Florida – Disturbance Response

Disturbance Response and Monitoring Program in Action in the Florida Keys

Florida Keys and southeast Florida mainland, USA

Florida bleaching mapThe Challenge
The Florida Reef Resilience Program (FRRP) region includes the Dry Tortugas and Florida Keys, and extends up the southeast Florida coast to Martin County. The FRRP started in 2004, and is a multi-year effort to develop and share management approaches and tools to cope with climate change and other stresses on South Florida’s coral reefs. The Nature Conservancy coordinates the FRRP in conjunction with the State of Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and a Steering Committee of reef managers, scientists, reef user-group representatives and other conservation groups. The project region includes shallow water coral reefs (spanning approximately 30,800 km2), colonized hardbottom, seagrass beds and mangrove communities. The focus of the FRRP has been on stony corals and shallow coral reefs.

The chronic stresses that challenge reefs of South Florida include climate change (including warming seas, coral bleaching, disease and acidification); eutrophication from inadequate wastewater and storm water management systems; coastal development; overfishing; destructive fishing practices; boat groundings; anchor damage and diver impacts. The FRRP region has experienced several significant disturbances during the last three decades, including the Diadema sea urchin die-off of 1984, the 1997-1998 and 2005 bleaching events, and hurricanes including four named storms in 2005. In early 2010, the region experienced a cold water event.

The goals of the FRRP are to improve understanding of reef health in the region, and to identify factors that influence the long-term resilience of corals, reefs and the entire marine ecosystem. With this knowledge in hand, coral reef managers and users can work toward resilience-based management strategies that maximize the benefits of healthy reefs, while seeking to improve conditions of less healthy reefs.

Meaghan Johnson of The Nature Conservancy performs reef surveys as part of the FRRP-DRM. © Erich Bartels

Meaghan Johnson of The Nature Conservancy performs reef surveys as part of the FRRP-DRM. © Erich Bartels

Actions Taken
A focal area of the program has been filling spatial and temporal information gaps for stony coral bleaching and other bioindicator monitoring data. The first step in this process was characterization of the >400 km long reef tract from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas into 22 unique reef zones. This created a spatial framework within which a Disturbance Response Monitoring (DRM) scheme could be developed. An online course was developed to train people to monitor corals before and during bleaching and other extreme events.

The DRM focused initially on coral bleaching, but is adaptable to detect and capture responses to other forms of disturbance. During the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, the DRM was deployed to detect any detrimental effects from the oil spill to the reefs off Florida. Luckily, the reefs were spared any direct impacts.

FRRP surveyors. Photo © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

FRRP surveyors. © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

The Disturbance Response Monitoring scheme consists of a probabilistic sampling design and a stony coral condition monitoring protocol, implemented during peak thermal stress across the entire South Florida reef tract that extends from Martin County to the Dry Tortugas.

Since 2005, 1758 surveys have been completed by 13 teams from federal, state, and local government agencies, non-profit organizations, and universities during the summer months. Teams enter data on an online database and query through an online mapping service.

2010 Cold Water Event
Following extreme cold temperatures in early January 2010, the FRRP partners initiated a Disturbance Response Monitoring effort to determine the extent of the impact on stony corals in South Florida. Survey sites were randomly selected from a pool of 2005-2009 DRM sites. High resolution sea surface temperature data provided by the University of South Florida was used to further stratify the sample design between sites that experienced temperatures at or below the lethal limit for stony corals (59 degrees) and sites and that did not experience lethally cold conditions.

Recently dead Montastrea coral due to a cold water event. Photo © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

Recently dead Montastrea coral due to a cold water event. © Meaghan Johnson/TNC

In early 2010, 78 sites were surveyed across the Florida Reef Tract. The impact of the cold water was very spatially explicit. The areas that sustained the greatest impact were the inshore and mid channel zones from Summerland Key in the lower Keys through Biscayne National Park. Contrary to warm water induced coral bleaching events, the main effect on the stony corals was direct mortality with low levels of bleaching. Frequent observations on specific corals during the event showed that the corals would generally pale for a day, then die, with mortality occurring across all species.

How successful has it been?
From 2005 to 2013, 1758 surveys were completed. Results from these nine years of surveys show spatial and temporal patterns in coral bleaching and colony size frequency distribution, indicating that some reef areas or coral species may be more resilient to stress than others. Minor to moderate bleaching occurred within varying reef areas in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. While the causes of this variability remain poorly quantified, projected increases in coral bleaching due to climate change makes identification of these resilient reef areas and species important for long-term coral reef conservation and future management strategies.

An analysis of the data revealed areas of the reef tract that contains higher abundance of corals, larger coral colonies, prevalence of bleaching and prevalence of coral disease. All of these layers combined give an indication of where the reefs are that have a higher resistance to bleaching and disease. Having this information for the entire Florida Reef Tract has allowed coral reef managers to incorporate this into their public processes to improve the management of Florida’s coral reef resources.

Figure 1: (C) Rob Van Woesik & S Burman

Figure 1: (C) Rob Van Woesik & S Burman

With this knowledge in hand, coral reef managers and users can work toward resilience-based management strategies that maximize the benefits of healthy reefs, while seeking to improve conditions of less healthy reefs. Ultimately, the FRRP seeks to improve ecological conditions of Florida’s reefs, economic sustainability of reef-dependent commercial enterprises, and continued recreational use of reef resources.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Success of this project was highly dependent on the collaboration and contributions of many different agencies and institutions. The scale of the survey was so great that it would not have happened without collaboration. This has also resulted in a continued high level of commitment from the organizations involved.
  • Identifying supplementary funding to allow different organizations that had staff and expertise, but lacked the funds, was critical. This enabled a broad spectrum of institutional stakeholders to contribute.
  • In the first year, the team was able to demonstrate that an undertaking of this scale was possible and that there was a broad institutional commitment. The success of this pilot effort helped attract additional partners who had initially questioned the feasibility of conducting such large-scale surveys.
  • It was important to develop a simple protocol so that surveys could be completed rapidly during the period of peak bleaching occurrence; so that minimal training was required; and so that the resulting data set was consistent.
  • It was important at the beginning to agree on the scale, sampling goals, and protocol, so that the process was clear to participants.
  • It was important to continue surveys each year regardless of the level of coral bleaching to keep surveyors up to date with the methodology in case of unexpected disturbances (e.g. 2010 cold water event). This also keeps the survey work in team members’ annual workplans and budgets, facilitating their ongoing participation.

Funding Summary
Florida Department of Environmental Protection—Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—Coral Reef Conservation Program
Florida’s Wildlife Legacy Initiative—State Wildlife Grant
Darden Restaurants Foundation
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd—Ocean Fund
Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation
Peacock Foundation Inc.

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy

Mote Marine Tropical Research Laboratory
Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Biscayne Bay Environmental Center
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
John Pennekamp State Park
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Office of Coastal & Aquatic Managed Areas
Southeast Florida Aquatic Preserves Field Office
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Division of Habitat and Species Conservation
South Regional Office
South Regional Laboratory
Broward County: Environmental Protection and Growth
Miami Dade County
Dept. of Environmental Resources Mgmt.
Restoration and Enhancement Section
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Nova Southeastern University National Coral Reef Institute
Nova Southeastern Univ. Oceanographic Center
Florida Institute of Technology
National Park Service Biscayne National Park
National Park Service Dry Tortugas National Park

The Nature Conservancy’s Florida Reef Resilience Program
South Florida’s Bleaching Response Plan (pdf)

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Honduras – MPA Design

Supporting and Managing Resilient Systems in the Bay Islands, Honduras

Cordelia Banks, Roatán, Bay Islands, Honduras

The Challenge
Cordelia Banks is located on the southwest coast of Roatán in the Honduran Bay Islands. It sits between two cruise docks, as well as the two largest towns in the Islands, Coxen Hole and French Harbour. Cordelia Banks is made up of three large coralline banks covered extensively by staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) colonies. The abundance of this species has been reduced by 98% within the Caribbean, becoming critically endangered as defined by CITES. Smith Bank, the most studied of the 3 banks, has an approximate area of 52 acres, and could possibly be the largest patch of A. cervicornis within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It is an important source of coral spawn, critical because it can help to repopulate reefs of the Caribbean where Staghorn has already disappeared. The area has been identified as a spawning aggregation site for groupers and snappers, and hosts a healthy community of Caribbean gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii).

Staghorn coral and diver. Photo © Dano Pendygrasse

Staghorn coral and diver. © Dano Pendygrasse

An Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment has been carried out (almost) every two years since 2006. The findings have shown that Cordelia Banks boasts a staggering 70% live coral cover (in certain study sites). This is the largest coral cover ever recorded by this methodology in over 800 sites Mesoamerican wide. The methodology was reviewed and adjusted by the authors in order to effectively measure and quantify the coral colonies as dense as those found in Cordelia Bank. Cordelia’s biological importance, as well as the threats it faces, makes its complete protection an urgent matter. The effects of coastal development have increased due to the natural attractions of Roatán and the increase in tourism-related investment. Several populated towns also have an indirect influence over Cordelia Banks. It is also located within maritime transport and cruise ship routes, which could easily increase pressure on this fragile ecosystem.

Actions Taken
In 2009, WWF worked with the Roatán Marine Park (RMP) and Luna Environmental Consulting to develop a technical paper describing the ecological significance of the area proposed for protection, which provided the foundation for the next phase of work funded by the Ocean Fund. This document included a Technical Data Sheet about the importance of Cordelia Bank, Rationale for the Request to Declare Cordelia Banks a Site of Wildlife Importance, and the management objectives to promote it as marine protected area (MPA).

The government issued the official declaration for the Honduran Bay Islands National Marine Park in June 2010. This declaration created a marine park encompassing the coasts and marine waters surrounding all three of the Bay Islands (Roatán, Utila, and Guanaja). The Bay Islands National Marine Park area covers 6,471.5 km2.

Cordelia was declared as a Site of Wildlife Importance by the Protected Areas Department within the Forestry Conservation Institute on May 2012, and covers an area of 17 km2. The management plan was developed to fit within the framework of the Bay Islands National Marine Park, and was approved in September 2013.

Caribbean gray reef shark. © Antonio Busiello

Caribbean gray reef shark. © Antonio Busiello

Three main strategies are underway to build effective conservation for the Park:

  1. Support organizing and strengthening departmental, municipal and local advisory councils, specifically those concerning Cordelia Banks, utilizing partnerships with community advisory councils.
  2. Raise public awareness of the Forestry Law, Protected Areas Act, General Regulations and Special Law of the Bay Islands among Cordelia Banks stakeholders, utilizing partnerships with community advisory councils.
  3. Share the regulations contained in the management plan, with local stakeholders, in order to reduce illegal activities and foster community involvement in the management.

Community Advisory Councils
The community advisory councils are a community-based participation, consultation and support platform to the Protected Areas Department within the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) and municipalities to manage the natural resources, protected areas (PAs), forest areas and wildlife as stated in the Forestry Law. The councils are key participants in the design and support to the development of the Management Plan for the Bay Islands National Marine Park. Each Community Advisory Council includes representatives of the organizations such as: Patronatos (community councils), water boards, community tourism groups, school boards, fishers organizations or representatives, and other social and productive organizations in the communities that border and/or are within the protected areas.

These councils were created to support all protected areas in the country. PAs and MPAs in Honduras are created by the central government, but the entities in charge of managing them are NGOs, who sign a co-management agreement with ICF and these should have municipal oversight. In reality, ICF is minimally involved, and relations with the local municipal governments are mostly non-existent. There is also no source of federal funding to manage these areas, and NGOs have to turn to imaginative ways of raising operative funds. Councils were thought of as a way to foster more local involvement in the management of PAs, thereby creating more buy-in from this important stakeholder. There have been several cases where protected areas have been declared without ever consulting the local populations, and as such, these have never been respected.

Additionally, training has been conducted, along with capacity building for the Community Advisory Councils on aspects related to the socialization of the Protected Areas Law in the preparation of the Management Plan for Bay Islands National Marine Park. A trip was held for government representatives (Minister and Congress) to Cordelia Banks to celebrate the declaration of the site as one of Wildlife Importance. Cordelia Banks is also managed as a Marine Sanctuary for Sharks (Honduras and Palau Islands are the only two countries in the world where it illegal to fish sharks and sell any of their by-products). Finally, Community Marine Reserves or no-take zones have been established in coordination with the fishermen’s associations and the Community Advisory Councils. The no-take zone has been established within Cordelia Banks in the zoning chapter of the Management Plan.

How successful has it been?
The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and the Roatán Marine Park (RMP) applied for a grant to Ocean Fund to acquire a patrol boat for the area. This boat was launched on June of 2012. Roatán Marine Park, with a park Ranger and a National Policeman onboard, coordinates patrolling activities.

CORAL funded a fisheries survey/assessment, carried out by Centro de Estudios Marinos’ Steve Canty. This information was very helpful in the creation of the management plan, as it allowed identifying key players within the fishing community. These stakeholders were invited to help create the no-take zone, during the meetings to write up the management plan. TNC, with USAID funding, organized these fishermen into a legal organization.

Healthy Honduran reef © Ian Drysdale

Healthy Honduran reef. © Ian Drysdale

The zoning will soon be a reality with the installation of buoys. These are being installed by a joint effort carried out by CORAL, RMP and Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), with funding from Port of Roatán.

The biological monitoring of the area is being done in several different ways. Reef health is defined using the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocol and HRI’s Simplified Integrated Reef Health Index (SIRHI), alongside many other local organizations. Coral spawning and a grouper/snapper spawning/aggregation site are also monitored on the right phases of the moon.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • With the Ocean Fund Grant, WWF was able to engage the local communities to move forward, after the legal declaration of the Bay Islands National Marine Park. Without WWF’s involvement, as well as ICF, Honduras Directorate General of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and CORAL, the Cordelia Banks advisory council would not have become active and would have remained another amazing idea on paper.
  • Consolidating the advisory councils was a necessary step prior to designing the management plans, as these are usually the users of the resources contained in these protected areas.
  • The Ocean Fund was catalytic to assuring the long-term legal status and conservation of Cordelia Banks by setting the stage for successfully designing the management plan.
  • Involving the local fishermen in the creation of the management plan was a key element in defining the no-take zone, as well as identifying the sites to install fishing moorings.
  • AGRRA and HRI’s SIHRI was a valuable tool that helped identify the biological importance of the site, based on the outstanding coral cover found.
  • ‪CORAL has been leading the discussion about the development of a Bay Islands Conservation Fund. Working with government officials, CORAL has facilitated several meetings to determine the use of mitigation funds that otherwise would not be accessible for the ongoing management of marine protected areas in the Bay Islands (mitigation monies would simply roll over into a general fund). This new conservation fund would shore up long-term sustainable financing for Cordelia Banks and the Bay Islands (a minimum of $75,000 per year for 30 years is identified as mitigation for maintenance activities of the cruise ship docks).
  • Engaging the private sector created a win-win situation that fostered collaboration between all stakeholders: the private sector needed to comply with requisites contained in their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA); the local organizations needed funding to create an applicable and consulted management plan.

Funding Summary
World Wildlife Fund
Oak Foundation
Summit Foundation
Coral Reef Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Ocean Fund
MAR Fund
Roatán Marine Park
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Port of Roatán

Lead Organizations
Healthy Reefs Initiative
Coral Reef Alliance

Healthy Reefs Initiative
WWF-Mesoamerican Reef
Roatán Marine Park
Coral Reef Alliance
The Nature Conservancy
Port of Roatán

Cordelia Banks – Jewel of the Meso-American Reef (video)

Treasures of Roatan: Cordelia Banks (video)

WWF Report: Coral Reef Protection in Cordelia Banks (pdf)

Cordelia Banks Info Sheet (pdf)

Technical Paper (pdf, Spanish)

Information on Honduran Protected Areas (pdf, Spanish)

Cordelia Banks Management Plan (pdf, Spanish)

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Madagascar – Communication

Social Marketing Campaign Engages Madagascar Fishing Villages in Sustainable Fishing Practices

Andavadoaka Coast, Madagascar

Coral reef in Velondriake. © Blue Ventures

Coral reef in Velondriake. © Blue Ventures

The Challenge
Stretching almost 350 km along the southwestern coastline of Madagascar is the Grand Recif barrier reef system, consisting of a barrier reef and fringing and inner lagoon reefs. Andavadoaka’s coastal waters boast a diversity of fish and coral species and draw fishers and increasingly, tourists. In the Velondriake area, some destructive fishing practices such as fish poisoning and the use of illegal nets, threaten the health of coral reefs and fisheries and the local way of life. With the successful implementation of fishery closures for octopus, the community implemented greater marine resource management. Along with local partners, the Velondriake locally managed marine area (LMMA) was established in 2006. Although the LMMA bans destructive fishing practices, compliance and enforcement were lacking. The Velondriake Committee of elected representatives from each of the participating 25 villages is responsible for the overall management and enforcement of the local laws. The local people depend on reefs for food and their livelihoods. With a growing population, the future health of these resources is critical.

Actions Taken
To address this threat, Rare and Blue Ventures launched a social marketing campaign from 2009 to 2011 to raise awareness about the ban on illegal fishing and improve compliance. Rare campaigns use innovative marketing and messaging to achieve the conservation goals of the project.

Behind Rare Pride Campaigns
Rare’s signature Pride campaigns aim to change knowledge, attitudes and behavior by using proven social science methods and innovative delivery methods. The campaigns are successfully implemented at the local level by first planning campaign objectives, selecting a flagship species and carefully researching the target audiences. Rare Fellows, who run the campaigns, follow a “theory of change” model for the project that is tailored for the target community. This model identifies the benefits of, and barriers to sustainable behavior. A substantial portion of the project takes place early on in with the site assessment process. Working closely with the community, local staff collect baseline information through stakeholder workshops and surveys. This helps design a community-specific campaign and set specific measurable objectives for the project.

Rare’s Theory of Change Model © Rare

Rare’s Theory of Change Model. © Rare

Rare campaigns set conservation targets for their projects. For the Campaign for Sustainable Fisheries Management Andavadoaka Coast, the target was to increase fish biomass, fish diversity and CPUE (catch per unit of effort) from the site to within 5% of values from a control site by using safer fishing practices and following the rules of the LMMA. The campaign aimed to change local attitudes about community responsibility for enforcing regulations and to raise awareness about unsustainable fishing practices such as using small mesh nets and poison fishing which kill juvenile fish and destroy nearshore marine habitats. The target audience was local leaders, boat owners, beach seiners, and the communities living along the coast. The campaigns are designed jointly by Rare and their on-the-ground partner who receives training before the campaign and continuing support throughout the campaign from a Rare campaign supervisor.

To better understand the issue, local Blue Ventures staff, led by Rare Fellow Gildas Andriamalala held a series of focus group meetings and one-on-one discussions with fishers. A pre-campaign survey (see Resources section) was also conducted to collect baseline information about the community’s knowledge, attitudes, perceptions about marine resource use and local marine laws and the target audiences’ barriers to behavior change. Also, information was collected to determine the types of communication that would be most effective in the community.

Campaign logo painted on local boats. © Blue Ventures

Campaign logo painted on local boats. © Blue Ventures

A number of communication tools were used, including messages on the radio, banners, posters, t-shirts, as well as events such as festivals. Vezo Aho, “I am Vezo” is a simple, key message of the campaign, which celebrates local fishers’ self-perception as sea stewards with significant seamanship skills and knowledge. The campaign title was “stop beach seining and poison fishing in the Velondriake area”, and the by-line is “the sea is my heritage and that of my descendants.” To effectively reach the fishers and local community members, the message was taken out to sea. The Vezo Aho logo painted on more than 150 sails on local pirogues (dugout canoes) serve as traveling billboards to spread the message of unsustainable fishing and what can be done to lessen this threat. Radio spots featured local fishers who described the importance of marine resources to their livelihoods. A total of 900 t-shirts and 600 posters were also distributed.

How successful has it been?
Rare Pride campaigns conduct project-specific monitoring techniques based on the type of information that is needed to assess objectives at each site and within funding limitations. Three types of data were collected:

  1. Ecological data, to provide reef baseline data and post-project data for comparison;
  2. Proxy indicators, for example, using enforcement as a measurement for a decrease in the resources threat;
  3. Social surveys, to measure changes in knowledge, attitudes, and self-reported behaviors. A post-campaign survey using the same survey instrument as the pre-campaign survey was used to measure messages exposure, changes in knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.

After one year of implementation of the campaign, results showed:

  • Improved knowledge about the local laws among leaders and fishers
  • Positive attitudes about the local laws among leaders and fishers
  • Moderate increases in enforcement of the local laws
  • Moderate decreases in the use of destructive fishing practices
Octopus cyanea - Blue octopus- Rare

Blue octopus (Octopus cyanea) harvest. © Blue Ventures

Overall, an evaluation of the campaign found that social marketing tools were fostering sustainable behavior in fishing communities. When combined with governance and enforcement strategies, the campaign is helping to foster sustainable behavior and decrease destructive fishing practices. Rare staff believe that messages targeted at a key audience were critical to the success of the campaign. Lessons learned from the campaign continue to be used to guide activities related to the LMMA.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • Many target audiences made the campaign difficult to manage.
  • Failure to address barriers of behavior change for migrant fishers was a shortcoming of the campaign. Addressing the need for alternative fishing methods and livelihoods was difficult to do due to financial and logistical reasons.
  • Pirogue owners were not specifically targeted in the campaign with individual messages. This was a missed opportunity that could have allowed for more leveraging of their decision-making power and cultural leadership roles as trend-setters.
  • Government officials were not properly incorporated into the campaign. This missed opportunity could have led to a more institutional support for local law enforcement.
  • The spatial context of the Velondriake area contributed to high campaign costs. The dispersed nature of the 25 target villages made for high transportation costs.
  • The Pride campaign has been massively successful in building capacity with Blue Ventures and the Velondriake committee members. Learning the Rare social marketing strategy and applying it in the field, with the guidance of a Rare campaign advisor, was revolutionary. Blue Ventures entire field team is now being trained in the social marketing methodology.
  • Engaging community members from the planning to the implementation phase was a key success to the campaign in terms of messaging strategies.
  • The social marketing campaign piloted in Velondriake was definitely replicable to other sites in the west coast of Madagascar due to the similarities of the fishing villages.

Funding Summary
Direct costs to run the campaign were $40,000 US co-funded by Blue Ventures and Rare.

Lead Organizations
Blue Ventures

Rare’s The Principles of Pride (pdf)

Rare Blog

Using social marketing to foster sustainable behaviour in traditional fishing communities of southwest Madagascar

Pre-campaign survey (pdf)

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Indonesia – MPA Management

Management Plan of Wakatobi National Park Leads to Increased Stakeholder Engagement Through Monitoring Efforts

Wakatobi National Park, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia

wakatobi 2 Bajo tribal children

Bajo tribal children (Sea gypsies tribe) in Wakatobi National Park, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia. The children play with friends and their “koli-koli” (small wooden boat without engine and screen). This is a common daily activity, along with fishing, for bajo children after returning from school. © Marthen Welly/TNC-CTC

The Challenge
Wakatobi is named after the four main islands of Wangi-Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko, which together with 35 smaller islands comprise the Tukang Besi Archipelago at the southeastern tip of Sulawesi, Indonesia. Located within the Coral Triangle, the area is known for its exceptional coral reef diversity and its marine resources have high economic value, particularly for fisheries. Most of the 100,000 residents of the Wakatobi district depend on the sea for their livelihood. To improve management of the reefs and surrounding waters, 3.4 million acres of islands and waters were declared as the Wakatobi National Park (WNP) in 1996.

In 2003, ecological surveys of the reefs revealed widespread coral damage, primarily from destructive fishing practices (i.e. blast fishing and cyanide fishing) and overfishing. In addition, costal development threatened the coral reef and coastal environment of the area through reclamation and sand and coral mining.

wakatobi 3 reef

Coral reef in Wakatobi Marine National Park of SE Sulawesi, Indonesia. © Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock/Secret Sea Visions

Actions Taken
To address overfishing and destructive fishing practices in Wakatobi, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) worked with the Wakatobi National Park Authority and a broad range of stakeholders to support implementation of a revised management plan. This work included a revision of the zoning plan through extensive technical advice and consultation with partners. By involving local communities, focusing on collaborative management and building a strong legal foundation for the park’s zoning and enforcement, conservation action at Wakatobi is intended to be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.

To address threats to coral reefs from climate change, resilience principles were incorporated into the zoning plan including representation and replication of key habitats in no take zones, and protection of critical habitat like fish spawning aggregations and turtle nesting beaches. A number of scenarios for a multiple-use zoning plan, based upon biological, ecological, and socioeconomic features of the area, were produced and modified based on local community input. In 2007, the Director General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation of the Ministry of Forestry and the Head of the Wakatobi District formally endorsed the Wakatobi National Park’s Zoning Plan.


Zone types include: a core zone of no-take and no-entry, marine zone of no-take, a tourism zone of no-take which allows for only non-extractive tourism activities, and a traditional use zone dedicated for pelagic fisheries.

wakatobi 4 FRS Menami_01_Resize

Monitoring vessel in Wakatobi National Park. © TNC/WWF

Key aspects of the management plan include an outreach strategy, surveillance and monitoring. The communication campaign for Wakatobi occured at the village level, at the sub-district level, and at the district level. Frequent meetings reflected the level of engagement, which ensured that the Wakatobi National Park, the Wakatobi district government, and the local communities were well informed about the zoning process. Additionally, media messages are distributed through cable TV to support environmental issues, in general. Although challenging, through the communication campaign, the local communities in Wakatobi have become more experienced and knowledgeable about the benefits of MPAs.

The surveillance program of Wakatobi includes three components: WNP rangers, local police, local community, local district fisheries and Wakatobi Marine & Fisheries Agency perform surveillance 10 days/month, using Floating Ranger Stations (FRS) around Wakatobi. Additionally, WNP rangers and police perform incidental patrols, and finally, integrated patrols by WNP rangers, Indonesian Navy, police, and the Wakatobi Marine & Fisheries Agency occur several times each month.

There are many monitoring programs in Wakatobi National Park that assess the effectiveness of the management plan:

  • WNP Rangers and Wakatobi Marine & Fisheries Agency record the details of resource users in the park over several days of surveys each month.
  • During the full moon in peak spawning seasons, Wakatobi National Park Authority staff record the number and species of fish at Fish Spawning Aggregation sites.
  • Every 1-2 years, WNP rangers collect data on the condition of fish populations and coral reefs throughout the park.
  • Opportunistic observations of large marine fauna (whales and dolphins) are recorded on all surveys.
  • During the full moon each month, WNP monitoring teams survey turtle nesting beaches and record the species, size and number of nesting turtles.

Every 2 years, WNP rangers monitor seabird habitat and nesting sites, the mangrove forest, and seagrass meadow. Three surveys have been conducted to evaluate stakeholder’s perceptions on the efficiency of MPA management, and to improve the effectiveness of outreach programs by understanding trends in local perceptions.

How successful has it been?
The outcome of the surveys conduced have led to higher support for the MPA and for the zoning system. For example, one community group on Tomia Island adopted the No-take-zone as their fish bank, and then encouraged local fishers to respect the rules and regulations of the No-take-zone. For this effort the community group (Komunto) won the UN Equator Award in 2010. And in 2012, the Wakatobi National Park received the Man and Biosphere Reserve status for its efforts to embrace nature conservation and sustainable development.

Currently Wakatobi NP possesses one of the best biodiversity monitoring team among all the MPA in Indonesia. The biodiversity health monitoring program informed adaptive management for Wakatobi NP. Although Wakatobi NP’ response has not always been rapid enough to address various challenges, it is encouraging to note that the level of awareness and knowledge of Wakatobi NP rangers and the community has increased significantly to detect threats to their marine ecosystems and fishing grounds. To address these challenges, both the Wakatobi district government and Wakatobi NP authority agreed to create a multistakeholder forum comprising key government agencies, and community representatives to improve coordination and strengthen collaboration among key sectors.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • Stakeholder input from forums with the local community, prior to work in the field, ensures that local community members and the government support the work being done.
  • Extensive work with the local community has enhanced local understanding of MPA benefits, and their need for involvement with Park management.
  • Extensive work with the local government was essential to encourage and advance the shared management regime between the local government and the National Park.
  • Having a solid team, structured work, clear budget allocations, clear tasks and responsibilities among all team members is necessary for an effective project.
  • Extensive monitoring is needed to incorporate comprehensive data analysis, to make sure MPA design and planning align with the biological and ecological characteristics of the area.
  • The Wakatobi National Park and the district government have agreed to form a multi-stakeholder forum to encourage communication among various government agencies and community representatives, promote transparencies, and improve coordination to ensure conservation objectives are implemented to sustain local development.

Funding Summary

Packard Foundation
Margaret A. Cargill Foundation
World Wildlife Fund
The Nature Conservancy

Lead Organizations
TNC-WWF Joint Program
Wakatobi National Park

Ministry of Forestry, Directorate General of Forest Protection & Nature Conservation
Ministry Fisheries & Marine Affairs
Wakatobi District
TNC Indonesia Marine Program
WWF Indonesia Marine Program
Haluoleo University
Indonesian Institute of Science

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Indonesia – MPA Design

Designing a Robust and Resilient Marine Protected Area Network in Lesser Sunda Ecoregion – Indonesia

Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, Indonesia

A scientific design of a resilient network of marine protected areas in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, encmpassing 3 provinces and two countries.

A scientific design of a resilient network of marine protected areas in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, encompassing 3 provinces and two countries.

The Challenge
At the southern end of the Coral Triangle, the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion stretches from Bali to Timor-Leste, covering an area of more than 450,000 square kilometers. The coral reefs of the region are highly diverse and have high levels of endemism, and six species of endangered sea turtles nest on the beaches of many small islands. This area is a major migratory corridor for cetaceans between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, with 21 species of marine mammal including blue whales and sperm whales recorded. Other large marine species such as dugongs, manta rays and whale sharks are also common in this region.

Lesser Sunda Pygmy Blue Whale

Pygmy blue whale. © Australian Antarctic Division

One of the exceptional features of this region is the steep and dramatic underwater landscape. Just a few kilometers from the coast, the seafloor drops from shallow coral reefs to canyons and seamounts at depths of up to 2000m, creating “deep sea/near shore” habitats. The passage of the Indonesian Throughflow (ocean current) between the narrow channels of the islands generates exceptionally strong currents. Persistent seasonal cold-water upwellings are an important feature of this region and drive the high productivity that supports fisheries and cetacean populations. These could also be a key factor in conferring resilience to the growing threat of rising sea surface temperatures associated with climate change. If properly protected, the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion could become a refuge for marine life and productive fisheries amid global climate change.

Although the islands of the Lesser Sunda are sparsely populated (around 13 million people live on hundreds of islands over thousands of square kilometers, making it one of the least densely populated areas in Indonesia), resource management issues include destructive and overfishing and harvesting of cetaceans and turtles, coastal development and mining. These practices threaten both conservation values and sustainable resource use. Developing an MPA network is one strategy to reduce these threats and, by incorporating principles of resilience, to also address the threat of climate change.

Lesser Sunda Tuna Boats

Tuna boats, Kupang. © Joanne Wilson/TNC

Actions Taken
The Nature Conservancy-Indonesia Marine Program (TNC-IMP) has been working with the national, provincial and district governments, local communities, NGOs and universities since 2006 to design a resilient network of MPAs for the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion. The MPA network design was developed through a process that included both detailed scientific assessment and an extensive stakeholder consultation process. TNC-IMP facilitated workshops on Marine Protected Areas that were attended by more than 1,000 participants, and led technical MPA training initiatives for around 200 participants from national and local government agencies, local universities, marine research institutions, local communities, NGOs, as well as the fishing and tourism industries. The design process included:

  • Development of ecological and socioeconomic MPA network design criteria that include principles of resilience
  • Development of a GIS database that includes the best available information on key conservation features, threats and uses of the area
  • Application of state of the art conservation planning tools (Marxan)
  • Collection of input from government agencies, local stakeholders and scientific experts though a series of workshops and meetings

The design for Lesser Sunda MPA network includes 100 protected areas — 86 coastal reserves and MPAs for coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass that are linked to 14 larger offshore MPAs. The offshore MPAs encompass deep sea habitats important for endangered species such as blue whales. The MPA network design builds on existing and planned MPAs, and identifies additional areas for development of coastal and deep sea MPAs in the future. The network includes:

  • 23 existing terrestrial reserves that are adjacent to the coast and encompass intertidal habitats, such as mangroves or turtles nesting beaches
  • 14 existing MPAs that represent coral reefs, seagrass, mangroves, turtle nesting beaches and associated habitats and species
  • 19 areas that national, provincial or district governments have proposed as MPAs but have not yet been declared
  • 30 additional areas of interest that have been identified for inclusion
  • 14 deep sea areas of interest — three of which encompass transboundary waters between Indonesia and Timor-Leste

Together, the 100 protected areas incorporate all important ecosystems and species.

Key features of the Lesser Sunda MPA network design include:

  • The first resilient MPA network design at the ecoregional level in the Coral Triangle
  • The application of large scale marine spatial planning in a data deficient area which required innovative approaches including: less reliance on computer based decision support tools and more reliance on the use of expert mapping and input from key stakeholders
  • Incorporation of the principles of resilience, including 20% to 30% of each habitat type, protection of key species and habitats, and inclusion of habitats that may be resilient to increasing water temperatures such as areas of upwelling or high temperature variability such as reef flats
  • An extensive stakeholder consultation process including expert mapping exercises, scientific peer review and consultation with relevant government agencies in the region

How successful has it been?
A new MPA, Savu Sea National Marine Park (over 30,000 km²), has been gazetted by the Indonesian Government earlier this year.

The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) agreed to adopt the design as the primary reference for establishing MPAs in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion and to include the design in marine and coastal spatial planning at district, provincial and national levels. The scientific design of the Lesser Sunda MPA network and the accompanying information database are excellent resources for central, provincial and district government agencies that have guided their coastal and marine planning in the Lesser Sunda Ecoregion. These products provided a starting point for supporting finer scale site based planning for design and implementation of individual MPAs.

TNC-IMP supports relevant government agencies in the establishment and implementation of Nusa Penida MPA and Savu Sea Marine National Park and is providing training and technical input to policy and MPA design in Timor-Leste.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and key recommendations include:

  • Producing a good scientific design for a robust and resilient MPA network is an important step to promote marine conservation in a large marine ecoregion such as the Lesser Sunda.
  • A good scientific design alone will not guarantee marine conservation success or the establishment of MPAs or MPA network.
  • Application of marine spatial planning is expected to address multi-sectoral interests and conflicts of resource use
  • A marine protected area management effectiveness framework must also be developed and introduced across the MPA network to ensure that the MPAs established are managed in high standard and functional to benefit conservation and other development needs in the region.

Funding Summary

MacArthur Foundation

Lead Organizations
The Nature Conservancy – Indonesia Marine Program

Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries — Indonesia
Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries — Timor-Leste

Lesser Sunda Ecoregion Factsheet (pdf)

Scientific Design of a Resilient Network of Marine Protected Areas — Lesser Sunda Ecoregion, Coral Triangle (pdf)

Indonesia: Lesser Sundas

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British Virgin Islands – MPA Design

Creation of a Marine Protected Area Network to Protect Underwater Habitats in the British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands MPA Network

The Challenge
The British Virgin Islands (BVI) are located 100km east of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean and are part of the Leeward Islands, which stretch from the BVI to Antigua. Composed of over 60 islands and cays, the BVI represent a total land area of 153.67km² (59 square miles). Every island in the BVI is surrounded by coral reefs of varying size, health and composition. The Anegada Horseshoe Reef is the third largest continuous reef in the Eastern Caribbean at 63km long, containing both patch reefs and barrier reefs. There are 63 popular dive sites in the BVI, which include 57 coral reef sites and 6 artificial reefs that have been created by shipwrecks. Tourism accounts for about 45% of the national income.

Proposed MPA Network for the BVI.

Proposed MPA Network for the BVI.

BVI Shannon Gore

The Anegada Horseshoe Reef. © Shannon Gore

The BVI has been threatened by both natural disasters and anthropogenic impacts. Hurricanes have frequently impacted the area over time, and flooding from torrential rains has resulted in landslides, which subsequently harm marine resources due to increased sedimentation. Most recently, the bleaching event of 2005 has had devastating impacts, resulting in almost 90% of the BVI reefs being bleached. Hurricanes in 2008 and 2010, and an extreme wave event in 2010 also affected the reefs. Human impacts on the BVI are vast and include the following: anchor damage from boats and ships; coastal development; increased sedimentation due to development on steep slopes, the creation of unpaved roads, and improper erosion control; sewage discharge from charter and private vessels and ocean outfall disposal of terrestrial waste; overcrowding of vessels; overharvesting of conch, spiny lobster and whelks; destructive fishing practices.

Actions Taken
The British Virgin Islands has declared 14 protected areas, including one marine park managed by the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPTVI) and 13 fisheries protected areas, managed by the Conservation and Fisheries Department (CFD). Another 40 areas have been identified for inclusion in a Marine Protected Area Network. The primary goals of the British Virgin Island MPAs are:

  • To create a Marine Protected Area network that reflects the major marine and coastal habitats of the BVI;
  • To protect 30% of the important biological habitats across the BVI, including hard and soft corals, seagrasses, mangroves, turtle nesting beaches, and fishery habitats;
  • To cluster protected areas together so that they can be easily managed; and,
  • To ensure that there are protected areas across the BVI to enhance resilience.

BVI Stakeholder Feedback

BVI Gore and Peters

Shannon Gore, Conservation and Fisheries Dept., and Finfun Peters, National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, ground truthing sites using aerial photographs as a guide. © BVI National Parks Trust

The overall goal was to create a system of protected areas for the BVI, in order to have a more comprehensive approach to protected area planning. The National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands, the Conservation and Fisheries Department and The Nature Conservancy collaborated to train relevant staff on MARXAN, marine reserve design software. Four potential MPA networks that included areas identified as important due to their biodiversity, importance as fish nurseries or breeding habitats were created using MARXAN. Each potential MPA network included 30% of each biological habitat type and varying levels of clustering of MPA areas and locked in areas (areas that are intended to be protected regardless of outcome). The BVI was divided into three geographic units to build resilience into the network through even distribution of MPAs in each unit. This process eliminated the potential to place heavy reliance on an extensive reef system around the island of Anegada to the detriment of other areas. These maps were then taken to stakeholders for feedback, including fishers, dive operators, charter boat industry and relevant government departments. To ensure participation in the stakeholder review process, meetings were organized on the four main islands in the BVI using existing organizations such as fisheries associations, the Charter Yacht Society, the Dive Operators Association, and the Marine Association. As the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands has a long established relationship with the charter and dive industry, due to over 25 years of managing mooring buoys in sensitive reef sites, it was relatively easy to ensure the participation of this sector of the marine industry. However, the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands did not have a similar relationship with fishermen. The fisheries extension officers at the Conservation and Fisheries Department were critical in assisting with this process because the fishers recognized and responded to their requests to attend the stakeholder meetings. Separate meetings were held for fishermen and the dive/charter industry due to the potential conflict of interests, and to make participants feel more comfortable when providing feedback. The main focus of the meetings was to have stakeholders draw on large printed maps that displayed the four MPA network models, indicating areas they currently use for fishing, diving, and anchoring, in addition to making suggestions of areas that should be protected. Stakeholders were also asked to select the MPA network model they preferred the most. One MPA network model was selected based upon all feedback, which was the one with the highest level of clustering and locked-in areas, and was slightly modified based on all stakeholder input. This map was then included in the overall proposed System Plan of Protected Areas for the BVI, and approved by the Cabinet in early 2008.

How successful has it been?
The Trust is now collaborating with the Survey Department to create the legal maps for these areas so that they can be officially designated as MPAs. These maps will then be used to consultatively create the zoning plan for the MPAs. In addition to this the boundaries of the MPAs and zones will be identified in the marine environment using marker buoys. As the MPA network is very extensive, a public relations campaign will be required to inform all stakeholders of the zones and permitted use. This will include all media sources, such as internet, newspapers, publications and brochures in the BVI and the US Virgin Islands. As of early 2014, the MPAs had not yet been implemented.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Selecting areas that are naturally protected from use due to location, rough seas, or depth assisted in achieving conservation goals with less stakeholder conflict.
    BVI Dive Operators

    Dive Operators and Director Joseph Smith Abbott discuss MPA scenarios on Anegada. © National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands

  • Stakeholder meetings and government involvement throughout the planning process ensures that everyone is aware of the MPA goals (the 30% goal became very well known in the BVI and regionally).
  • A greater understanding of the stakeholder groups is important. As the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands did not traditionally have a relationship with fishermen, it was not always possible to engage fisherman. Therefore, working with the Conservation and Fisheries Department fisheries extension officers was essential and helped improve these relationships.
  • Stakeholder meetings must be located in the communities where fishermen live and a relationship must be created with community members.
  • The way in which information is presented to stakeholders can affect how much feedback is provided in return. For example, using large paper maps laid out on tables enabled people to look at, draw on, and talk informally about the areas. People were also more inclined to attend meetings when they saw that their opinions were being recorded and taken into consideration.
  • It is critical to build trust between the government and the community. This entails continued engagement of stakeholders throughout the MPA planning process, particularly when zoning areas. In some cases, areas may have to be swapped (e.g. if 30% of a habitat can still be achieved by protecting another area and there is less conflict, then it may be wise to swap).
  • Many small island nations do not have access to university experts or scientific researchers so field work can be limited by capacity issues and resources. Therefore, scientific, management, and monitoring training is an important part of the long term project goals. Finding the right people to undergo training is equally important to ensure that capacity is retained within an organization.
  • Building in resilience using geographic distribution across an area and natural features can reduce conflict between stakeholders and conservationists. For example, some areas that have been included in the MPA network are located on the north or south sides of islands that are naturally too exposed, deep or rough to be utilized by stakeholders, therefore there is no conflict involved in protecting the area, but the 30% goal of habitat protection is still being achieved.


Funding Summary
Overseas Territories Environment Programme
NOAA National Ocean Service
The Nature Conservancy

BVI TNC and NPT discuss

TNC and NPT staff discuss the maps with the Fisheries Association of Virgin Gorda. © National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands

Lead Organizations
National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands Conservation and Fisheries Department Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour
University of Warwick Life Sciences
The Nature Conservancy Eastern Caribbean Program

University of Warwick
The Nature Conservancy Eastern Caribbean Program

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Bonaire – Land-Based Pollution

Wastewater Treatment and Fishing Legislation in Bonaire

Bonaire National Marine Park, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

The Challenge
Collectively, the island of Bonaire and the Ramsar areas of several satellite islands (Klein Bonaire and Lac) form the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). The park encompasses 2,700 hectares of fringing coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecosystems and contains diverse habitats from the shore to intertidal environments, and from coral reefs to deep water environments.

Bonaire1, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. Photo © J.P. Carnevale

Bonaire National Marine Park contains diverse coral reef habitats. © J.P. Carnevale

Bleaching and hurricane events have affected this area in the past. Only mild bleaching occurred in association with the 1998 El Niño bleaching event, resulting in good recovery. In 1999, Hurricane Lenny affected the shallow reefs of the leeward side of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire; however recovery was similarly high, with recruitment rates 3.5 times higher than the rest of the Caribbean, and high survival rates. More recently, the 2005 and 2006 bleaching events resulted in bleaching of approximately 9% and 10%, respectively. However, in both events the recovery rate after the thermal stress subsided was almost 100%. After a bleaching event in 2010, 10% of corals bleached and died leading to a sharp decline in coral abundance in 2011. Combined with losses of herbivorous parrotfish to overfishing, this has led to an increase of macroalgae.

Aside from these natural disturbances, this region is threatened by pollution, coastal development, invasive species (lionfish and halophila seagrass) and growth in tourism activities.

Actions Taken
The mission of the Bonaire National Marine Park is to protect and manage the island’s natural, cultural and historical resources, while allowing ecologically sustainable use for the benefit of future generations. The BNMP strongly believes that the first step to ensure healthy and resilient corals is to protect water quality and reduce all stresses. Within this framework, the BNMP has been taking different conservation and management actions to address the distinct problems of overfishing, coastal development, pollution, and negative impacts of tourism.

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

Constructing the wastewater treatment plant. © Jan Jaap van Almenkerk

In 2010, legislation was passed to improve environmental protection, and as of 2014 was still in place and starting to show improvements in the environment. The legislation includes protection of identified resilience factors like: full protection of herbivorous fishes, full protection of many carnivorous fishes, and stronger rules and regulations on fisheries. The new legislation also includes improvements in procedures for coastal construction and more stringent construction guidelines.

To address the documented decline in predator fishes like groupers, grunts and snappers, the BNMP started lobbying the government and different stakeholders in 2004 to create fish protected areas (FPAs). Within this lobbying work, a group of fishermen, dive operators, government officers and others stakeholders from St. Lucia visited Bonaire to explain to their counterparts how FPAs in Bonaire would benefit both fisherman and tourism operators. A few months later a group of fishermen, government officers, BNMP Rangers and tour operators visited St. Lucia with the same purpose. In 2008, after intensive negotiations, two FPAs were established on the leeward side on Bonaire, encompassing approximately 4 km of a no-take zone. In 2010 the harvest of parrotfish and use of fish traps were banned.

Coastal Development and Pollution
In addition to fishing pressures, Bonaire is experiencing rapid coastal development. To minimize the impact of construction practices, the BNMP developed an officially approved booklet of Construction Guidelines, together with the Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs. The BNMP ran an intensive nutrient monitoring program during 2006-2008, and Nov. 2011- May 2013 that covered the entire leeside of Bonaire and all around Klein Bonaire. This nutrient monitoring program was run in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Florida. Preliminary data show that the levels of dissolved nitrogen are high and that the most probable cause is due to sewage and unsustainable irrigation practices in the coastal zone. To mitigate this sewage water input to the sea, the BNMP worked with resort operators to establish “water balances,” and to improve fresh water and waste water management. This work has ended with the establishment of a local sewer system.

With over four years of nutrient monitoring data indicating high levels of nutrients in the area, a wastewater treatment facility is under construction. The facility plant is designed to move wastewater away from the shoreline and is anticipated to be in operation by late 2014. A temporary plant is in place and has been operating since 2011 while construction continues on the main plant.

Bonaire3, caption: Bonaire National Marine Park's coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. Photo © BNMP

Bonaire National Marine Park’s coral reef habitats are threatened by over-fishing, pollution, coastal development, tourism, and bleaching events. © BNMP

Dive tourism is an essential component of the economy of Bonaire, generating significant income and creating employment, and it is vital that dive operators and their clients are well educated about potential negative impacts and means of reducing them. In 2008, the BNMP developed a “Reef Ranger” course. This course has been mandatory since 2010 but not yet fully implemented. The goal of this program is to maximize active support for coral reef conservation by providing standardized training for dive staff, tailored to local circumstances. BNMP recognized that dive operators and divers can be natural ambassadors for coral reef conservation since they have a vested interest in maintaining healthy and diverse marine ecosystems.

Effective communication is also a fundamental goal of Stichting Nationale Pareken (STINAPA) Bonaire, which successfully manages two nature parks of Bonaire National Marine Park and Washington Slagbaai National Park. Communication with the general public and stakeholder groups is a main priority for the BNMP, prompted by a group of residents who indicated a decrease of awareness and involvement, and no sense of ownership of the BNMP. As a result, an on-going communication campaign titled “Nature is our livelihood,” was developed to provide knowledge and change attitudes about conservation issues. Providing adequate information concerning the importance of nature conservation and the sustainable development of Bonaire was considered of utmost importance. The campaign has been successful in some areas and is currently undergoing an evaluation.

How successful has it been?

Monitoring has taken place regularly since 2003 in Bonaire. The ban on fishing of parrotfish (and use of fish traps) has led to an increase in parrotfish population density and biomass after 2011, and, despite a decrease in coral abundance due to bleaching, coral cover began to increase again (while macroalgae cover decreased) in 2013. Perhaps due to an increase in predation, Diadema urchin populations have decreased.

Coastal Development and Pollution
A temporary water treatment plant was built on Bonaire and began operation in late 2011, and a second will be in operation in late 2014. It is estimated that a total of 17.5 to 35 tons of nitrogen a year will be removed from waste water. However, recent nutrient monitoring in late 2013 showed that water quality indicators on the west coast of Bonaire signal eutrophic conditions, though levels of nitrogen have been decreasing slightly. Some sampled sites had high levels of fecal bacteria numbers, and increasing levels of phosphorous. Generally, sampling has showed a slight improvement since 06-08 values, but nutrients remain at threshold levels.

A strong conservation ethic persists in Bonaire, mainly due to the large revenue from tourism focused on SCUBA diving and snorkeling. The focus of this environmental work has been on local people rather than tourism, although tourism has increased in the last few years.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Involvement of key stakeholders is critical. No conservation plan will succeed long term without complete support of interested parties.
  • Involve all stakeholders from the beginning; demonstrate that what you want to implement (with their help) has unique value, and that they are the beneficiaries of this plan/action.
  • Set up an implementation plan (simple is better), discuss it with the stakeholders when ready make it public, and follow it step-by-step with little improvisation.
  • Once the plan is implemented, inform stakeholders about news of progress as well as failures. Transparency is critical!
  • Create clear rules, laws and procedures. People are more willing to support what they understand and trust.
  • Communication campaigns can help provide updated information to the general public and government officers.
  • The development of Integrated Coastal Management can reduce the amount of stressors on the reef to improve resilience to future climate change.
  • The development of a course similar to the “Reef Ranger” program can improve the sustainable practices of reef divers and other water sport practitioners.

Funding Summary

Lead Organizations
Bonaire National Marine Park

Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment
Ministry of Economic Affairs
DROB—NMB (Local environmental planning department)
Sea Turtle Conservation of Bonaire
Council of Underwater Resource Operators
The Nature Conservancy

Bonaire construction guidelines formulated by the BNMP, Department of Physical Planning, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the local waste management company, construction companies, land owners, developers, and local NGOs.

Results of the nutrient monitoring program, conducted in cooperation with the Central Government, the Department of Physical Planning of Bonaire, and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

Bonaire National Marine Park Management (pdf)

Coral Reef Resilience Assessment of the Bonaire National Marine Park (pdf)

Status and Trends of Bonaire’s Reefs in 2013: Causes for Optimism

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