Better marine conservation outcomes from a little cross-boundary collaboration
Decisions around marine conservation can be substantially influenced by whether they cross international and political boundaries.
Taking this into account, it is important to understand the challenges, opportunities and constraints involved in conservation collaborations.
Collaboration can occur at a variety of spatial scales (regions, states, countries), and involve a range of different organisations and stakeholders. Different planning approaches and tools apply in different situations.
Systematic conservation planning can provide a valuable framework for deciding priorities in these multi-country regions but needs to take into account the complexity of multiple jurisdictions.
Important advances have been made in the area of marine conservation collaboration in recent years.
Conservation decisions are usually made at the national scale, but biodiversity doesn’t stop at national boundaries – and neither do conservation threats and opportunities. Cross-boundary conservation issues are particularly relevant in marine environments. Marine boundaries are diverse, and range from coastal to territorial waters to Exclusive Economic Zones and the High Seas. And they all have different roles in shaping marine conservation outcomes.
Many activities that impact biodiversity – such as fisheries, pollution and oil mining – cross borders. Thus, environmental and conservation decisions can be substantially influenced by whether they cross international and political boundaries.
Work over recent years is helping us better understand how collaboration can shape conservation across marine boundaries. One of the most important inclusions into marine conservation has been the dynamics of marine uses and socio-economic activities; these have been shown to sometimes be central to conservation outcomes in marine environments. In this article we will review recent advances, open questions and directions in the area of marine conservation collaboration, and provide case studies from CEED-led work over recent years.
Types of conservation collaboration
Collaboration in conservation decision making is seen as a key to success in many areas and realms (see the box on ‘collaboration is an international goal’). But how is the scientific community responding? And what tools do we have on hand?
Recent research around the globe aims to improve our understanding of the value of collaborations for conservation. Salit Kark and colleagues (2015a) reviewed the numerous circumstances in which conservation collaboration is applicable across terrestrial and marine realms. Collaboration can occur at various spatial scales and can be diverse, ranging from collaboration across-borders (such as regions, states or countries), organisations (universities, NGOs, governments) or stakeholders (local community members, indigenous communities, government agencies, conservation groups, recreational groups, scientists).
Today, conservation organisations are more numerous than ever pursuing various objectives, often within the same space (Bode et al, 2010; Gordon et al, 2012). So too is the growth in initiatives to implement transboundary parks and protected area networks that span multiple countries (Chester 2012). Thus with increasing conservation efforts, combined with limited funds and restricted budgets, we must reap the most from collaborations and ensure they are effective as possible.
Collaboration in marine systems
The issue of collaboration is particularly relevant for marine systems. Marine ecosystems are inter-connected through ocean currents, circulations and larval dispersal (Treml & Halpin, 2012), with borders less defined in comparison to terrestrial systems. Many countries have not declared their boundaries (Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ)), and there are the ‘high seas’ which is ocean that does not fall under any countries’ jurisdiction.
Geomorphology of marine environments such as enclosed or semi-enclosed seas (eg, The Mediterranean Sea, The Baltic Sea, The North Sea), gulfs and basins (eg, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Alaska) where numerous states or countries rely on the same shared resource automatically means collaborations are essential. For example, in the North Sea coordinated efforts between countries were taken to jointly survey macrozoobenthos communities to monitor habitat changes and impacts from climate change and fishing (North Sea Benthos Project), as well as to monitor oil pollution using aerial surveys (Carpenter, 2007).
Similarly, marine species have no borders. Countries share species as they move and migrate across waters. Iconic species that migrate across multiple countries include sea turtles, tuna, dolphins, shorebirds and whales (eg, Mazor et al, 2016). The survival of such species often relies upon their ability to migrate across the ocean to breed or feed. Fish stocks are also often shared across countries (Kroodsma et al, 2018) (eg, Northeast Arctic cod stock shared between Russia and Norway), and spawning grounds may be located in areas of different jurisdictions. Therefore, coordinated actions are critical to conserve or protect marine species.
The high connectivity of marine systems also means that marine threats span multiple countries. For example, an oil spill in one country can impact another (Goldman et al, 2015). One of the most infamous examples of this is the Deep Horizon Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico where impacts were spread across four states; Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Fishing boats aren’t easily tracked and illegal fishing and overexploitation of fishery stocks is difficult to control. Pollution (eg, plastics and waste) and the release of toxic substances in waters of one country can flow to that of another.
Given the connectivity, species and threats shared across the marine realm, tailored approaches and tools need to be developed and shared in order to protect and conserve marine biodiversity and to ensure efforts taken in one place are not being hindered in another.
Tools for marine conservation collaboration
Here, we review recent advancements over the past five years in the area of cross boundary collaboration in marine conservation (with a focus on the contributions of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). These initiatives improve the efficiency and effectiveness of marine conservation collaboration and decision making in this vast and often understudied and unprotected realm.
Within the context of the Mediterranean, we outline and summarise work undertaken by CEED, focusing on the approaches and tools for conducting collaborative conservation.
Frameworks: Structured frameworks presented in Kark et al, (2015a; and see Figure 1) and in Micheli et al, (2013; see Figure 7) aim to improve the incorporation of collaboration into conservation and planning. Below we follow the general outline proposed within these frameworks.
Spatial Data Collation: Given the complexity of the region and its many countries, spatial marine information rarely covers the entire sea, thus limiting the extent of broad scale collaborative projects. Noam Levin and colleagues (2014) outlined the status of knowledge for three types of spatial information; bathymetry, classification of marine habitats, and species distributions. Findings of this study suggest data are most readily available and of sufficient quality across the western European countries, and calls for more collaborative networks and databases such as EurOBIS to facilitate collaborations.
Threat Assessments: Often conservation collaboration is necessary to prevent a threatening activity. For example, the increase in oil and gas extraction within the Mediterranean region has enhanced collaborations between countries (Kark et al, 2015b; Mazor et al, 2018). New natural gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean have led to an agreement between Cyprus and Israel in determining their maritime boundaries.
Similarly, the shared threat of biological invasions requires coordinated efforts. The Mediterranean Sea has approximately 1000 alien species and numbers are expected to grow with the enlargement of the Suez Canal (Giakoumi et al, 2016). Given the fluidity and intrinsic connectivity of the marine systems means managing threats require novel ways to address them such as three-dimensional planning (Levin et al, 2018). Prioritising conservation areas in 3D enables threats and multi-users of the ocean space to be explicitly targeted at different depths (Venegas-Li et al, 2017).
Collaboration Potential: Before collaborative projects are undertaken or formalised, Levin and colleagues (2013) presents a tool to estimate the potential for collaboration success (see the box on collaborative potential). This method incorporates understanding about current and historical political, trade and signed conventions and links between given countries. This allows an evaluation to help determine which partnerships will be most viable for conservation collaboration success.
Costs and Benefits: Once collaboration partners have been established it is important to determine the costs and benefits of such partnerships. In the Mediterranean Sea where economies are vastly different and there is a heterogeneous spread of species, conservation costs will not be equal. Tessa Mazor and colleagues (2013) highlighted the huge monetary gains by coordinated collaboration across the Mediterranean Sea, where over two thirds of the cost can be saved by a collaborative plan compared to the costs were countries to act individually.
However, benefits and costs will not be the same for all countries, some will have to contribute more and receive less direct conservation benefit within their own waters, whereas others will reap large conservation benefits for less cost. Hence, such assessments can be helpful for prior assessments on the feasibility of conservation collaborations and for understanding the required inputs from each collaborator. Similarly, Gissi and colleagues, (2018) applied systematic conservation planning in the Adriatic-Ionian Region and used the Protection Equality metric (Chauvenet et al, 2017) to understand how equally countries and industries are protected. The study found that countries maintained a high level of equity but it was lower for industries.
Stakeholder Collaborations: The large number of protected area proposals for the region unfortunately has caused more ambiguity and confusion than progress. To resurrect the multitude of overlapping agendas, Micheli and colleagues (2013) synthesised for the first time 12 large-scale plans across the region, dissolving these into one plan of overlapping priority conservation areas for the Mediterranean Sea. The resulting core areas can help identify major regions of value for multiple initiatives and can serve as a way to incite collaboration across all partners – being win-win for all.
Besides organisational stakeholders, there are also stakeholders of the marine environment, which constitute another mass of actors and members. The ocean is often viewed as a vast open space, but exploring the territorial waters of a country and the number of users and activities quickly dispels this vision. The crowded sea of Israel’s Mediterranean Sea was a case study used by Mazor et al (2014) to illustrate exactly how busy the marine waters can get. This work presents the tool Marxan with Zones as an approach to explore and quantify the trade-offs between different stakeholder objectives such as species protection, hydrocarbon extraction and fishery revenue. While applied at a country scale, this approach can be expanded to wider regions and areas, and helps to understand the ability for stakeholders to collaborate and the trade-offs that they may need to take.
Given the new rise in marine spatial planning programs across the globe, this pre-analysis of trade-off scenarios can be very helpful in ensuring implementation success, where trade-offs are made explicit and transparent early on in the process.
Transboundary Marine Protected Areas
The establishment of protected areas are the primary tool to halt biodiverse loss. Thus, the most common form of cross-boundary collaboration is the establishment of transboundary protected area or networks. Although these areas sounds like a grand solution to the biodiversity crisis, implementing such areas are not straight forward (Guerrerio et al, 2010). The complexities often lie in the economic and socio-political differences between countries. For some parts of the world, branding transboundary parks as ‘peace parks’ may be one solution for gaining political interest (eg, The Red Sea Marine Peace Park between Israel and Jordan, Spratly Islands Marine Peace Park in the South China Sea) but moving beyond a paper parks presents more challenges. Several CEED-related projects involving investigations from various parts of the globe have helped inform how to overcome hurdles relating to the establishment of transboundary parks.
Pascual and colleagues (2016) present a study that surveys stakeholders across the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea to determine perceptions of socioeconomic impacts on MPAs. Incorporating the perceptions of multiple stakeholders in the design of MPAs means more feasible and socially accepted conservation outcomes. This process can help find commonalities as well as identify areas of disagreement or possible conflict among stakeholders. Similarly, Beger and colleagues (2015) uses a multi-objective approach, setting six conservation objectives for creating a network of cohesive marine-protected areas in the Coral Triangle (see Decision Point #96).
Conflict can hamper the potential for transboundary conservation collaborations. Levin and colleagues (2018) explored relationships between countries in the Western Indian Ocean to help aid the establishment of transboundary marine protected areas such as the Lubombo Ponta do OuroKosi Bay Marine and Coastal Transfrontier Conservation and Resource Area, established in 2009 and the future RuvumaPalma National Reserve. The likelihood of poor collaborations was inferred from compiling data from historical conflicts and wars in the region and anti-shipping activities (piracy), whereas positive connections were inferred from trade-agreements as well as multi-lateral and bilateral maritime and conservation agreements. Understanding ecological versus institutional linkages between countries has also been explored in the Indo-West Pacific (Tremel et al, 2015). Using a quantitative network-analysis method, the approach helps to reveal areas of misalignment where strengthening intuitional ties can help improve important ecological processes.
Collaboration for better conservation outcomes
Addressing large-scale biodiversity loss requires large-scale actions. Conservation collaboration is one important ingredient in achieving this. In this article we have outlined a number of useful tools and approaches for evaluating efforts aimed at implementing collaborative marine conservation (summarised in Table 1). Our work within the Mediterranean Sea has been successful in advancing conservation planning and collaboration in this region. We have demonstrated the value of these approaches. However, these applications need to be refined and adapted to other parts of the globe. Given that collaborations can be hugely beneficial for conservation, we should make every effort to ensure the process is fruitful, timely and cost effective.
Collaboration is an international goal
Collaboration lies at the heart of some of the world’s most important international conventions on sustainability and conservation. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 17 emphasises partnerships and collaboration to achieve the sustainable development agenda. It calls upon multi-stakeholder partnerships to transfer knowledge and share resources (United Nations 2015). Likewise, ‘Strategic Goal E’ (Target 17-20) of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets addresses the need to enhance stakeholder’s participation and increase the dispersion, sharing and application of science and technology (Convention on Biological Diversity 2010).
The Mediterranean Marine Conservation Planning (MMCP) Initiative
The Mediterranean Sea is a biodiversity hotspot. It is surrounded by over 20 countries with a diversity of languages, religions, politics and economies. It is a prime example of a region requiring collaborative efforts, and there have been various attempts to forge collaborations. One example is MedPAN, an NGO that promotes coordinated efforts to establish a network or marine protected areas in the Mediterranean.
Yet, systematic conservation planning in the region has lagged behind, with the first localised efforts less than 10 years ago (eg, Giakoumi et al, 2011). The complex setting of the Mediterranean coupled with its lack of, and need for, conservation planning, has prompted the Mediterranean Marine Conservation Planning (MMCP) initiative. This initiative was established by our team and has been the focus of a number of international workshops and publications.
We started the MMCP initiative in 2012. It established a group of scientists and practitioners from across the Mediterranean Sea working on conservation planning, to help advance cross-boundary collaboration and spatial planning in this biodiversity-rich and highly threatened hotspot. The first workshop was held in 2012 in Santorini (Giakoumi et al, 2012), which was followed by two additional workshops (in Nahsholim, Israel in 2013; and in Lecce, Italy in 2015).
This collaborative work has since developed and enhanced the establishment of the more formal MarCons COST action (http://www.marcons-cost.eu/) under the European Union Horizon 2020 framework programme.
The ‘Mediterranean melting pot’
The Mediterranean Sea supports a rich biodiversity (Fig 1) but faces many threats that have to be dealt with by multiple nations. The Sea is surrounded by over twenty countries spread across three continents. It is visited by around 200 million tourists a year and supports the livelihood of some 150 million people via small-scale subsistence fishing, employment within commercial fisheries and as a food source. In addition, the multiple users of this common resource face very different circumstances. Countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea show a vast array of cultural values, economic statuses, political systems, religions and languages. All these additional factors can impede successful collaboration (see the box on collaborative potential).
Most conservation efforts in the Mediterranean Sea are uncoordinated and are not protecting the sea’s highly threatened biodiversity. With limited conservation measures in place, the sea’s native species and ecosystems continue to face threats from both land- and sea-based human activities. Existing marine protected areas (MPAs) are relatively small and are not based on coordinated legislation or criteria for establishment; each country has its own guidelines for administering MPAs. While the implementation of protected areas has raised conservation awareness, limited structural integrity and cross-country collaboration challenge the ability of these areas to protect and sustain the biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea.
International collaboration has been shown to be a key to success in tackling a range of environmental problems. Furthermore, it has been found that collaboration in conservation has the potential to substantially reduce costs. While, these factors may be enough to encourage some countries to engage in conservation, for others there are large cultural differences, political histories and language barriers that may be too difficult to overcome. For establishing collaborative conservation initiatives where do we begin? How can we identify countries which have the potential to collaborate successfully in conservation?
To address this, Noam Levin and colleagues have developed a framework for including collaborative potential into conservation planning (Levin et al, 2013). Because there is no way of calculating the success of future collaborations, they assessed current connections and linkages between countries and used these as surrogates. The surrogates they used included demographics, socioeconomic (eg, trade and tourism), political (eg, history of conflicts) and historical features.
Given the large heterogeneity among countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea (and the fact that collaboration for marine conservation is necessary within this shared environment), it made a good case study for the method. However, the findings from this study could be applied to any area where collaboration for conservation is needed.
Priority areas for conservation may look promising on paper, but they may not be actually achievable. By incorporating collaborative potential the researchers found that the spatial priorities for marine conservation in the Mediterranean Sea shifted to the northern part of the Mediterranean Sea, where collaboration between countries (and especially within the European Union) is well established.
This type of analysis allows planners and decision makers to incorporate feasibility when setting up marine or terrestrial trans-boundary park and international conservation projects. Besides this, it can help us realise which areas may need extra resources and time for facilitating collaborative conservation.
Collaboration and oil extraction
Oil and gas extraction in the marine realm is a good example of an activity that presents threats to biodiversity that transcend national boundaries. What is sometimes overlooked is that it also presents opportunities. To mitigate the threats and seize the opportunities requires effective collaboration.
Salit Kark and colleagues (2015b) reviewed the risks and impacts of offshore oil and gas extraction globally, and discussed how the conservation community can be better prepared. They also reflected on some of the conservation challenges and opportunities arising from offshore hydrocarbon development. These challenges include threats to ecosystems and marine species from exploration, oil spills, and operations infrastructure (in both marine and coastal areas). They discussed impacts on native biodiversity from invasive species colonising drilling infrastructure, and increased political conflicts that can delay conservation actions.
However, it’s not all ‘downside’. The expansion of offshore operations also brings with it potential opportunities that might be leveraged for conservation. Options include the use of facilities and costly equipment of the deep and ultra-deep hydrocarbon industry for deep-sea conservation research and monitoring, and the establishment of new conservation research, practice, and monitoring funds and environmental offsetting schemes. Collaborations have already begun is some regions, and in some cases involves global and local NGOs and other stakeholders.
More info: Tessa Mazor firstname.lastname@example.org
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