This blog series celebrates projects across the globe working with local communities to improve conservation efforts of some of the most vulnerable marine seascapes and species. In our second blog post of the series we hear from a Darwin project working with several communities in Honduras. Led by Fauna and Flora International, this project is encouraging collaboration between NGOs to strengthen the management and monitoring of the some of the most diverse seascapes in the Caribbean.
If you would like to read the first post of the series outlining the work of British Antarctic Survey in South Georgia tracking albatrosses to detect illegal fishing please click here.
Turning shared problems into solutions – marine conservation connects people and protected areas in Honduras
At the southern tip of the globally important Mesoamerican Barrier Reef on the Caribbean coastline of Honduras lies a vibrant and interconnected patchwork of coral reef, mangrove, seagrass, and estuary habitats. This ‘seascape’ is home to a high diversity of species, including globally threatened Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus), hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricate) and Utilan spiny-tailed iguanas (Ctenosaura bakeri). Seventeen coastal communities depend on the integrity and productivity of these ecosystems for their livelihoods and wellbeing. Three Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the seascape aim to safeguard these habitats and species.
Over the years, biodiversity and fisheries have declined due to degradation of mangroves and estuaries as well as the use of harmful fishing practices and overfishing. Illegal poaching of wildlife threatens vulnerable species and pollution and sedimentation from agriculture smother coral reefs and other sensitive habitats.
Through an earlier Darwin Initiative project (19-017), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and partners helped to strengthen participatory governance of the Cuero-Y-Salado Wildlife Refuge, one of the MPAs included under this latest project. It was clear that these threats needed to be addressed at a larger scale, however, not only for enhancing ecological connectivity but also for “social connectivity”. This refers to the need to build collaboration between protected area co-managers and the empowerment of communities by increasing dialogue and cooperation regarding their shared resources, problems and aspirations. This funding enabled FFI to launch the seascape initiative in 2016 alongside five Honduran NGO partners. The project aimed to establish an integrated management system, conserving critical habitats and species and enabling fishing communities to improve their livelihoods while increasing their management responsibilities.
Collaboration between NGO partners soon proved its value on practical management issues, such as fisheries management and monitoring, and also led to changes in institutional culture. The project established several bodies as mechanisms for seascape-wide collaboration. An annual ‘seascape forum’ brings authorities, the NGO partners and stakeholder representatives together to discuss seascape issues, the results of studies and priorities for action. A smaller ‘seascape committee’ meets regularly and focuses on joint management actions, while a ‘fisher roundtable’ has enabled fishers across the seascape to reach agreement on their collective priorities for improving fisheries and increasing their sustainability. Through the synthesis of existing information and new research, the project was able to inform the development of fisheries regulations and contribute the design of spatial management measures resulting in two new no-take zones.
Improved cooperation and communication across the seascape also contributed to improving community livelihoods and resilience. Participation by both women and men in the seascape committee and official government recognition of the fishers’ roundtable both represent major advances in the empowerment of coastal communities. Their voices are now being heard and are – to a large extent – unified.
Following the completion of the Darwin Initiative project in March 2019, FFI and the project partners, stakeholders and authorities aim to expand the practical fisheries and ecosystem management work across the seascape. The collective strength and organisation that now exist make it possible to tackle external land-based threats to marine resources, especially sediment, chemical pollution and plastics. The most immediate challenge, however, is to recover from the impacts and after-effects of Covid-19. There is work to be done to enable communities to get through the crisis, to tackle associated threats to biodiversity, to restore fisheries markets and to adapt tourism-related livelihoods. Shared knowledge and mechanisms for cooperation can facilitate this work and are part of the legacy of the Darwin project. Unforeseen shocks will continue to occur – especially due to climate change – so FFI and partners will continue to build ecological and social resilience in this globally important area for marine biodiversity.
More information about project 23-028 led by Fauna and Flora International working in Honduras can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Safeguarding our Seas’ is available here.