Belize – Community Engagement

Community Researcher Program Builds Reef Stewardship in Belize

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)

Australian Caribbean Coral Reef Collaboration (AusAID)

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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New and improved Network Forum

The Reef Resilience Network has launched a new and improved online discussion forum!

Now part of the Reef Resilience website, this interactive online community is a place where coral reef managers and practitioners from around the world can connect and share with others to better manage marine resources.

If you work to protect, manage, or promote coral reefs please join the conversation:

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Time Preferences and the Management of Coral Reef Fisheries

To better understand resource use patterns in Curaçao and Bonaire in the southeast Caribbean, the authors conducted a socioeconomic study of the time preferences and marine management preferences of local SCUBA divers and fishers. Through interviews with 197 divers and 153 fishers on the two islands, they calculated individual discount factors and present bias to evaluate time preferences and preferred strategies for managing coral reefs. Divers’ discount factors were significantly higher than fishers’, meaning they value the future more highly or are more future-biased. Divers, on average, supported more restrictions than fishers such as gear restrictions and marine reserves. And, only 1% of fishers were willing to limit the number of fishers, while 34% of divers were willing to limit the number of divers. Overall, divers were more supportive of management than fishers. The main management and policy implication of this study is that differences in diver and fisher groups should be addressed for effective marine management. The authors suggest offsets, such as a dive fee, like the Nature Fee in Bonaire used for marine park management. A portion of the fee could be used to pay fishers to reduce high-impact gears or the buyout of traps and nets. They also suggest property rights schemes within a larger management framework that includes some mix of gear or effort restrictions, incentives for sustainable use, enforcement, and local buy-in.

Author: Johnson, A.E. and D.K. Saunders
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Ecological Economics 100: 130–139. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2014.01.004

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Papua New Guinea – Communication

Guardians Protect the Sea in Papua New Guinea

Kimbe Bay, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea

The Challenge
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country that is world renowned for high levels of biodiversity. The country is made up of twenty unique provinces, where five percent of the world’s species can be found in a wide range of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. However, due to increased anthropogenic and environmental pressures, the presence of these unique ecosystems are declining. With anthropogenic pressure, such as a rapidly growing population largely driving changes to the local environment, the challenge in PNG is educating local communities in order to help them better understand the impact of their actions and use marine and terrestrial resources in a sustainable manner.

MEEP students on way to Restorf Island field excursion sighting orcas. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

MEEP students on way to Restorf Island field excursion sighting orcas. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

Kimbe Bay, located in the West New Britain (WNB) province of PNG, is a large bay (140 km x 70 km in area) comprised of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and seamounts. Up until the 1960s, most of Kimbe Bay’s population was made up of traditional and indigenous groups who lived a subsistence lifestyle and engaged in cash cropping, e.g. cocoa and copra. In the late 1960’s Kimbe Bay witnessed the arrival of the palm oil industry which significantly altered the demographic and economic makeup of the area. Migrants from other PNG provinces arrived to the area as smallholder participants in the industry. Employment opportunities grew as the industry became successful and expanded. People born in other PNG provinces now make up a large percentage of the population of WNB. In addition, pressure from overfishing and some destructive fishing methods continues to be an area requiring continuous community awareness education in Kimbe Bay.

Actions Taken
In an effort to help preserve the local environment, in 1997, The Nature Conservancy, the European Union Islands Regional Environmental Program, and Walindi Plantation Resort worked together to form a small NGO known as Mahonia Na Dari (MND), or Guardian of the Sea. Operating from the Walindi Nature Centre in Kimbe Bay, MND strives to understand and conserve the surrounding natural environments for present and future generations living in Kimbe Bay and PNG. Hoping to build environmental and reef stewardship within the local community, MND developed an education and outreach campaign which includes a Marine Environmental Education Program (MEEP), field excursions, and additional outreach activities.

MEEP students on field excursion to Restorf Island. Note fish identification guides. Photo @ Stefan Andrews

MEEP students on field excursion to Restorf Island. Note fish identification guides. Photo @ Stefan Andrews

There are currently four programs that target different age groups. In the Intensive MEEP, groups of twenty secondary school students spend nine to ten days in classroom and field sessions learning about reef biology, local environmental problems, and protection strategies. Students also get hands on experience with reef survey techniques and data collection. The Community Conservation Awareness Outreach Program conducted by the Community Conservation Officer visits schools and communities surrounding Kimbe Bay. Baby MEEP, for elementary school students, includes activities such as storytelling, reef walks, and drawing. And the five day Teachers MEEP ensures that critical knowledge is passed on to local Primary school educators. Due to the program’s effectiveness within the community, some activities have become an official part of school curriculum.

Madang Teacher’s College MEEP Training graduates. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

Madang Teacher’s College MEEP Training graduates. Photo @ Adolphina Luvongit/MND

In hopes to expand their audience, MND encourages groups from anywhere in PNG or across the world to come to the Walindi Nature Centre for field excursions. While these excursions can take on many different forms depending on the requests made by the visiting group, they almost always include practical and hands on experiences with the surrounding coral reefs. By allowing diverse groups to stay and study at the Walindi Nature Centre, MND is disseminating knowledge to a global audience while simultaneously acquiring new knowledge from outsiders. MND works in close association with James Cook University (JCU) Townsville Australia. JCU is a world leader in marine biology research sciences. JCU has had a base at Mahonia Na Dari Research and Conservation Centre since its inception in 1997.

While the MEEP and field excursions serve as a strong foundation for building community stewardship, one of MND’s most popular activities is a puppet show that tours local villages and schools as part of the Outreach Program. MND developed a puppet show providing an entertaining and educational way of sharing information. In the play, two characters cause trouble by using destructive fishing techniques and learn about how simple actions can affect the entire reef ecosystem. Since its inception, the puppet show has helped to effectively spread messages of conservation and sustainable reef management practices throughout local communities. In addition, MND also produces marine conservation videos, booklets, and pamphlets and distributes them throughout the community.

Primary School visits around Kimbe Bay. Photo @Francis Gove/MND

Primary School visits around Kimbe Bay. Photo @ Francis Gove/MND

By involving a wide range of stakeholders, MND was instrumental in establishing one of the first community based marine reserves in PNG directly adjacent to the Walindi Nature Centre. Known as the Kilu LMMA, this area has become an epicenter for research in Kimbe Bay as annual concurrent studies have been conducted by JCU now for 21 years giving the longest collection of such data in an LMMA anywhere.

How successful has it been?
The efforts of MND now reach more than 13,000 individuals each year. The extensive education and outreach campaigns have helped to strengthen knowledge of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and built support for conservation in Kimbe Bay. Community members are able to gain an understanding of how their livelihood choices directly affect their surrounding ecosystems, while travelers from other parts of the world are able to learn about the conservation work of a small local NGO.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Small NGOs can be effective and powerful
  • Identifying gaps of knowledge in the community and targeting that group may be most effective in continuing to spread knowledge
  • Creative outreach and education activities helped increase the success of the program, for example, puppet shows provide an entertaining and educational way of sharing information
  • Persistent reassessment of the effectiveness of different strategies is necessary to continue to engage communities through time
  • Baseline surveys at the onset of implementing a marine protected or a locally managed marine area provide a reference for comparison to future conditions

Funding Summary

Past and Current Donors
Packard Foundation
Canada Fund
New England Bio-labs Foundation
Australia Volunteer International
NZ Volunteer Services Abroad
Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund
PADI Foundation
WNB Provincial Governor Sasindran Muthuvel
WNB Provincial Government
New Britain Palm Oil
The Ocean Foundation
RV Alucia
Hargy Oil Palm
UNDP – GEF – Small Grants Program
Democratic Governance Transition Phase (Australian Aid)
New England Aquarium Marine Conservation Fund
Roger Roth: Under Water Image
New Zealand High Commission: Head of Mission Fund (HOMF)
Pacific Development and Conservation Fund NZ
The Nature Conservancy
Walindi Nature Centre

Lead Organizations
Mahonia Na Dari
The Nature Conservancy
Walindi Plantation Resort

Walindi Plantation Resort
James Cook University
New Britain Palm Oil Ltd
The Nature Conservancy
Live & Learn
WNB Provincial Administrations
Office of the Governor
Office of the Provincial Administrator
WNB Division of Education
Community Development
Schools within the Province Talasea LLG (Local Level Government)
Hoskins LLG
Bialla LLG
Council Ward Areas (Talasea & Hoskins and Bialla Districts)
Communities in Talasea & Hoskins and Bialla Districts

Video on Mahonia Na Dari

Video on Mahonia Na Dari Marine Conservation Centre in Kimbe

Video of Mahonia Na Dari school camp snorkeling trip

Dateline video on Kimbe Bay: Marine Research & Conservation, Papua New Guinea

NBC News video on Mahonia Na Dari’s Marine Environment Education Program

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