Networking marine protected areas to learn solutions to common challenges

Marine Protected Areas professionals discuss the importance of networking to face common issues

“Networks of people bring out practical information and knowledge that might not have been written yet, and this seems to be especially true when it comes to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)”, affirmed Dusan Varda, Chairman of MedCem (Mediterranean Center for Environment) and partner of MedPAN, in an interview by UNIMED during the seminar on “Empowering the Mediterranean Community: tools for ecosystem-based management” organised by the MED Biodiversity Protection Community on 16-18 May 2018 in Podgorica, Montenegro. “When relying on networks, MPAs are able to not only tap into specific expertise - continued Mr Varda - but to compare solutions for similar issues they might face.”

The international open seminar organised by the  MED Biodiversity Protection Community, an Interreg MED programme’s initiative, gathered Mediterranean protected area managers, international experts and representatives of the eleven Biodiversity Protection Interreg MED projects in Euro-Mediterranean coastal areas at the core of the community.

The Montenegro open seminar aimed at promoting an ecosystem-based management approach to tackle common challenges in MPAs, which are recognized worldwide as one of the tools to preserve the marine natural resources and ecosystems. Marine protected areas face nevertheless various challenges, including  communicating the value of these natural areas to local populations, involving fishermen in the sustainable management of Mediterranean fisheries, securing funds for an effective management of these natural hotspots and addressing the effects of an increasing anthropization of key ecological areas

“We want to connect local people to the island, at the moment we are an MPA but we don’t have a link to the local people, they can’t interact with the park” said Mirka Černi from the Expert Service at Brijuni National Park in Croatia, who is hoping to open to all local citizens the ongoing education programmes for tourists and schools.

“MPAs should also improve their engagement  with fishermen, whose economic activity is greatly affected by the limitations imposed to fishing - affirmed Andrea Blaškovic from Brijuni Park - and it is up to us to show them how MPAs will benefit them in the longer term”. However, Mr Carlo Franzosini, Marine Biologist at Miramare, the first MPA in Italy and a no-take zone in its entirety, questioned the effectiveness of education programmes for fishermen and he stressed the necessity of increasing fishing monitoring systems. Mr Andrea Picciolo from Porto Cesareo MPA (Italy) on the other hand proposed the creation of a fund to sustain those fishing legally with the sanctions that port authorities should be able to impose on minor infractions. On the contrary Mr Varda from MedCem believes that overfishing can be reduced if fishermen are properly informed and engaged in a constructive dialogue as it happened in an MPA in Turkey, which managed to turn some fishermen into rangers thanks to their knowledge of the area. 

The proper functioning of MPAs is also threatened by a chronic lack of funding and an increasing anthropization process. In order to deal with the latter, Mr. Picciolo was of the opinion that data and research can be used to “find the conflicting hotspots between management and protection”.  When it comes to lack of funding, MPAs must look for other ways to ensure revenue without compromising the very nature of what they are safeguarding. This could be done for example through guided tours, both on land and underwater, always paying attention of course to the carrying capacity so that resources are not overexploited.  

Through all the issues and potential solutions, one theme appears to be recurrent: the importance of networking through initiatives such as the MED Biodiversity Protection Community. It is, in fact, not only a good way to understand who is facing similar issues, but also to compare solutions, as stated by Andrea Blaškovic: “We didn’t have the opportunity to communicate with parks outside of Croatia before, and now we are learning a lot”,  which, she added, will allow them to communicate these solutions to other parks in Croatia. She further noted that this network has allowed them to tap into expertise they didn’t have access to before. Valentina Grande, Environmental Scientist and Geodatabase and GIS specialist, remarked that tools such as the knowledge platform created in this sort of projects are especially useful “for sharing, because they are online and they don’t need a software; all you need is Wi-Fi connection and a browser to see what is being done in other MPAs”.  

*Brijuni National Park is a partner in the MPA-ADAPT project. The project aims to develop collaborative and site-specific adaptation plans for the MPAs that enhance resilience to climate change impacts. This will be achieved by building capacity for effective management, assessing risks, and exploring potential actions and priorities needed to ensure the adaptability and the resilience of biodiversity and the local communities. It also aims to incorporate climate change vulnerability assessments and nature-based adaptation planning into their existing management framework, and provide guidance to MPA managers and local stakeholders to implement and test climate change approaches. 

*Porto Cesareo is a partner in the AMAre project. The AMAre project aims at reinforcing the management and networking of marine protected areas to maintain their biodiversity and natural ecosystems. It targets a more integrated management of the maritime space, considering MPAs can be an efficient tool to achieve Maritime Spatial Planning goals. The development of shared methodologies and geospatial tools will foster the resilience of the Mediterranean MPA network, as well as concrete MSP applications in selected MPAs. The improvement of information exchange among MPAs will be done by best practice dissemination; it will enable common solutions to enhance management strategies and governance mechanisms.

*MedPAN is the network of Marine Protected Areas managers in the Mediterrenean. It is a member of the PANACeA advisory board and partner in the FishMPABlue2 and ACT4LITTER projects. 

The Montenegro open seminar, interactive workshops programme and site visit to the Skadar Lake were organized in the framework of the MED Biodiversity Protection Community activities and supported by its partner the Regional Environment Centre of Montenegro (REC).