Editor’s note: The co-authors of this essay work in the WWF Mediterranean Programme.

By Giuseppe Di Carlo and Alessandra Pomè

For marine protected areas, community and stakeholder participation are generally considered essential elements for achieving management and conservation targets. However, some sectors – particularly fishermen and tourism operators – continue to view MPAs as limiting factors for their activities and revenues. It can be difficult for MPA authorities to overcome these sensitivities over access to fishing grounds, development permits, and community rights.

In these cases, promoting peer-to-peer dialogue can help to resolve such conflict. That is, success stories and first-hand examples from neighbor sites or countries can positively influence the opinion that fishermen and other sectors hold toward MPAs.

Exchanges of managers and stakeholders between Mediterranean MPAs

To facilitate greater stakeholder engagement in Mediterranean MPAs, WWF has supported exchange visits involving managers, fishermen, and dive operators from various countries. (The exchanges have been conducted through the MedPAN South project, which supports southern Mediterranean countries in developing effective MPAs: http://mediterranean.panda.org/about/marine/marine_protected_area/the_medpan_south_project.) Mentor MPAs – sites with well-established co-management approaches and management plans, for example – have hosted MPAs with internal conflicts (such as where no-take zones are being designated with stakeholder opposition) or that were in the process of developing management plans. Several of these exchange visits have been organized, with nine during 2010-2011.

In one of the exchange visits, local fishermen from communities within the recently designated Lastovo Islands Nature Park (Croatia) visited the Marine Reserve of Torre Guaceto (Italy). For several years, Torre Guaceto has featured a co-management approach between the MPA authority and local fishermen (roughly one-tenth of the 22-km2 site is no-take, while the remainder allows fishing with certain gears at certain times). This approach has allowed high revenues for the fishermen while meeting conservation targets for the MPA. Most importantly the fishermen have taken ownership of this achievement. So at a time when the Croatians were struggling with the identification of potential fishing and no-fishing zones within their MPA, what could be more useful than the Italian fishermen telling their story? As soon as the fishermen got together, the conversations were very productive. The Croatian fishermen who visited Torre Guaceto took home their experience so that their entire community could benefit from the experience.

On another exchange, a group of managers, dive center operators, and fishermen living in the Kas-Kekova Specially Protected Area (Turkey) visited the Nature Reserve Bouche de Bonifacio in Corsica (France). The most important discussions occurred at sea. The fishermen went fishing and discussed fishing gear use, their work with tourists, and their regulated access to fishing grounds. Divers went diving and explored underwater trails, how sustainable diving activities are promoted, and how to engage tourists in protecting the environment. The managers learned about how all this comes together in the management plan, how to achieve financial sustainability for the MPA, and, finally, about the benefits that the MPA has brought to the environment and the community of Bonifacio. Again the conversations were highly productive and positive. The visitors returned home and told their peers and colleagues how conflicts can be overcome.

These visits have led to agreements between MPAs, formally stating cooperation on activities including management plan development, monitoring, etc. This is the case with the agreement brokered by WWF between the Office de l’Environnement de la Corse (OEC) that manages natural reserves in Corsica and the authority in charge of National Parks in Algeria to provide technical support and transfer knowledge on MPA management. Such cooperation contributes to strengthening the Mediterranean MPA network and to securing stakeholder support for MPA business. Networking and cooperation becomes particularly critical at a time when a new push is needed to reach the marine conservation targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean Region.

Lessons learned

A few lessons we have learned from these exchanges include:

  • Choose all participants carefully. Ideally participants from the visiting MPAs should be (1) community leaders, (2) committed to learn, (3) willing to share their experience with peers at home, (4) clear on why they were invited, and (5) ready to contribute actively to the planning of the exchange.
  • Plan in advance. MPAs are usually overwhelmed with pre-existing responsibilities and have limited time to dedicate to exchanges, particularly during the summer. We recommend starting to plan exchanges at least four months ahead.
  • Enable collaboration. Foster the establishment of long-term collaborations between visiting and hosting MPAs by ensuring participation of key decision-makers in the exchange. Decision-makers provide the political support and endorsement to begin a long-term partnership.

For more information:

Giuseppe Di Carlo, WWF Mediterranean Programme, Rome, Italy. E-mail: gdicarlo@wwfmedpo.org; Web: www.panda.org/mediterranean