The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see

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Securing marine fisheries, livelihoods and biodiversity in Burma through co-management

In the build up to CITES CoP17 we have been sharing articles from our upcoming newsletter themed around the Conference. We have heard how learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade can inform decision making on elephants and how robust legal protection has the power to reverse population declines.

In our final taster before the full newsletter is released, we hear about fisheries co-management in Burma. Alongside their work with communities developing sustainable co-management plans, the project team is gathering data on shark and ray catches and trade. This can then feed in to international policy making, and support Governments in developing their national conservation strategies.


Rakhine Coastal Association facilitating a stakeholder workshop, June 2016, Credit: Martin Callow, WCS

Burma’s marine resources have long provided sustenance to its coastal people. Over 25,000 small-scale fishing vessels are registered to fish its coastline and nearly half of the country’s population lives in coastal states and regions. Despite fisheries’ importance, Burma has limited capacity for sustainable management.

This overexploitation has resulted in drastic declines of stocks; a 2014 marine survey carried out by Norway showed that pelagic stocks are currently only 10% of their 1979 biomass, with similar estimates for inshore fisheries. Inshore fisheries are of particular concern as the decline directly influences local livelihoods and food security. The impacts of fishing practices on protected marine species, such as dugong, turtles, sharks and rays, are also evident.

Fortunately, the tide is on the turn. The newly elected government of Burma is in the process of decentralising authority of the inshore fisheries sector to its states and regions, a development that provides the platform for empowering local people and enabling fisheries co-management.

In support of this process, WCS is working in southern Rakhine state, and harnessing the needs of local fishers and fish-workers to explore how to rebuild their resources. By working in partnership with the Rakhine Coastal Association, Department of Fisheries, Pyoe Pin and our academic and technical implementing partners (University of Exeter, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) respectively), we are implementing a participatory process to document catch and effort, and collect social and value chain data (with a reach of over 1,200 fishers). Combined with outreach and training, we are working to improve coastal fisheries governance, secure fishers’ tenure for sustainable fisheries management and develop a spatially explicit sustainable co-management plan.

Owing to the political shift towards federalism, the model has significant potential to scale in Rakhine state, and beyond. Working in partnership with EDF, we are assessing additional sites across Burma to ensure our resources offer value for money and impact. Similarly, our work is enabling us to improve knowledge of shark and ray catches and trade. In addition, this is enabling us to support the government of Burma with preparations for CITES CoP17, and to build links with our broader efforts (funded by the UK Government’s IWT Challenge Fund) to combat illegal wildlife trade and support the national plan of action for the conservation of sharks.

For more information about Burmese fisheries, see:

by Martin Callow, Project Leader, Wildlife Conservation Society. To find out more about project 23-024, click here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these first few articles! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Darwin_Defra and add us on Facebook to be the first to hear when the full newsletter is released!


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Ascension Island’s new CITES Ordinance receives Category 1 status


Ascension Island Green Turtle Cover Up, Credit: Sam Weber, AIG Conservation Department

We hope you enjoyed our first peek into our upcoming CITES CoP17-themed newsletter! In her article, Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants, Dr. Fiona Underwood discussed the legacy of her project and its impact on decision making.

In this next article, Dr. Nicola Weber of the Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department discusses work under various Darwin Plus projects, a scheme that funds environmental projects in the UK Overseas Territories. These projects have helped develop the legal framework for wildlife trade on Ascension Island, and the Island’s fascinating history highlights the transformative power of robust legal protection.

Over the past 4 years, through projects funded by the Darwin Initiative and with support and expertise from overseas partners, Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department (AIGCD) has undertaken a major strategic planning exercise. This has resulted in the development of a National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP), a scientific roadmap for the designation of an evidence-based marine protected area at Ascension Island, and the enactment of four Ordinances relating to the protection of Ascension’s biodiversity. These can all be accessed here:

The most recent piece of legislation to be enacted is the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Ordinance 2015 that has just received Category 1 status from the CITES Secretariat. This Ordinance makes provision for the regulation of trade in endangered species by Ascension Island Government. While the import and export of species listed by CITES occurs very infrequently at Ascension Island, having the legislation in place provides the legal framework to ensure that this remains the case. Ascension Island is famous for the green turtles Chelonia mydas (CITES listing: Appendix 1) that nest upon its beaches and until the 1920s provided fresh meat for residents and passing ships.


Credit: Ascension Island Heritage Society

Now, over 70 years after legal protection and the cessation of commercial turtle harvesting, the average number of green turtle clutches deposited annually at Ascension Island has increased six fold since monitoring began in 1977, from approximately 3,700 to 23,700 clutches per annum. This highlights the need for the robust legal protection of threatened species and shows that with the correct measures and conservation actions in place, population declines can be reversed.

by Dr. Nicola Weber,  Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department


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Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants


From Saturday 24th September, experts from all over the World will gather in Johannesburg for the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES CoP17 for short.

CITES is one of the core conventions that Darwin Initiative projects support, and we wanted to highlight this with our upcoming newsletter by inviting articles from projects working on illegal or legal trade of species. In advance of the full newsletter being published next week, we wanted to share a sneak peak!

The article below comes from Darwin project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to guide CITES policy, led by the University of Reading. Although the project finished in 2012, its legacy is ongoing. Find out more below!

At the upcoming CITES CoP, trends in the illegal ivory trade will be a key focus of discussions. These discussions will be based around a report using data on illegal ivory seizures collected by the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS). ETIS is one of two global monitoring systems for elephants that were mandated by CITES in 1997 and it is managed by TRAFFIC International (the other being MIKE – Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants).

Clearly, it is the results that are of most interest to the audience (of policy makers and NGOs) to help inform decision making about elephants but some work is needed to obtain these results. To turn ivory seizures data into useful information about trends in the illegal ivory trade requires quite a complex statistical analysis; the analysis is complex because of the inherent biases in seizures data. Specifically, countries differ in their ability to make and report seizures – so an increase in seizures might be because of increased law enforcement, or countries getting better at reporting their seizures to ETIS, not because the illegal ivory trade is increasing. Thus, strategies for accounting for differences in the ability of countries to make and report seizures must be accounted for when trying to describe the trends in the trade.


Three elephants eating at Mana Pools in Zimbabawe, Credit: Fiona Underwood

In 2009, there were no off-the-shelf statistical methods for analyzing these data and so some analyses were ad-hoc without a coherent and robust framework. This is a major challenge for many monitoring programmes. It is often relatively easy to obtain resources to collect data, including training of those collecting data and building database to store the data. In comparison, it can be much harder to obtain funding to help turn this data into usable information for policy makers.

One component of Darwin Initiative Project 17-020 “Enhancing the Elephant Trade Information System to Guide CITES Policy”, which ran from 2009 – 2012, was to develop a methodological framework for making sense of the ETIS data. This project was a collaboration between statisticians, then at the University of Reading, and TRAFFIC International. A further project aim was to translate these statistically complex findings into simple language and concepts that could be communicated to a non-technical decision-making audience. Two indicators were developed (Transactions Index and Weights Index).

This framework is now being used routinely to produce indicators of the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making by CITES and others, on elephants. It was first used to produce indicators of the ivory trade for the previous CoP in 2013 using data from 1996 – 2011. Since then the methodology has been used to update these trends every year and most recently for the upcoming CoP. Such analyses have provided key pieces of information for the development of National Ivory Action Plans for eight CITES Parties and will continue to be useful in monitoring their progress.

by Dr. Fiona Underwood, Project Leader

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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 2

Our last blog explored two of our fascinating new Darwin projects, one working on micro-credit schemes for guinea-pig husbandry in DRC which aims to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting in DRC, and another working to address Cameroon’s status as an illegal wildlife trade hub.

This time, I’m going to introduce two more projects, each with yet another approach!

Ex-situ conservation and capacity building

Ex-situ conservation is the conservation of a species outside of its natural habitat – either in a wild area outside of its normal range or in an artificial environment, such as a zoo or laboratory. It can often be viewed as a safeguard where the natural population, and/or its genetic diversity is at high risk from threats such as over-exploitation, climate change, invasive species, or disease. But what happens when this “insurance”, or ex-situ, population is also at risk? In Papua New Guinea, a new lethal plant disease called Bogia syndrome disease threatens the diversity of coconut plants. Coconut is a hugely important livelihood crop across the world, and Papua New Guinea’s International Coconut Genebank is threatened by this new disease. Darwin project 23-008Upgrading and broadening the new South-Pacific International Coconut Genebank”, led by Bioversity International, will support plans to relocate the genebank to new and secure sites in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Samoa. The project will also focus on building the capacity of these institutions. It will work to train scientists in genetic resource conservation, and also to identify emerging threats for the different types of coconut in different areas so that their conservation can be targeted in coming years.


Women selling coconuts in Papua New Guinea, Credit P. Mathur/Bioversity International via https://creativecommons/org/licenses/by-nc/nd/2.0/

Partnerships between government, private sector and indigenous groups to meet national goals.

Partnerships are a crucial aspect of all Darwin projects and can ensure a project’s successes outlive the length of the project. A new BirdLife International project, 23-016Yerba mate – a market-driven model for conserving Paraguay’s Atlantic Forest” aims to achieve great things, building upon strong partnerships between key stakeholders in Paraguay.

The Atlantic Forest, although perhaps less well known that the Amazonian rainforest, is a global biodiversity hotspot and yet less than 10% of its original area remains. In Paraguay, most Atlantic Forest is surrounded by buffer zones which are legally inhabited by indigenous groups and campesino, or farming, communities. Extreme poverty in these groups, combined with lack of access to markets or technical skills, leads to food insecurity and encroachment into the reserve for agricultural clearance. Through over 15 years of experience of working with key stakeholders in the area, BirdLife and partners Guyra Paraguay have identified some potential solutions to this challenge. This project aims to establish organic shade-grown yerba mate, used to make hugely popular drink maté tea, to provide alternative income sources for Atlantic Forest buffer-zone communities whilst also protecting the forest’s biodiversity.

This project shows how important a full understanding of local situation is crucial for good project design, and how appropriate solutions and market-based approaches can incentivize communities to conserve their country’s biodiversity. Ultimately, the project hopes to integrate shade-grown yerba mate into long-term conservation strategies nationwide to help Paraguay meet its National Development Strategy and National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan.


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New Darwin Projects – Round 22 – Part 1

The results of the 22nd round of Darwin Initiative funding has just been announced, and we are happy to introduce this year’s 34 new Darwin Main projects 1 Fellowship and 6 Scoping Awards.

Yet again, Darwin is funding a fascinating range of projects, each of which uses different but integrated approaches in order to address both poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. This is something Darwin projects excel at, as highlighted in a recent information note – “Understanding Poverty and Biodiversity Links”. Below, and over the next couple of blogs, I will explore just a small number of new projects and the different approaches they plan to use.

Alternative livelihoods and micro-finance schemes

23-015Guinea pigs as guinea pigs, reducing bushmeat hunting while improving communities wellbeing” is a new Wildlife Conservation Society project, which will work near the Kahuzi-Biega National Park (KBNP) in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Although one of the most biodiversity rich protected areas in Africa, and home to iconic and highly threatened species such as Grauer’s gorilla – a species endemic to mountainous forests in eastern DRC – bushmeat hunting around KBNP is a very serious threat to park’s wildlife.

Grauer's gorilla, KBNP DRC Joe McKenna creative commons 2.0 licence

Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via

Regional insecurity and historical war mean that rural communities in DRC do not have sufficient access to agricultural or livestock production, leading to often severe cases of malnutrition. Bushmeat hunting often provides a much-needed source of protein. This project’s goal is to reduce the pressures of bushmeat hunting whilst simultaneously increasing the quality of the rural poor living near KBNP.

It aims to do this by working with community members to raise awareness of biodiversity values, and provide access to micro-credit schemes and training in cavy, or guinea pig, husbandry. Although not perhaps to the appetite of the British public, cavy husbandry is an ideal livelihood option for poor households in this area as it has low start-up and upkeep costs, and guinea pigs can provide much need protein in deficient diets, as well as attracting high market prices. In doing so, this project aims to directly impact 600 poor households in rural DRC.

Vente de cobaye au marché de Mugogo 2

Grauer’s gorilla, KBNP DRC, Credit – Joe McKenna via

Tackling illegal wildlife trade and trafficking

A previous Darwin blog touched on the important differences between legal and illegal wildlife trade, and highlighted that as well as being a criminal industry worth billions of pounds, illegal wildlife trade also damages local communities and undermines sustainable development and the security of local communities.

A new ZSL project 23-001Strengthening Cameroon’s capacity to monitor and reduce illegal wildlife trafficking” aims to address Cameroon’s status as an IWT hub. The country currently acts as both a source of illegally poached wildlife as well as a transit route for trafficked wildlife from Central African Republic, Congo and Gabon. Project interventions intend to monitor trade routes, improve site-based protection and increase enforcement capacity using an integrated approach. As a result, enforcement agencies will be better able to apply wildlife laws and increase protection of species such as the black-bellied, white-bellied and giant pangolins. In addition the project hopes to help Cameroon meet its international commitments and empower communities by strengthening ownership of their natural resources.


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Photographs and development – ethics of using images #Devpix


Using images to promote our work

The Darwin Initiative commonly uses photos provided by our projects to help promote the programme and its objectives. I am a keen photographer and have regularly contributed photos from my travels to Darwin publications. In fact I was very happy to get the front cover of the recent publication on SDGs and Darwin – I took this image while in the field in Kenya evaluating 2 Darwin projects.

Kenya 20-017 Mkwiro BMU 10 Credit L King.JPG

Girl carrying water in Mkwiro, Kenya 2015. Credit L King

Some of our projects are prolific in sharing photos and as a result have featured heavily in Darwin publications. It seems that as a general rule, if you share good images with the Darwin Initiative your project gets better coverage.

Great photos tell a story

Working in Monitoring and Evaluation I’ve found photographs to be a really powerful tool when portraying the results of projects. Pictures really can tell a thousand words. However pictures can also manipulate the story being told.


Reaching a wide audience – talking on TV in Myanmar, 2012. Photo Credit: P Bates

When we ask for images from our projects we also ask that they send in a description of the photo and credits for who took the photo. In the past this was largely shots of biodiversity or project staff at work.

However, as Darwin increasingly engages in issues of poverty the types of images we receive has expanded into classic development photographs. With this move into development photography, Darwin (and by extension our Darwin projects) have an obligation to ensure the stories we tell with our images and publications are dealing ethically with the people featured.



Beija man and his children – Dungonab MPA. Credit T Chekchak

Ethics of photos

Helpfully ODI hosted a Twitter chat some months ago to explore how development organisations can improve the way they use photography. It has the hashtag #Devpix if you are interested and the discussion has been helpfully curated here on Storify

This sparked a healthy debate about the pros and cons of development photos and the messages we are telling the world. From the images of helpless babies of the Liveaid era to the increasingly used ‘good news’ images of latter years showing the positive effect development work has had on people.

Comoros-17-011-Comoros Participatory analysis-Credit Kitty Brayne

Women engaging in participatory analysis in Comoros, Credit K Brayne

Helpfully the debate also resulted in participants suggesting what should be the do’s and don’ts of development photography. This included various organisations offering up their ethics statements on image use. Do’s and don’ts included:

  • Choose images and related messages based on values of respect, equality, solidarity and justice
  • Truthfully represent any image or depicted situation both in its immediate and wider context so as to improve public understanding of the realities and complexities of development
  • Avoid images and messages that potentially stereotype, sensationalise, or discriminate against people, situations or places
  • Get permission to use people’s images (or their parent/guardian)
  • Establish whether they wish to be named or identified and always act accordingly
  • Conform to the highest standards in relation to human rights and the protection of vulnerable people
  • Record their name and story as well as their image
  • Record people’s consent in the photos metadata
  • Be clear and transparent about your role and your sphere of influence in the world
  • Show tangible results. This will help avert ‘compassion fatigue’
  • Give context – explain as thoroughly as possible the underlying causes of the problems
  • Inspire people – make both your target group and audience co-owners of the solution
  • Give credit where credit is due. Success usually comes from a team effort and is rarely ascribed to one organisation
  • Communicate with dignity i.e. do not exploit the suffering of people for your own gain

Every Darwin project is expected to have developed an ethics statement – how many have also included how they use images and photos of their projects ethically? Do any of the do’s and don’ts listed above feature? Are there any that are specific to biodiversity conservation projects that are missing and should be added?

We’d love to hear about your experiences of using photographs in your Darwin projects and your thoughts on the ethics of photography in conservation and development.


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What does UNFCCC COP 21 have to do with Biodiversity?

By Hannah Betts, LTS International


Credit: T Chekchak, Equipe Cousteau

So we have finally reached an agreement on how to tackle climate change and acknowledged that we as a global community need to combat it. Furthermore 195 countries have agreed to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and thus avoiding the most severe impacts of climate change that threaten our planet – which is a pretty HUGE deal in itself. Hence why the agreement reached at the recent Paris COP is being labelled as ‘historic and ambitious’.

In her article titled ‘Paris climate change agreement: the world’s most diplomatic success’ Fiona Harvey remarks on how easy it is to forget what an extraordinary event these UN talks were, noting that the UNFCCC is one of the last remaining forums in the world where every country is represented on the same basis with an equal say.

Indeed it is remarkable that for once the world seems to have been able to agree on something! The deal sets out a firm goal of keeping temperature rises well below 2C, and will strive for 1.5C. In addition, there has been a look to the longer term, with the agreement specifying a balance in the second half of the century between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removals, demonstrating another strong positive of this conference as long term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.

Delving a bit deeper into the detail of this globally historic moment, you have got to wonder what exactly has been agreed, and what this means for biodiversity. Whilst the Rio Conventions Pavilion documented the ‘importance and benefits of mainstreaming biodiversity issues across sectors with the context of climate change and increasing biodiversity loss’, with a need for urgent action on ‘conserving and restoring habitats and enhancing ecosystem services as a part of sustainable development’, the final COP text that has been agreed upon does not go into specifics on the details for biodiversity. That being said it does provide a platform for the detailed and specific conversations we NEED to be having on topics such as biodiversity, climate change and development, paving the way for a climate focused future.


Credit J Turner, Bangor University

It is widely recognised that climate change, land degradation and biodiversity are interconnected, not only through the effects of climate change on biodiversity and land management but also through the changes in biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that affect climate change. Maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems play a key role in adapting to and mitigating against climate change.

Cameroon 20-007The forest

Credit: Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society

A vast array of Darwin projects focus on these links, demonstrating the positive steps being taken towards combating climate change, through a focus on poverty and biodiversity. A Darwin Initiative project carried out by Birdlife International worked on providing ‘Ecosystem conservation for climate change in East Africa’. The project looked to develop guidance and share best practice surrounding climate change, creating partnerships and raising awareness in order to share experiences and best practice examples and guidance on the successful application of ecosystem based approaches to climate change adaptation. This is just one example of the wide variety of Darwin projects that encompass climate change, and we are always on the lookout for new ones!

Personally, I feel like COP 21 should be viewed as a success. It is up to us to develop projects and programmes that take these factors into account, and the Darwin Initiative is a strong example of how projects can play their part in combatting increasing climate variability and change both directly and indirectly.

I am interested to know how the Darwin community view this deal. Is it indeed a signal of global cooperation that should be hailed as a great success? Will it go down in history as a landmark climate deal? Or is it indeed a cop-tastrophy, that fails to pay enough attention to the science and specifics, and instead focuses on achieving common consensus that amounts to little?