The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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International Day of Biodiversity – Benefit Sharing

The previous two Darwin blogs in this series have looked at the first two core objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: conservation of biodiversity through community engagement and sustainable use of biodiversity components. This third and final entry in the series celebrating 25 years of the CBD looks at the third CBD objective: fair and equitable use of all benefits arising from the use of biodiversity assets. This blog covers an eco-tourism project near the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar, which aims to improve local livelihoods and channel profits into expansion of the project to create more benefits for the fishing communities charged with the management of this important biodiversity site.

Addressing CBD objectives – a view from the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar

The locals call them ‘labai’ and the visitors ‘the Irrawaddy River dolphin’. For the Myanmar fishing communities these almost mystical cetaceans are their friends – aquatic sheep dogs who for generations have helped the fishermen and women find, corral, and catch the river fish (for an excellent video of this see here).

The Harrison Institute has been leading a Darwin Initiative supported project to help protect the dolphins in a way that engages and benefits local communities in a fair and equitable way through eco-tourism. In terms of conserving biological diversity, after years of decline, dolphin numbers finally appear to be on the rise with a reported 10% increase in 2017. Despite this, they remain Critically Endangered, with only 76 individuals; just as ‘one swallow does not make a summer’, one successful year for the dolphin does not make a trend. But it is a possible indication of better things to come.

Myanmar 21-012 2d Destination Ayeyarwady Award 2, Credit - Paul Bates

Destination Ayeyarwady Award, Credit – Paul Bates

As for the equitable sharing of benefits of conserving wildlife, the project’s community programme has been an amazing success and in November 2017 won a national award for ‘Best Community Involvement in Tourism’, Myanmar. Known as ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’, it has three clear aims:

  • Conserving the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) and other wildlife on the Ayeyarwady River;
  • Conserving the traditional culture of cooperative fishing with dolphins with cast nets; and
  • Providing additional income for fishing communities who have traditionally fished co-operatively with the dolphins.

All money from the community programme stays in the village and is divided between the service provider, community projects, and wildlife conservation.

The success of the 1st Phase of ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’ has triggered a wonderful follow-up response, with over $16,200 (in money and in kind) being raised in donations for a 2nd Phase. The 2nd Phase has seen the construction of a new building at Hsithe village, which will not only be used as an Eco-lodge for visiting tourists to stay overnight (improving the visitor experience and boosting income to the village) but also as a rural Environmental Learning Centre. It will help expand the training in issues such as waste management, especially plastics. This was begun under the Darwin project but will be further developed through new programmes, bringing in school children, students, and villagers from throughout Singu District and beyond.

His Excellency the Minister of Hotels and Tourism has become a strong supporter of the project, encouraging site visits not only from staff in his own ministry but also those in state ministries including Chin State and Mandalay Division. He sees the project as a role model for Myanmar (Burma) in community-led tourism. Great interest is also being shown by other Myanmar (Burma) conservation and ecotourism organisations which are keen to replicate many of the ideas.

Myanmar 21-012 8 Destination Ayeyarwady Hsithe Visitor Centre, Credit - Paul Bates

Destination Ayeyarwady Hsithe Visitor Centre, Credit – Paul Bates

One important output of this is the new ecotourism website, which the Harrison Institute wrote in conjunction with the MTF (Myanmar Tourism Federation) and which highlights opportunities for bird watching, trekking, cycling, sailing, as well as visiting ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’, of course!

For the full version of this articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter.

You can find out more on the Harrison Institute and dedicated project webpages. For more information on the ‘Destination Ayeyarwady’ project click here.

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International Day of Biodiversity – Sustainable Use

In our previous blog, we looked at two remarkable projects taking a community-based approach to upholding the first objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity: protecting and conserving biological diversity. In this blog we will be exploring two Darwin Initiative projects focused on the second CBD objective: the sustainable use of biodiversity components.

The first is a traditional example of sustainable biodiversity use, working with local groups to develop and manage sustainable hunting in Cameroon. The second takes a slightly more indirect approach, exploring how sustainable use of water in the Tana River Delta in Kenya can have remarkable impacts on biodiversity and conservation.

Sustainable hunting, conservation and human wellbeing in Baka lands in Cameroon

In the forests of Central Africa, pressure from growing urbanised human populations and hunting advances have led to a booming commercial wild meat trade that is causing the decline of numerous wildlife populations. Peoples that depend on wild meat and other products are affected. Recognition that there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of these resources by reducing the uncontrolled bushmeat trade whilst empowering rural and indigenous communities was declared in the 21st Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

Cameroon 24-029 Baka women and children outside traditional hut, Credit - Eva Avila

This project, with Darwin funding, is working towards the implementation of the new CBD resolution. The collaborators are 10 communities of Baka Pygmies in southern Cameroon. The Baka, who are traditionally hunter-gatherers, have endured for over 40,000 years as part of Central Africa’s Pygmy population.

By documenting hunting and fishing practices and volumes extracted in our study villages, the project is working alongside local people to achieve sustainable levels of wild meat extraction and consumption. Unlike other bushmeat-focused projects, this project works within the triptych of human health, use of wild resources and domestic food production. By working with health professionals and agricultural experts, Darwin Initiative funding is improving the health of the Baka villages through disease prevention strategies. By encouraging food security through an increased access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods from more competent subsistence agriculture and alternative livelihoods, villagers’ health is further improved.

Balancing water services for development and biodiversity in the Tana River Delta, Kenya

The 130,000ha Tana River Delta in Kenya is an extremely important area for biodiversity. As well as being recognised as a Ramsar site, Key Biodiversity Area and Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, it is a proposed World Heritage Site.

The Delta supports a range of charismatic, endemic and endangered species including five species of threatened marine turtles, lions, elephants, the endemic Tana River Red Colobus (one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates), the Tana River Mangabey (Endangered), rare fish and reptiles, 350 bird species including the Basra Reed-warbler (Endangered), and internationally important populations of 22 waterbirds and 280 plants (including four Vulnerable species).

The Tana Delta Land Use Plan (TDLUP) was completed in 2015. In April 2017, with funding from the Darwin Initiative, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds through Nature Kenya started piloting the implementation of the TDLUP. The best place to demonstrate how to implement the plan is in the heart of the delta, where biodiversity is richest and access to water and land is hotly contested by local people.

The project will work in this area to support 45 villages and two County Governments (Tana River and Lamu) to balance water use for development and biodiversity by establishing a Community Conservation Area (CCA) over 95,200 hectares of the core of the delta.

Kenya 21-015 Tana Delta community members and Nature Kenya staff during World Wetlands Day Celebrations 2018, Credit - G. Odera

Tana Delta community members and Nature Kenya staff during World Wetlands Day Celebrations 2018, Credit – G. Odera

The project has made good progress in its first year, and highlights include:

  1. An Ecosystem Services Assessment of the CCA was carried out, with stakeholders agreeing on the general boundaries of the CCA.
  2. Biodiversity assessments were carried out in the CCA. A key finding is that the ranges of the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Crested Mangabey extend further south than initially recorded.
  3. Household wellbeing and socioeconomic surveys were conducted in 15 villages targeted for livelihood activities in the proposed Tana Delta CCA. These will form a baseline for measuring community livelihood improvements resulting from project interventions.

Thus, the project has taken the first steps towards establishing the CCA and promoting sustainable use of water to ensure biodiversity is maintained through future development.

For the full version of both these articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter. For more information on the Baka lands sustainable hunting project, click here. For more information on the Tana River Delta project, click here.


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International Day of Biodiversity – Community Engagement

2018 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, signed into force less than a matter of months after the announcement of the Darwin Initiative. With such close creations, it is unsurprising that the CBD has helped shape the nature of Darwin Initiative projects over the past 25 years, embodying core biodiversity values and objectives that the Darwin Initiative seeks to achieve. The latest edition of the Darwin Newsletter, released on the International Day for Biological Diversity, is a celebration of this Anniversary, exploring how current projects are trying to meet CBD objectives 25 years later.

The core objectives of the CBD are: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of biodiversity components; and the fair and equitable use of any benefits arising from the use of biodiversity resources. In this series of blogs, we will be looking at projects which exemplify these objectives. In our first blog, we will be looking at two projects in Africa focused on conservation of biological diversity through community engagement and collaborative efforts. Our second blog will focus on sustainable usage of biodiversity components, visiting a sustainable hunting project in Cameroon and a water management project in Kenya’s Tana River Delta. Finally, our third blog of the series will look at the award-winning benefit sharing programme in Myanmar supported by the Darwin Initiative.

Community conservation of wild Arabica coffee – people and the Convention on Biological Diversity

Arabica coffee is found growing wild only in Ethiopia, and an adjoining area of South Sudan. Hence it is a genetic resource for which Ethiopia is responsible under the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the last remaining major blocks of natural forests, in the south-west of the country, is one area where this wild coffee is found.

With support from the Darwin Initiative, the University of Huddersfield and Ethio Wetlands and Natural Resources Association undertook an analysis of the causes of forest loss. From this analysis, the Wild Coffee Conservation by Participatory Forest Management (PFM) project was developed to assist the government in revising the regional forest policy to give communities forest-based rights and responsibilities.

Ethiopia 19-025 Basket of ripe coffee cherries picked off mountain forest plots cleared for coffee cultivation, Credit - Sheko Woreda, SNNPR

Basket of ripe coffee cherries picked off mountain forest plots cleared for coffee cultivation, Credit – Sheko Woreda, SNNPR

PFM was developed at the village communities as they were found to be most knowledgeable about the forest and have strong links to specific areas. At that level, forest management groups were elected to undertake management and monitoring. The communities also established cooperatives to market sustainably harvested forest produce, the income from which helps cover the costs of the monitoring and protection of the forest.

This work has slowed forest loss from 2.6% per year outside the PFM forest to 0.18% per year inside the PFM forest, with over 76,000ha of forest now under PFM. Analysis using the Shannon Diversity Index showed that biodiversity has been maintained within natural forest, which contains the wild coffee stands. The wild coffee is now mapped and included in the community forest management plans which are jointly monitored each year with the government.

By getting forest rights and livelihood benefits for the forest fringe dwelling communities Darwin support has helped turn degraded, “open access” forest into actively managed forests where communities protect a unique global genetic resource – your morning Arabica coffee.

Elephant conservation through community empowerment in Mali

Mali 23-022, Elephants Pans 8x10_1, Credit - Carlton Ward Photography

Elephant migration, Credit – Carlton Ward Photography

An internationally important population, the Mali elephants are remarkable for how they have managed to survive when all others around them have disappeared. They make the longest annual migration of all elephants, picking their way through this harsh environment to find the resources they require, and avoiding human activity as much as possible.

After studying their migration for 3 years it became clear that they were at the limit of their ability to adapt any further. Their migration route needed to be preserved in its entirety, although conflict was rising as human activity was spreading and intensifying throughout the range. As this covered approximately 32,000km (somewhere between the size of Belgium and Switzerland) a landscape approach that involved the local people was essential.

The award-winning Mali Elephant Project has received two grants from the Darwin Initiative, the first of which supported the development of a model of community empowerment in resource management. Its work is to bring all parts of the community together to create a common perception of the problems they face before determining solutions.

The second grant of these grants currently supports the development of women-led initiatives to generate income from practices that encourage the wise use of natural resources in key areas in the elephant range. Working with women is a quietly powerful way of providing strong support, influence, and additional incentives as an alternative to often-destructive, traditionally male-dominated natural resource management structures. The training empowers women to collectively generate additional income enabling them to take an active role in local decisions relating to resource use by promoting the protection of sustainable use zones and regeneration of degraded land.

Mali 23-022, Womens association harvesting medicinale plants, Credit - WILD Foundation

Women’s association harvesting medicinal plants, Credit – WILD Foundation

Empowering local people to prevent outsiders and urban commercial interests from abusive resource extraction is popular and the local benefits of “elephant-centred” resource management have provided the foundation for a successful anti-poaching strategy and the creation of a protected area based on the biosphere reserve model.

For the full version of both these articles, please see the May 2018 edition of the Darwin Newsletter. For more information on the Ethiopia Coffee Participatory Forest Management Project click here. Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada. See https://www.wild.org/mali-elephants/ and http://icfcanada.org/our-projects/projects/mali_elephants . If you are interested in learning more about the Darwin projects click here: 19-010 or 23-022.


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Life Below Water – International Year of the Reef

This latest series of Darwin blogs has been focused on Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. In the first blog of the series, we looked at the incredible work by Darwin projects in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific Ocean. The next blog focused on marine reserves and protected areas, particularly around coral reefs in Central America and the Southern Atlantic. Now, in our final post of the series, we look at a project in the Caribbean, promoting and celebrating the International Year of the Reef and striving to change international perceptions and approaches.

In order to achieve SDG14, global leaders and scientists must provide and communicate a deeper understanding of the complex interspecies dynamics that determine the balance of life under the sea.

In response to this, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) has developed a range of impactful outreach activities to support stronger action on coral reefs during this third International Year of the Reef (IYOR). IYOR 2018 is an excellent opportunity to boost public, private, and governmental efforts to ensure that our seas and especially coral reefs are protected via sustainable efforts and regulations which benefit our society on numerous levels.

Cayman Islands DPLUS061 CCMI's IYOR outreach Jan 2018, to engage local stakeholders in protecting Coral Reefs, Credit Maggie Jackson
CCMI’s IYOR outreach in January 2018 engaged local stakeholders in protecting Coral Reefs, Credit – Maggie Jackson

One area of CCMI’s research, funded through Darwin Plus, is examining which key herbivorous fish species on Caribbean coral reefs are consuming the most problematic species of algae. Careful evaluations of 11 dominant fish species have led to a new discovery that both chubs and certain species of parrotfish are eating the largest volumes of algae over large areas. At a time when climate change is pushing competitive interactions to a tipping point, protecting these species provides additional resilience to the coral reef ecosystem as a whole. CCMI is also working with local fishermen and stakeholders to engage the community in a dialogue that hopes to find new solutions to age old problems.

Cayman Islands DPLUS061 Tangs eating algae from the trial rope, Credit - Claire Dell
Tangs eating algae from the trial rope, Credit – Claire Dell

In addition to maintaining over 25% of all marine species, healthy coral reefs provide a powerful physical barrier that shields coastal communities from over 90% of the wave energy generated by storms. Corals create the framework and calcareous algae that cements reefs together. As the reef structure degrades, lagoon habitats become open to ocean waves, and mangroves and shorelines erode. In the end, protecting key species on the reef relies on our community of stakeholders making informed decisions based on good data. CCMI are asking citizen scientists and tourists to join their “IYOR – Zero Impact” campaign which describes how we as individuals can help protect coral reefs for the future.

To find out more about the IYOR, visit https://www.reefresearch.org/get-involved/iyor2018/. To find out more about their Darwin Plus project, see here.

For the complete article on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on “Life Below Water”.


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Life Below Water – Conserving Marine Areas

This is the second in our series of Darwin blogs celebrating the remarkable and innovative ways Darwin projects contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Our last blog explored two projects in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle, working to minimise unsustainable shark fishing and implementing collaborative community schemes to better manage seagrass beds.

This blog looks at projects working to establish marine protected areas. With the first project, we travel to Belize and look at a protected area in the heart of the Mesoamerican Reef. From the Caribbean Sea we then move to the South Atlantic to learn about the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary Project and their plans to establish the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic.

Conservation and socioeconomic benefits of a marine protected area at Glover’s Atoll, Belize

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are now common, and have evoked considerable public interest. They have become one of the more popular tools within an ecosystem-based management approach because they are able to balance environmental health and biodiversity conservation with the socio-economic needs of fishing communities across the world’s oceans.

Areas within MPAs where all extractive use is prohibited are traditionally referred to as ‘no-take areas’. However in Belize the term ‘replenishment zone’ (RZ) has recently been adopted in place of ‘no-take zone’. ‘Replenishment zone’ has a less negative connotation for resource users concerned about being restricted from fishing in traditional waters.

Belize 22-014 Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit - Alex Tewfik

Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit – Alex Tewfik

This Darwin project, led by the WCS Belize Programme, works with fishers in Belize to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fisheries they rely on, particularly queen conch and Caribbean spiny lobster. The cooperation of local fishers is crucial, and so their perception of the role of these protected areas is pivotal to project success. Interventions are focused on the Glover’s Reef Atoll which has an area of 350 km2 and lies approximately 42 km east of the central Belizean mainland. This atoll is 1 of 7 protected areas that comprise the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

A study carried out through the project demonstrates the positive impact of protection within the RZ. Importantly they also identify the benefits of RZs for small scale fisher livelihoods. The benefits observed following the establishment and enforcement of the RZ at Glover’s Atoll have been supported by a broader set of fisheries conservation strategies, such as size limits, closed seasons, and species bans. The sustainability of this approach will be assured by continuing long-term community consultations that support the core objectives for the management of GRMR, enhancing economic benefits for Belizean fishers.

The results of this research (published in Marine Ecology Progress Series) will also be used to inform the ever-evolving conservation and management strategies employed by WCS across Belize. Ultimately the aim is to achieve a balance between biodiversity and ecosystem services protection, including fisheries and tourism-based livelihoods. Doing so will help to secure the future of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef System, and will generate findings with broader applicability across the Mesoamerican Reef.

Belize 22-014 A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover's atoll lagoon ,Credit - Alex Tewfik cropped

A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover’s Atoll lagoon, Credit – Alex Tewfik

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary: Planning for the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve

Although many people would struggle to find it on a map, the remote UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island is on the verge of entering the ‘big league’ of ocean conservation, joining such notable company as the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands as home to one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

The intention to close at least 50% of Ascension’s 440,000 km2 exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to all forms of commercial fishing by 2019 was formally announced by the UK Government at the UN Our Oceans summit in September 2016 and will establish the largest fully no-take MPA in the Atlantic Ocean. Providing the scientific and technical data to support these decisions is currently the focus of a Darwin Plus project led by the Ascension Island Government Conservation & Fisheries Department and the University of Exeter.

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary (ASIOS) Project aims to address many of the challenges and controversies common to all remote, large-scale MPAs: How can it be enforced? How effectively will it conserve the highly mobile species of the open ocean? How do we measure its success? The project is also responding to the mandate of local and UK Government stakeholders to assess whether an economically-viable and well-managed fishery can coexist with a future MPA in a portion of the EEZ, and, if so, which areas should be protected.

Galapagos DPLUS063 Aggregation of Galapagos sharks, Credit - Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Dept

A Galapagos shark being released after fitting acoustic tag, Credit – British Antarctic Survey

Oceanic islands and seamounts are known to be hotspots of abundance and diversity for pelagic species and are obvious focal points for the creation of marine reserves. In order to better understand the scale of their ‘bio-aggregating’ effect, the ASIOS project team surveyed the biodiversity of three previously unstudied seamounts lying 260-320 km to the south and west of Ascension. To determine how large an area needs protecting, the expedition set out to measure how the abundance and diversity of marine life at all levels of the food chain varies with distance from each mount, as well as mapping the movements of individual top predators associated with them. These datasets will hopefully provide a rare insight into the “biodiversity footprint” of a tropical seamount system that can contribute to MPA planning on Ascension and beyond.

With less than two years until designation there is still much to be done; however, with the support of Darwin Plus, the European Union’s BEST 2.0 initiative and other donors, the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary promises to put the Territory firmly on the map as a global leader in MPA science and management.

For the complete articles on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on “Life Below Water”. For more information on WCS’s project in Belize see here, and for more information on the Ascension Island MPA see here.

Our next blog will look at the International Year of the Reef.


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Life Below Water – Darwin in the Coral Triangle

In the February 2018 Darwin Newsletter we explored some of the amazing Darwin supported projects contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Darwin projects work towards SDG14 in a range of ways, including improving coastal ecosystem management, combatting overfishing, and expanding scientific understanding of marine species and ecosystems.

The articles below provide an insight into two Darwin projects working in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle – one an effort to protect sharks from overfishing, the other a collaborative approach to managing seagrass beds.

Sustainably managing shark fishing for livelihoods and food security in Indonesia

Lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle, Indonesia is a global hotspot for marine biodiversity with high levels of shark richness and endemism. It is also the world’s largest shark fishing nation, with average annual catch exceeding 100,000 tonnes per year.

Shark fisheries have existed in Indonesia for centuries. Fisheries are often small-scale, mixed-species and difficult to monitor due to their informal nature and widespread distribution. High value fins are exported to international markets, while non-fin products including meat and skin are consumed domestically. This million-dollar industry employs thousands of people, from fishers to processors to traders, and holds significant social value as a tradition, culture and ‘safety-net’ source of animal protein.

Indonesia 22-008 Dried fin on Muncar, Java, Credit - Benaya Simeon (WCS-IP2)

Dried fin on Muncar, Java, Credit – Benaya Simeon (WCS-IP2)

Tanjung Luar, a small village in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara province, has drawn attention because of its open shark landings, proximity to high-end tourism resorts, and negative portrayal of local fishers in the international media. More than 6,000 individual sharks and rays across 82 different species are landed in Tanjung Luar each year, by a targeted long-line fishing fleet of roughly 50 vessels. High grade shark fins from some of these species can fetch more than USD $100 per kg for the first buyer. This high price, and a lack of other legal, sustainable alternatives, makes implementing shark conservation in Tanjung Luar extremely challenging.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Indonesia, with financial support from the Darwin Initiative, is seeking to balance the complex trade-offs between shark conservation and socioeconomics through a nuanced, pragmatic, and ethical approach. They support the government and fishing communities to implement fisheries management and marine protected area interventions at the local level. In Tanjung Luar they are helping to identify and incentivise the adoption of more selective and sustainable fishing practices, whilst also reducing barriers to more sustainable livelihoods. They believe that these site based efforts will set an example for shark conservation efforts in other parts of Indonesia, the Coral Triangle and throughout the world.

Collaborating to save seagrass: communities in Timor-Leste embrace a new opportunity for conservation

Monda Costa stands chest deep in the sea. The baking mid-morning sun illuminates the blue water as she peers at a square on the seafloor. Two others from Monda’s home island of Ataúro and a Blue Ventures volunteer assess the same ground.

Where an untrained eye would only see drab plants, the team recognises and records two species of seagrass – Thalassia hemprichii and Syringodium isoetifolium. Their work is part of a community-based monitoring (CBM) programme established by Blue Ventures to involve Ataúro’s residents in collecting baseline data on seagrass beds – a first step in longer-term efforts to empower communities to protect these and other threatened habitats.

Seagrass survey © Blue Ventures Christina Saylor

Ataúro’s community members take part in a seagrass survey, Credit – Christina Saylor, Blue Ventures

Seagrasses are flowering plants that form meadows in shallow waters. These meadows are ecological superstars. They trap carbon and produce oxygen, act as nurseries for young reef fish and provide grazing grounds for crowd-pleasing animals like green turtles and dugongs. Protecting these valuable habitats is a priority in Timor Leste, but scientists, community members and decision makers need more information about the location, composition and use of existing seagrass beds.

In Timor-Leste, the power for change lies within each community. Establishing locally-managed marine areas is a decision made and enforced by villages through the customary law of tara bandu. Informed voices are a critical part of this decision-making.

CBM participants receive training on the ecological role and the economic value of seagrass meadows. They also learn technical skills for conducting surveys – from laying measuring tape on the seafloor to identifying species and sediment types. Training is voluntary, but once they pass certification tests, surveyors are paid for their time.

“I can now tell my community about why seagrass is important for the fish and why it’s good to protect the seagrass beds. Seagrasses provide food for fish, turtles and other animals. And one day more tourists will come and want to see the seagrass and the fish and turtles,” says Monda. “We don’t want people from outside to decide how our resources are used. We need to control and protect our resources.”

Monda and team conducting a survey © Blue Ventures Christina Saylor

Monda and team conducting a survey, Credit – Christina Saylor, Blue Ventures

For the complete articles on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on ”Life Below Water”. For more information on WCS Indonesia’s work on sustainable fishing see here, and to find out more about Monda Costa and the Blue Ventures’ Community Based Monitoring Programme, see here.

Tune in for our upcoming blog posts exploring new marine reserves and protected areas, and to learn all about the International Year of the Reef.


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Darwin for Climate Action: Saving forests, saving wildlife and saving vulnerable communities from climate change in Uganda’s Murchiston-Semliki Landscape

To finish off our blog series on enhancing climate resilience (be sure check out the first and second blogs in the series, too!), this post looks at the vital role forests play in climate change mitigation. The Wildlife Conservation Society, working with farmers in Hoima, Uganda, have been promoting conservation farming to help local agriculture business grow in a sustainable, climate resilient way. The following article, taken from a recent newsletter, highlights some of their recent successes!

Last year El Niño hit Uganda, the horn of plenty in east Africa. Although Uganda is endowed with two fertile seasons, it saw its maize dry up and its banana trees damaged. Posho and matoke – the staple food for Ugandans – diminished and prices went up, and people went hungry across the country. For poor communities in particular, climate change is very real and painful.

Yet in a small corner of the country, things were not as bleak as elsewhere. Around 1,000 Private Forest Owners in the district of Hoima, western Uganda were better off. Their maize was still green plus they reaped the benefit of a doubling in maize prices – they didn’t go hungry and they earned extra income. These are the small holder farmers participating in the Murchison-Semliki REDD+ project.

REDD+ projects are designed to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses from deforestation and forest degradation. These emissions make up around 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Burning one tree 15m tall and with a diameter at breast height of 30 cm produces the equivalent carbon emissions as 10 return flights between Heathrow and Uganda. We calculated that between 2005 and 2010 on average 8,000 hectares of forest were slashed and burned annually for agriculture in the Murchison-Semliki Landscape, the equivalent of 2 million tonnes of CO2 per year. A group of conservation NGOs, the Northern Albertine Rift Conservation Group, decided to join forces and set up a REDD+ project to safe these important corridor forests.

Uganda 22-011 WCS COP REDD+ project, Credit - Miguel Leal

Rural Farmers in Uganda Credit: Miguel Leal, WCS

When the initiative began in 2010, the group had difficulty securing funding to start implementing measures to stop deforestation. The two main factors driving deforestation were the lack of knowledge about better farming practices and the lack of capital to invest in better farming practices. However, in 2015, the Wildlife Conservation Society managed to secure funding from the Darwin Initiative to develop and roll out their conservation farming programme with the intention of reducing pressure on forests. Over five seasons the project team were able to double their harvests and increase their income 15-fold – a success far beyond what had been anticipated. Meanwhile, they also set up 60 small saving and loans associations with roughly 30 members each, with the aim of overcoming the general lack of capital for other agricultural inputs. The farmers grasped this opportunity with both hands. The team were hoping that farmers would pool up to £100 in their groups, but on average it was closer to £600! A great success, but, what about the primary objective of saving the forest? Even here there has been great success.

There are now 30 community based monitors on the ground regularly checking if the farmers are complying with their part of the deal: conserving the forest on their land. The project also rely on the Global Forest Watcher App developed by the World Resource Institute and rolled out by the Jane Goodall Institute, to receive and verify tree cover change alerts on tablet computers. Despite a few individual exceptions, most farmers are successfully protecting their forests.

If you want to find out more about this project, visit their project page here. To read more articles about how Darwin projects are working towards improving climate resilience in developing countries worldwide, see our special edition of the newsletter from November 2017.