, which lost virturally all their coral in 1998 due to warm-water induced coral “bleaching”, showed good recovery within a decade. Read more.

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U.S. Virgin Islands – MPA Management


How do we use our Marine Space? Mapping Human Uses of the East End Marine Park

Location
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Challenge
The St. Croix East End Marine Park (STXEEMP) is the U.S. Virgin Islands’ first and largest marine protected area. Its waters are cherished for a variety of commercial and recreational uses by fishers, recreational boaters, charters, hotels, and marinas. The Park also contains extensive mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, sea turtles, beaches, and fish species, which provide invaluable ecosystem benefits. While the extent and health of the biological resources are well understood, human use and social dimensions of the Park are not well researched or documented.

A central objective of marine spatial planning (MSP) is the identification and reduction of conflicts among human uses, and between human uses and the environment. In order to achieve this objective, it is necessary to have accurate and thorough spatial data representing both important and sensitive benthic habitats as well as the location, temporal distribution, and intensity of human activities. Unlike datasets related to physical and biological information, coastal human use information is less common in geographic information systems (GIS). However, collecting and putting this information into GIS allows for it to be visualized and analyzed for the purpose of MSP and management. This project filled those human activity data gaps through a coastal use mapping project.

Participants at the coastal mapping project for the St. Croix East End Marine Park represented a number of organizations including national and local government agencies, fishers, hoteliers, charter companies, and recreational boaters. © TNC

Participants at the coastal mapping project for the St. Croix East End Marine Park represented a number of organizations including national and local government agencies, fishers, hoteliers, charter companies, and recreational boaters. © TNC

With support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (NOAA CRCP), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural resources (USVI DPNR) convened partners and stakeholders to conduct the STXEEMP Coastal Use Mapping Project. Designed to collect information on how a community is using a coastal or marine area, a representative group of stakeholders were invited to provide input on how they use the waters and coastal areas of the Park. In order to ensure accurate representation from users of the STXEEMP, project partners assembled a list of every human activity within the STXEEMP. Key stakeholders from each activity were invited to workshops to represent their knowledge of that activity. This data will help resource managers understand both the range and intensity of key activities.

Workshops were held with stakeholders on St. Croix on April 16 and 17, 2015, to map key uses in the coastal environment, with a particular focus in the St. Croix East End Marine Park. Representatives from different marine sectors (recreation, watersports, marina, charter boating, SCUBA diving, and fishing industries) as well as NGOs and territorial and federal governmental partners met to provide first-hand information on the spatial and temporal distribution of human use activities in nearshore areas of USVI.

Stakeholder Mapping WS

Participant mapping coastal activities using E-Beam™ technology. @ TNC

This information was captured using the method of “Participatory GIS Mapping.” Participatory mapping provides participants a map on which to indicate the location of their activities, while moderators generate representative spatial data files in real time. E-Beam™ technology, an interactive tool that allows users to draw electronically on a map, was used to aid the participatory mapping method. During the workshops, maps of the STXEEMP were projected on the wall in front of the group. Representative stakeholders of each activity (i.e. snorkeling) walked to the front of the room and electronically mapped the location while the group provided input.

This work represents an ongoing effort by TNC, USVI DPNR, NOAA CRCP, and members of the Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership (CROP) to update human use data throughout the USVI in support of resource managers and regional MSP.

Heat map of cumulative activities shows the most intensely used areas of the STXEEMP.  Red and orange areas indicate heavily used areas of the Park. © Lynnette Roth

Heat map of cumulative activities shows the most intensely used areas of the STXEEMP. Red and orange areas indicate heavily used areas of the Park. © Lynnette Roth

How Successful has it been?
The following human activities and subsequent mapping layers were created during the STXEEMP Human Use Mapping Workshop in April 2015:

  • Boat Ramps and Slips
  • Marinas
  • Moorings
  • Recreational and Commercial Boating
  • Motorized and Non-motorized Personal Watercraft
  • Dive and Snorkeling Sites
  • Marine Restoration
  • Camping Beach Areas
  • Fish and Conch Fishing Area
  • Surfing

Data collected during the mapping workshops has been made available to workshop participants on the CROP Data Portal to the general public and resource managers as maps, GIS mapping layers, and analytical products reflecting the variety and extent of ocean uses. The summary report will be available electronically at reefconnect.org. Where possible, layers were combined to create a regional file for the entire territory of the USVI.

Map of motorized and non-motorized personal watercraft activity (i.e. kayaking) in the STXEEMP.  © Lynnette Roth

Map of motorized and non-motorized personal watercraft activity (i.e. kayaking) in the STXEEMP. © Lynnette Roth

These data are available to local and regional managers for the purposes of marine spatial planning, management, conflict reduction amongst user groups, and resource protection.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
In order to conduct a participatory mapping process, several key factors come into play including:

  • Participatory mapping depends on human resources and knowledgeable stakeholders must attend workshops and share their valuable information on human activities. Effort should be put towards recruitment of these stakeholders.
  • Technical resources including personnel that can manipulate GIS spatial files is critical.
  • Base maps of existing data are critical to getting accurate results.
  • E-Beam™ technology facilitates the collection of real time data in a participatory manner.

Funding Summary
This project was conducted by The Nature Conservancy with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (NOAA CRCP) through Cooperative Agreement #NA13NOS4820145. Through this Partnership, TNC and NOAA work on site level management and conservation strategies for the STXEEMP. The STXEEMP management and staff supported the project by identifying stakeholders, creating outreach materials and advertising the event.

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

Partners
USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Coastal Zone Management, East End Marine Park
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program

Resources
Reef Connect
Caribbean Regional Ocean Partnership Portal

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Minimizing the Short-Term Impacts of Marine Reserves on Fisheries While Meeting Long-Term Goals for Recovery

No-take marine reserves are often proposed as management tools to recover small-scale fisheries, which, if enforced, can improve mid to long-term harvests and profits. However, the short-term losses may prevent fishers from supporting and implementing no-take reserves, resulting in a loss of recovery of fisheries. Trade-offs between short-term loss in profits and long-term benefits to small-scale fisheries were quantified, using a multispecies model of coral reef fisheries for one case study. Impacts of reserves at different time scales depend on the social and management context, but the key to gaining support for marine reserves is to quantify the trade-offs at different time scales for stakeholders and policy makers. Policies for implementing marine reserves that are flexible can offer options with less short-term losses for fisheries that can be more appealing to fishermen, while still reaping the long-term recovery benefits.

Author: Brown, C.J., S. Abdullah, and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Conservation Letters 8(3): 180-189

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U.S. Virgin Islands – Fisheries Management


Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative – A Market-Driven Approach to a Sustainable Seafood Industry in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Location
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

The Challenge
Together, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, are one of the top three stressors to coral reefs throughout the Caribbean, and have contributed to dramatic declines in coral abundance, distribution and health.  The overharvest of “pot fish” (a term that locally refers to a number of fish species – many of which are herbivorous coral reef inhabitants), and the die-off of the herbivorous long-spined sea urchin (Diadema antillarum) have caused coral reefs in the Caribbean to shift to algal-dominated reefs. The introduction of the invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish, a fish without natural predators in the region, has also increased stress on reefs in the region. These fish may over-populate local reefs, removing important coral reef fish species, and further compromise the ability for coral reefs to remain resilient.

The Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s mission is to establish and support a sustainable seafood industry in the US Virgin Islands. © TNC

Actions Taken
In an effort to reduce the stress on coral reefs from overfishing and harmful fishing practices, the Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative was developed with the goal to encourage alternatives for consumption to important coral reef fishes.

The Initiative is comprised of the following four main components:

  1. Development and maintenance of a list of sustainably harvested food fishes and invertebrates of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
  2. Education and engagement of commercial fishers on fisheries regulations and the importance of healthy reefs to fisheries.
  3. The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification to empower restaurants to support local commercial fishers through purchasing and serving sustainably harvested seafood.
  4. The Reef Responsible Awareness Campaign to help consumers make informed decisions about the seafood purchase.

Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the U.S. Virgin Islands
The first step for the Initiative was to form an advisory group to guide and develop activities. Fisheries staff from territorial (USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife—DPNR) and federal regulatory agencies (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—NOAA) in the region, were recruited as advisory group members. Representatives from local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the University of the Virgin Islands working on fisheries issues were also selected. The group then worked to compile and agree on a list of sustainably harvested food fishes and invertebrates for the US Virgin Islands. The resulting Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the US Virgin Islands was developed based on current USVI local and US federal fisheries regulations. The list provides information on commercially important fish and invertebrate species caught in local U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. federal waters and uses the following three easy to understand categories to inform decisions about the seafood purchase:

After the list was developed work began to engage and educate fishers, restaurant owners and consumers on sustainable seafood options.

Education and Engagement of Commercial Fishers
In partnership with local and federal fisheries management agencies DPNR and NOAA fisheries, reef responsible training information has been integrated in to the annual process for fishing and vessel registration. Trainings are given as part of the registration process each year and are designed to increase participants’ understanding of fisheries regulations including seasonal closures, gear restrictions, and size limits. Trainings also deliver information on how catching seafood according to regulations can support the future of the USVI commercial fishery. Fishers are also connected to local restaurants that express interest in purchasing locally harvested sustainable seafood. As a result of this partnership a new program activity is underway to work with the Fisheries Advisory Council and the local and federal fisheries agencies to develop criteria for certification of sustainable seafood fishers.

Sustainable Seafood 11 Restaurant Owners and Caterers Attend Workshop

Restaurant, owners, chefs and wait staff undergo comprehensive training to become Reef Responsible Certified. © TNC

Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification
The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification was developed to empower restaurants to support local commercial fishers through purchasing and serving sustainably harvested seafood. To become a certified Reef Responsible Certified Restaurant, owners, chefs and wait staff undergo comprehensive training. The trainings are designed to increase participant understanding of how purchasing, serving and consuming locally harvested seafood can positively influence the future of the USVI commercial fishery and coral reefs. Participants are provided with outreach materials with information based on the best available science and are briefed on the negative impacts from the overharvest of herbivorous fishes, which play an important role to remove algae from reefs and provide space for corals to thrive. They also learn about seasonal closures and receive calendars with closure and catch size information. Participants are also introduced to the Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat seafood list. Additionally, cooking demonstrations are provided on how to prepare “good choice” fish like invasive lionfish.

Sustainable Seafood Chef Mike preparing

Chef Mike from Savant prepares a Reef Responsible dish. © TNC

The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification program is voluntary and after the training participating restaurants must commit: 1) to support local fishers, 2) to purchase and serve fish that adhere to size limits and seasonal closure rules, 3) not to purchase or serve fish on the “Don’t Eat” portion of the Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the USVI and 4) to spread awareness of Reef Responsible information through restaurant staff and patrons. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) staff and partners visit the restaurants throughout the year to check menus and specials making sure that the fish being served meets the Reef Responsible guidance listed above.

Restaurants are required to have participation at the training of staff members responsible for purchasing seafood. They are also encouraged to have wait staff attend trainings so they better understand and communicate Reef Responsible seafood options with restaurant patrons. If wait staff of an interested restaurant cannot attend the training it is requested that certified restaurant owners provide training information to staff.

Hostess Sarah with the Reef Responsible plaque at restaurant Savant, a certified Reef Responsible Restaurant on St. Croix. © TNC

Once the training is completed, the restaurant is certified as a Reef Responsible Restaurant, receives a plaque to showcase in the restaurant and is celebrated for their commitment through free advertising supported by TNC program staff. Newspaper, radio, special event and social media coverage is used to promote certified restaurants. Connections have also been made with the department of tourism to list certified restaurants on their website. The program has formed a successful partnership with the Taste of St. Croix, a premier food and wine event on the island. Reef Responsible Certified Restaurants are acknowledged at the event to further encourage community patronage. At the event the program also has a booth to provide information for interested restaurants on the program and holds lionfish cooking demonstrations. Interested restaurants are then invited to participate in Reef Responsible training workshops. See an example of the workshop invitation here.

The following outreach materials were developed to support the Training and Certification:

  • Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List for the USVI
  • Seasonal Closures Calendar
  • USVI Fish Fact Cards
  • Reef Responsible Certified Restaurant Plaque

Reef Responsible Awareness Campaign
The Reef Responsible Awareness Campaign was designed to create community support for the Reef Responsible certified restaurants and the overall awareness objectives of the Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative. The campaign targets seafood consumers through newspaper articles, advertisements, radio talk shows, social media and events (such as A Taste of St. Croix and St. Croix ReefJam) to share information about the importance of healthy reefs and how purchasing locally, sustainably sourced seafood can help support reef recovery. Through the campaign, we also encourage people to ask questions and learn more about the seafood that they purchase and consume, whether it’s from a restaurant or directly from a commercial fisher.

How Successful has it been?
By engaging multiple stakeholders, promoting reef responsible seafood alternatives (i.e. lionfish), and highlighting the benefits to people and reefs of sustainable seafood, this Initiative has the promise to reduce fishery-related stressors, helping to build the resiliency of USVI coral reefs. The Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification was launched in April 2014 at A Taste of St. Croix where nine initial certified restaurants were announced. Since then an additional 5 restaurants have been certified as Reef Responsible restaurants making the new total 14. One of the originally certified restaurants closed in 2015. To date all certified restaurants have successfully followed through on their Reef Responsible commitments. The 14 certified restaurants are celebrated for their commitment to a sustainable seafood industry for the U.S. Virgin Islands. They have also applauded TNC and the Sustainable Seafood Initiative partners for leading the development and implementation of this program, and are excited to be better connected to local fishers. Training participants have also been helping to encourage other restaurant owners and staff to become certified. The USVI Department of Tourism has expressed interest in the expansion of the Reef Responsible Restaurant Certification to St. Thomas and St. John as well as interests to replicate this program in the British Virgin Islands and in the Bahamas. Based on information gathered in follow up visits to certified restaurants, to date all have successfully followed through on their Reef Responsible commitments.

Current Certified Restaurants include: Savant, Dashi, Café Christine, Twin City Coffee House, The Mermaid, Empress Fresh Foods, eat @ cane bay, Rhythms at Rainbow, Above the Cliff, Ital In Paradise, Zion Modern Kitchen, Shoreline at Chenay, La Riene Chicken Shack, and Kendrick’s at Buccaneer.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
The Reef Responsible Sustainable Seafood Initiative has received support from a diverse group of stakeholders including, fishers, private sector restaurants, fisheries managers and NGOs. This is likely a result of the transparent and inclusive processes for development and implementation of Initiative activities.

Important lessons include:

  • When developing seafood lists, seasonal closure calendars, and other outreach materials it is critical to use the best available science and current local fisheries rules and regulations.
  • Develop professional outreach materials. Restaurants are profit- and consumer- driven and will appreciate polished materials. If possible solicit communications expertise for the development of materials and media products. This will help ensure they join the program.
  • Support a group of restaurants certifying at the same time. This creates a peer group of restaurants and helps increase excitement and support for certification.
  • The support and buy-in of local fishers to the Good Choice, Go Slow, and Don’t Eat Seafood List was very important. If the fishers and fisheries council had not supported the list we would not have proceeded with the certification effort. Their support for the list gave it and the Reef Responsible activities increased credibility.
  • Use a transparent process to develop sustainable seafood lists. Share information with all stakeholders on how the list was developed.
  • Use the best available science and regulations to develop the list and training materials.
  • Be flexible and make sure that the times of trainings or meetings are convenient for your target audience. For example the restaurant workers often cannot meet on evenings or weekends. Fishers as well cannot often attend meetings during normal business hours.
  • Plan for capacity to support communications for certified restaurants. Do not underestimate the time or expertise it takes to support this aspect of the activities.
  • The use of YouTube videos to share how to breakdown and prepare lionfish were very useful and expanded the reach and accessibility of trainings. These videos could be used and shared by participants outside of official trainings.

Funding Summary
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coral Reef Conservation Program

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration USVI Fisheries Liaison

Partners
The Reef Responsible Program is a collaborative effort among:

The Nature Conservancy US Virgin Islands
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program
NOAA Fisheries
USVI Division of Fish and Wildlife
The Marine Education and Outreach USVI Style’s Initiative – Don’t Stop Talking Fish Project
Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service
St. Croix Reef Jam

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