30 Jan 2018 - Brussels, Belgium - Final conference of the Transatlantic MPA Network. © Bernal Revert/ BR&U

Final conference shows strong interest in continuing the partnership

The final conference of the Transatlantic MPA partnership project, held in Brussels on 30-31 January, was opened by Ms Hilde Hardeman, director and Head of Service for the European Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, which funds the project through its Partnership Instrument. She emphasised the need to work together to manage the shared resource of the Atlantic Ocean, and welcomed the project’s contribution to “providing Marine Protected Area managers with tools and data, and possibilities for exchange of experience, to better implement their area and protect this shared resource”.

“These are times that call for a strong involvement of transregional, transnational and transoceanic cooperation,” said Ricardo Serrão Santos, Member of the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries, adding that MPAs needed assured financing to ensure that they could function effectively, or else risk being discredited.

This point was underlined by Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Natural Capital, Directorate General for the Environment, European Commission. “Although the number of designated areas continues to increase worldwide, many MPAs still lack clear conservation objectives and management measures.”

Marc Giacomini of the European External Action Service reminded participants that ocean governance is a matter of foreign and security policy. And speaking for the European Commission’s Maritime Affairs Directorate, Ramon Van Barteveld recalled that less than 3% of oceans are protected; and even less are effectively enforced. “Our shared prosperity is only sustainable if it is based on sound environmental practices.”

Project results and challenges

Puri Canals, team leader of the project, then presented the project’s achievements. Over the two years since it began, it has reached out to MPA managers and stakeholders around the Atlantic, and hosted workshops for up to 73 participants from 31 countries. These include 27 MPA managers, seven representatives of MPA regional networks, 23 from MPA national networks or systems; five regional seas institutions; ten research institutions; six funding bodies and twelve NGOs.

Factors for the project’s success include its innovative nature, in bringing together managers of MPAs to discuss issues of shared interest; the relevance of the three twinning projects – on MPA managers networks, resilience and marine mammals conservation – and their dynamic nature, which saw increasing numbers of partners join the twinnings over the course of the project, and further interest from other partners to join a possible follow-up phase.

Among the challenges experienced were the project’s limited (two-year) timescale, the varying levels of availability, knowledge levels and budgets of the participants, the lack of time to develop the twinning projects, and uncertainty over what will happen after the current project phase.

What is certain, she said, is that the project has created a lot of interest and expectation. It has also shown how MPA managers around the Atlantic face many of the same challenges, that networking makes it possible to accelerate progress towards lasting and effective MPA management, and that this sort of initiative can contribute to much wider efforts, such as peace-building.

Jean-Jacques Goussard, senior MPA expert, presented the project’s scoping study, a shared vision of marine and coastal conservation in the Atlantic Basin, which provides an overview of the Atlantic’s biophysical features, ecological connectivity and emblematic species; its MPA systems, different governance structures, challenges (climate change and the increased density of human occupation of coasts) and good practices. Based on mapping of conservation systems, a review of literature, survey and consultations with regional and national authorities and other stakeholders, the study aims to offer a shared vision of the Atlantic for MPAs, although without attempting to cover fisheries, maritime security, or areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The conference engaged in an active discussion about how the study could be used and on the value of deepening and developing the Atlantic partnership already begun.

Twinning partnerships and next steps

The second day of the conference centred on the three twinning projects: MPA managers networks; resilience, and marine mammals conservation.

Twinning partners had taken part in a pre-meeting the day before to share feedback and results from their involvement, and to suggest how they would like to see the partnership develop in the future. The general consensus was that the project had delivered concrete results thanks to bringing together MPA managers facing similar challenges who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet. It had boosted their knowledge and effectiveness, and stimulated ideas for improving management strategies. Among lessons learned, they recognised the need to work more closely and at an early stage with policy makers, local communities, fisherfolk and other sectors involved in the marine environment.

Partners in the twinning of MPA managers networks described how the project had enabled them to build on relationships established in earlier international fora but not followed up. They had drafted a common strategy for a continued partnership and issued a Call for Joint Action at IMPAC4 in Chile, following joint statements at the international parks congress in Hawaii in 2016 and the New York SDG 14 conference in June 2017. Further cooperation would enable them to improve their advocacy impacts, boost MPA managers’ effectiveness through the sharing of tools, information and good practices; and pool advice and efforts to improve fundraising.

Partners from Bermuda and Cape Verde who took part in the marine mammals twinning project reported that working with partners in the US and Portugal had enabled them each to start work on a conservation plan for marine mammals in their country. Ideas for continuing the partnership included sharing good practice on whale watching, to meet demands of a growing tourism sector and a better understanding of whale-watching impacts. In addition, sharing whale ID catalogues would contribute to existing data on humpback whale lifecycles and migration pathways. The partner from Iceland reported that as a result of the twinning workshop they had hosted in October 2017, the country was now looking at creating its first MPAs.

Participants in the Resilience project described the value of being able to meet their counterparts on other continents who face similar challenges, whether with coastal erosion, severe weather impacts or urbanisation. Sharing strategies, such as where mistakes had been made and how to prevent these in the future, helped them to be more effective, said the partner from the Northern Littoral National Park in Portugal. The partners emphasised the role that MPAs could play as a mediator between other stakeholders to promote better resilient territorial management. This was an experience learnt from the Abrolhos national park in Brazil. MPA managers from New Jersey and Gabon described the importance of working closely with local communities and local authorities, and shared their intention to continue collaboration on developing a plan for coastal and inshore waters, which are typically neglected in marine spatial planning.

Puri Canals presented the Call for Joint Action by MPA networks, launched at IMPAC4 in Chile, which had been presented at the High Level event at the outcome of IMPAC4. A discussion on how to build on this, the MPA twinning partnerships and the scoping study prompted a number of recommendations, including to share the results of the projects with more local and regional partners, as well as more MPAs in the southern Atlantic, of which few have been involved thus far. There was a keen interest in promoting the benefits and knowledge of MPAs more actively to local and national decision-makers to strengthen their influence on policy-making and financing, and suggestions for MPA managers to forge links with local universities and research institutions; and better promote the economic benefits of MPAs, as well as the conservation benefits for local communities.

The Honourable Ezechiel Joseph, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Physical Planning, Natural Resources and Cooperatives of Saint Lucia, offered to act as an ambassador for the transatlantic MPA partnership with decision-makers in the Caribbean region. “Let’s prioritise tangible achievable objectives for the next two years,” he urged. “If politicians can appreciate the socio-economic impact and benefits of MPAs for rural communities and development they will give their support.”

The European Commission closed the conference by confirming that the European Union is currently reflecting on a follow-up action. “I’m confident that we will continue to build on this pilot action,” said project manager Daniel Van Assche, of the Commission’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, adding: “It’s important to keep nature conservation at the heart of the project.”

See also the conference photo gallery.