When practitioners face the challenges of MPA planning and management – financing, monitoring, enforcement, and so forth – knowledge of how peers have addressed similar challenges can be invaluable. This sharing of lessons can take many forms. Among the most effective, and intensive, is the direct exchange of personnel between sites, allowing managers and stakeholders to experience first-hand how MPAs with similar goals and concerns do their work. Often a component of building “sister” relationships between MPAs, these exchanges can be mutually beneficial for both sides, stimulating better management through fresh ideas.

Such exchanges are often easiest to conduct within national borders, for financial and logistical reasons. But for pairs of sites that share resources across international borders, or whose similarities and opportunities for partnering outweigh the financial and logistical challenges, international exchanges can be a rewarding experience. This month, MPA News examines three cases of how such international relationships have been arranged and implemented.

Linking the chain: Commander Islands (Russia) and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (US)

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of small volcanic isles that span the Bering Sea, stretching 1900 km from the Alaskan Peninsula of the US toward the coast of Kamchatka, Russia. Although maps generally suggest the Aleutian archipelago ends at the US border, just 200 km westward lies a group of islands sharing many Aleutian ecological characteristics: Russia’s Komandorsky Ostrova, or the Commander Islands.

To conserve their respective Aleutian ecosystems, both nations have designated large protected areas. Komandorsky Zapovednik, or the Commander Islands Nature and Biosphere Reserve (CINBR), is Russia’s largest MPA, with 34,633 km2 of marine area. The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (AMNWR) is roughly 20,000 km2 in total, including most islands of the archipelago. The missions of the two protected areas are different in a notable way: while AMNWR was designated expressly to protect seabirds, marine mammals, and the marine resources on which they rely, CINBR is intended to balance biodiversity conservation with the needs of human communities within the reserve. Despite this difference, the sites possess a common ecosystem, with birds, sea lions and other wildlife regularly crossing the MPA borders. Effective management of these shared resources requires cooperation.

“Both protected areas can realize benefits by working together,” says Tom Van Pelt, an international conservation biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency that oversees the Alaskan refuge. “For example, AMNWR and CINBR share important species of birds, such as the rare red-legged kittiwake, that form Bering Sea-wide metapopulations. It makes sense for each area to view the other as an extension of its management interest.”

In March 2005, Van Pelt co-organized a workshop that brought CINBR Director Nik Pavlov and Education Specialist Natalia Fomina to AMNWR headquarters in Alaska for three days. The workshop, called “Linking the Chain”, was intended to formalize a new sister-refuge relationship between the MPAs through person-to-person meetings. It involved briefings on the sites’ respective biodiversity and programs, and extensive brainstorming on opportunities for transboundary cooperation in conservation, monitoring, research, education, and threat prevention. (Oil spills are a major concern for both sites, as described in MPA News 6:2 for CINBR and 6:7 for AMNWR.) Travel for CINBR staff and workshop costs were jointly supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the conservation group WWF, which also attended the workshop.

“This sister-refuge relationship is designed to be an informal, working relationship,” says Van Pelt. “The emphasis is on the operational level, not on the ceremonial level.” For examples of progress from the relationship, he points to harmonized methods for surveying seabirds, the possibility of jointly applying for grants, and access that CINBR now has to scientific staff at AMNWR. Research between the sites is underway on sea otters, which are in decline in the western AMNWR but stable in the Commander Islands. “Comparing the populations could help AMNWR understand why sea otters are declining in their management area and help CINBR ensure that sea otters remain stable in theirs,” says Van Pelt.

There are some constraints to the extent of collaboration, including the Russian/English language barrier between the sites and a staffing shortage at CINBR, among other challenges. These are being addressed, with plans for translation of documents and potential implementation of low-cost hiring practices involving local temporary or student help.

“This workshop was an ice-breaker between AMNWR and CINBR,” says Van Pelt. He would like to see more workshops that maintain the focus on concrete progress in management, and continue teamwork with other institutions active in regional conservation: Audubon Alaska, Pacific Institute of Geography, Russian Bird Conservation Union, UN Development Programme, WWF-Russian Far East, and WWF-US. “The long-term goal is for independent but collaborative and closely coordinated management systems,” he says. “When you consider that until fairly recently, CINBR and AMNWR were entirely isolated from each other, it is extraordinary progress to have their managers and staff sitting together for three days, looking for avenues of mutual benefit. We hope this will grow, bringing the management of these neighboring areas closer together and building pathways across the international boundary.”

Tourism lessons: Komodo National Park (Indonesia) and Galapagos Marine Reserve (Ecuador)

Despite the thousands of miles that separate them, Komodo National Park in Indonesia and Ecuador’s Galapagos Marine Reserve in the eastern Pacific have much in common. They feature volcanic islands, large endemic reptiles, and reputations as natural laboratories for evolution. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves. They also share similar management challenges, including overexploitation of marine natural resources, conflicts between fishermen and park authorities, and expanding local populations.

While the similarities are striking, it was a difference between the sites that led officials five years ago to contemplate an exchange of personnel. Namely, Galapagos was benefiting (financially and managerially) from decades of research conducted there on tourism impacts and management, while Komodo – where tourism was largely unregulated – was not. Komodo officials and stakeholders wanted to learn about the Galapagos tourism management system, including its relatively steep US $100 entrance fee for most foreign adults (Komodo’s is $2), and examine how it could be adapted to make Komodo more sustainable.

In early 2001, an Indonesian team of representatives from Komodo National Park, local government, the private sector, and local communities traveled to Galapagos and met with their counterparts. The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an international conservation organization that has supported management activities at Komodo National Park for several years, organized the trip. Travel was financed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Alex C. Walker Educational and Charitable Trust.

“Tourism management in Galapagos is a great model, in which guides play a pivotal role in informing tourists and monitoring a code of conduct for boat operations and tourism in the park,” says Rili Djohani, who was in the Komodo delegation and is director of TNC’s Southeast Asia Center for Marine Protected Areas. Meetings between Indonesian and Ecuadorian personnel explored the Galapagos fee collection system and how its revenues were allocated among various institutions. In Galapagos, 45% of each entrance fee is retained for management of the park; in Komodo, the funds go directly to local and regional government, with little returning to the protected area.

The main output of the meeting – a formal declaration of cooperation among Komodo, Galapagos, and attendees from three other island protected areas in Latin America – committed the parks to sharing technical assistance on management issues. That agreement facilitated a second visit of Indonesian representatives (including media) to Galapagos, as well as two reciprocal trips to Komodo by park and tourism personnel from Galapagos. On the latter visits, Galapagos personnel learned about coral and fish monitoring protocols as well as the zoning plan for Komodo National Park.

Djohani says the exchanges helped build local support in Komodo for a proposed tourism management plan – the Komodo Collaborative Management Initiative, now awaiting approval by the Indonesian government. With a target of making the MPA financially self-sustainable, the plan would involve the park, TNC, a private tourism consulting agency, and a multistakeholder advisory board. The entrance fee for Komodo would be increased, with a greater share directed to park management. Djohani suggests the visits to Galapagos, by bringing together a wide range of local people, got them working toward the same goals. “That experience really bonded us,” she says. “The study tours greatly enhanced the spirit of this management initiative.”

Pairing advanced MPAs with less-advanced ones: Caribbean site exchanges

In the Caribbean, the UNEP-Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP-CEP) is facilitating multiple activities to aid lesson-sharing among managers. These include providing “Training of Trainers” courses in all aspects of MPA management, and assisting with the CaMPAM Network and Forum Partnership – an initiative to network Caribbean MPA practitioners (MPA News 6:1). Under the framework of these activities and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), UNEP-CEP has helped support exchanges of personnel between MPAs. A hallmark of these exchanges has been the careful pairing of advanced sites – those with best practices to teach on a particular subject – with less-advanced ones.

Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, UNEP-CEP program officer, says that through CaMPAM it has become clear that Caribbean MPAs face common challenges and that communication can help solve them. “Many Caribbean MPAs – while still weak in some ways – have developed best practices in other respects, which can be easily adapted by other MPAs,” she says. She refers to the teacher MPAs as “demonstration sites” and the student MPAs as “target sites”, using terminology developed by ICRAN. She notes that the concept of demonstration sites does not imply a site of excellence, but rather a site with a success story to share and transfer.

Under this arrangement, site pairs are not necessarily viewed as formal “sister MPAs”, although care is given to matching similar sites. To begin, target sites self-identify their most pressing need, and propose a potential site from which to learn. In cases where they do not know of an appropriate partner, UNEP-CEP or CaMPAM members assist in identifying a suitable demonstration site.

An exchange using this framework occurred in 2002, involving the Soufriere Marine Management Area in St. Lucia and Negril Marine Park in Jamaica. (The principal sponsor of the exchange was the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica.) Similar to the above example of Komodo and Galapagos, the exchange focused on an existing user fee system (Soufriere’s) and how it could be adapted to the other park (Negril). In this case, however, the participating personnel were the rangers of each multi-use MPA – the fee collectors under the user fee system.

Project Manager Carl Hanson of the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society (NCRPS), which operates Negril Marine Park, says the primary goal was for the four participating Negril rangers to gain hands-on, day-to-day field experience with how the Soufriere user fee system worked. “Our rangers were given the opportunity to work full-time for a whole month in the Soufriere program, and reported to work each day as if they were employed as rangers within that MPA,” says Hanson. NCRPS viewed the Soufriere site as a model for how user fees could contribute significantly to operational costs of an MPA, as well as how stakeholders could be involved in participatory resource management. Secondary goals of the exchange included sharing experience with enforcement, monitoring techniques, zoning, and mooring-buoy installation.

The visitation was reciprocal, with three rangers from Soufriere Marine Management Area working at Negril, examining the park’s established monitoring programs for coral reefs and water quality. (Soufriere was considering creating a similar water-quality monitoring program.) Each park was responsible for housing visiting rangers during the exchange.

NCRPS is now getting ready to institute a user fee system for Negril Marine Park, and has increased the number of days with ranger patrols from six to seven in preparation. Following the ranger exchange, says Hanson, management of the park has been more inclusive of stakeholders, with an increase in the number of public meetings – not least to educate locals about the imminent user fee system. “NCRPS has been reminded of the importance of continued dialogue with interest groups that might be affected by these management interventions,” says Hanson.

For more information

Tom Van Pelt, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Alaska Region, 1011 East Tudor Road, MS 201, Anchorage, AK 99503, USA. Tel: +907 786 3675; E-mail: thomas_vanpelt@fws.gov

Rili Djohani, The Nature Conservancy, SE Asia Center for Marine Protected Areas, Jl. Pengembak 2, Sanur, Bali, Indonesia. Tel: +62 361 287272; E-mail: rdjohani@tnc.org

Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, UNEP-CEP, 14-20 Port Royal Street, Kingston, Jamaica. Tel: +1 876 922 9267; E-mail: avk.uneprcuja@cwjamaica.com

Carl Hanson, Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, Jamaica. E-mail: coralreef@cwjamaica.com