Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clear Communications Key to Ocean Conservation

At the beginning of a wet and balmy week on the verdant Caribbean isle of Guadeloupe, approximately sixty participants converged for the 4th International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium (ITMEMS4). The aim of ITMEMS is to bring together coastal and marine managers in order that they may share knowledge, experiences and tools for tackling common challenges of managing tropical ecosystems, which include coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves.

“ITMEMS has provided me with an opportunity to share lessons and
best practices with other professionals from tropical regions around the world.”
Dishon Murage – Marine & Coastal Resources Programme Coordinator,
East African Wildlife Society, Kenya

Scott Radway, Director of SeaWeb's Asia Pacific Programme,
facilitates a communications training session. Photo - Russ Avery.

It’s all too rare that marine and coastal managers are able to meet face-to-face with each other, and with communications experts, coral reef scientists and technical trainers to discuss the issues they face in their work. The participants at this latest ITMEMS represented twenty-one countries in total, covering a truly vast area of ocean and variety of tropical marine ecosystems.

Throughout the symposium, participants gathered in
small groups for tailored workshops. Photo - Russ Avery

The reason this symposium continues to be so effective is that although coastal and marine managers may be from different countries and cultures, they all share the same challenges. Over four packed days in Guadeloupe, participants engaged with each other in a variety of workshops and mentoring sessions. The buzz was constant throughout the conference and there was a tangible energy in each of the discussions, which overflowed into the evenings, long after the days’ sessions came to an end.

“ITMEMS has provided me with the capacity-building tools to take back home and help us with the development of our management system.”
Alwyn Ponteen – Chief Fisheries Officer,
Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing & Environment, Montserrat

The ITMEMS4 group. 21 countries were represented
by approximately sixty participants. Photo - Russ Avery.

At ITMEMS4, successful communications has not only enabled participants to share their knowledge with each other, but has also offered new ideas and step-wise tools to enable more effective engagement of local communities and stakeholders in management once they have returned home. The success of the symposium has demonstrated that the need for effective communications among the ocean conservation community is crucial.

“Coming to ITMEMS has been a great experience – learning from regional colleagues and partners within the wider Caribbean and also internationally”
Annelise Hagan – Science Programme Director,
Southern Environmental Association, Belize

The setting sun as seen from Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe.
Photo - Russ Avery.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The complexities of coastal restoration: Revisiting the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Attempts to control Deepwater Horizon fire.
Credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Marine Photobank.

Over the last year and a half there has been much attention to restoring the coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. But these efforts have been less than simple, as have the goals in restoration. On November 16th experts from around the country came together to discuss the complexity in restoring these ecosystems for both economic and ecological benefits. The panel discussion, titled ‘Restoring the Ecological and Economic Vitality of the Gulf of Mexico’ and moderated by Mr. David Malakoff of Science Magazine, focused on some of the broad topics around valuing ecosystem services and the obstacles encountered in restoration attempts.
The marshes became flooded with oil
along the coast of Louisiana. Eileen Romero/Marine Photobank

As discussed by the panel members, the obstacles to effective restoration sometimes lie in both a lack of knowledge on how some ecological communities interact as well with the federal mandates for restoration programs. Dr. Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium pointed out that this mismatch can create a scenario of shifting baselines in ecological data that can be a hang up in implementing restoration plans. She suggested a landscape view approach to restoration-where stakeholders determine what they want to see in the coastal estuaries and marshes over the next 25-50 years and that through prioritizing a set vision in the plans could led to an effective realization of restoration goals. 

Man works to clean up oil from the beach.
Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard/Marine Photobank
The other main component of the discussion focused on the importance of recognizing and valuing ecosystem services. Ecological modeling software and economic analysis serve as main techniques in identifying and ascribing monetary value to ecosystem processes, but there are other novel ways to discern the full impact of these systems as suggested by Dr. Heather Tallis, Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project.  Taking an ecosystem services ‘watershed’ approach- where ecological attributes, like critical fish habitat, are linked to the people who receive first (recreational & commercial fishermen) or secondary benefits (consumers, local businesses) within a geographical boundary- can help better illustrate the importance of certain ecosystem services to a region.

In moving forward, the panel made it clear that there is still much work to be done, with the full impact of the oil spill yet to be seen.  

Written By: Kirby-Rootes Murdy