July - August 2020 (22:1)

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With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn, MPAs face a challenging financial future. Tighter MPA budgets are likely as governments redirect funds to pandemic response, and as other revenue sources – particularly tourism – dry up for the foreseeable future.

As a result, MPA practitioners are considering alternative sources of revenue. Should blue carbon be one of these?

Blue carbon is the capture and storage of carbon in coastal and ocean ecosystems, such as mangroves, seagrasses, and tidal salt marshes. When MPA News reported on blue carbon back in 2016, it was still just a concept, discussed as a way that MPAs could help fight climate change. But now two MPA projects are implementing blue carbon strategies as a source of revenue – the first MPAs to do so. They are generating credits based on the tons of carbon their projects have captured and stored, then selling those credits to global buyers who want to offset their own carbon emissions.

This is a whole new way of monetizing MPAs. The timing is potentially good: the global market for carbon credits is expected to grow substantially as nations and other entities, like airlines, strive to meet various emission-reduction commitments. According to one of the projects selling blue carbon credits, the current demand for them may be as much as a thousand times greater than current supply.

That being said, there are plenty of challenges involved in generating and certifying blue carbon credits. And the two projects in operation are both very small in scale: it remains to be seen whether blue carbon could be scaled up to meet market demand. This month, MPA News speaks with practitioners from the two MPA projects – both mangrove restoration initiatives – that are forging a path for blue carbon finance, to learn what their experience has been like so far.

Editor’s note: MPA News recognizes that the concept of enabling polluters to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits is controversial. Such a system allows polluters to keep polluting. And there is always a chance that carbon storage projects will fail, releasing their carbon right back to the atmosphere. A restored mangrove forest, for example, could be chopped down illegally and turned into charcoal. However, carbon offsets are already part of various existing carbon-trading schemes, and will be included as part of the Paris Agreement’s approach to combating climate change. In the context of MPAs, they represent a novel approach to financing, and a way to monetize sites in a manner that rewards making ecosystems healthier and more productive.


Seeing a high demand for credits: The Tahiry Honko project in Madagascar

In southwest Madagascar, the Tahiry Honko project is conserving and restoring mangrove forests within the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area, an MPA. The project goal is to support sustainable mangrove management and economic security in the region. In the local dialect, tahiry honko means ‘preserving mangroves’.

Started in 2018, the project conserves and restores over 1200 hectares (12 km2) of mangrove forest, and is generating over 1300 carbon credits per year as the trees grow larger and store more carbon. (One carbon credit is equal to one metric ton of carbon stored.) The project anticipates an annual income from carbon credit sales of US$27,000 for the next 20 years. Of that, 50% goes to local villages to support infrastructure construction, education, and healthcare; and 23% goes to the local marine management association that leads the project, to support MPA management. The remainder covers project expenses.

The project has already sold all of its 2018, 2019, and 2020 credits and is marketing its anticipated credits from 2021 onward. Although there are various national-level carbon markets in which heavy industries are required to offset their emissions, these compliance markets do not currently sell blue carbon credits. As a result, credits from Tahiry Honko and other blue carbon projects are sold on what’s called the voluntary carbon market, to buyers that have set their own voluntary offset commitments. In both types of markets, credits must be certified by a reputable entity to demonstrate they meet various criteria. The Tahiry Honko project uses Plan Vivo Foundation as its credit certifier.

Leah Glass is the Mangrove Technical Lead at Blue Ventures, the NGO that technically supports the project.

MPA News: Leah, how much demand are you seeing so far for your blue carbon credits?

Leah Glass: We have seen very high demand for Tahiry Honko carbon credits, in part due to the low number of blue carbon projects on the market. The demand is much higher than we can supply. For instance, we've had several buyers interested in purchasing hundreds of thousands of credits per year. And in one case over a million.

However, that was pre-COVID. While we still have many buyers coming to us for credits (which is reassuring for the fight against climate change), the economic implications of the global lockdown will undoubtedly decrease the funds that companies make available for CO2 emission mitigation and offsetting. For instance, pre-COVID we saw strong demand from the aviation and tourism sectors, which have obviously been heavily impacted by the global lockdown. 

While we are yet to feel the impact of this decrease in demand and are not overly concerned due to the relatively small number of credits we have to sell each year, the potential effect of COVID on companies' environmental strategies is a risk for any larger blue carbon projects in the pipeline.      

MPA News: What are the main challenges that Tahiry Honko has faced so far?

Glass: Mangroves inhabit a unique environment at the transition of land and sea. While this presents many opportunities, from a policy perspective it can also lead to conflicting legislation because mangroves are at once both terrestrial and marine. To overcome these challenges, it is necessary for projects to work closely with both the relevant forest and fisheries authorities.

Also from a policy angle, in many countries carbon-specific legislation is still in its infancy and not always fully inclusive of mangroves. While Madagascar now has a relatively mature and clear carbon policy framework, the project did encounter challenges as it was developed simultaneously with this framework. Close collaboration with, and support from, the national REDD+ body was vital for project success. [Editor’s note: Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD+, is a UN mechanism that offers incentives to developing nations for sustainable forest management.]

The other major challenges faced by the project are the costs and reporting associated with certification. The Tahiry Honko project is in an arid, low-carbon region, meaning the carbon benefits per hectare of mangrove conservation and restoration are lower than they are in other parts of the tropics. Thus, the annual income is less than would be the case for the same size project in higher productivity systems, such as those found in southeast Asia. Our carbon revenue, if sold at the average price for forestry-related carbon offsets on the voluntary market (US$3.20 per metric ton, according to the most recent report), would not be enough to cover certification and verification costs. We knew this would likely be the case from the outset but took on the challenge as an element of developing and learning within the emerging sector. Incidentally, this shortfall would likely also be the case for smaller projects in more carbon-rich environments – meaning that, in the current certification context, projects need to be a certain minimum size to be financially viable. This can be a challenge for community organizations working over smaller areas, however effective their management is.

Thankfully, at the moment we are selling our credits for significantly more than the average market price, due in part to the rarity of blue carbon credits. So project costs are being covered by carbon revenue – so far. However, if more projects were to come onto the market and supply levels were to get closer to demand, we might not be able to command the same price for our credits. Time will tell. This is a 20-year project and in the current context it's hard to see too far into the future.

Lastly, Blue Ventures believes that marine management is most effective when conservation models work for people, showing that effective marine conservation is in everyone’s interest. While Plan Vivo has done its best to make its project certification and verification processes simpler, the complexity is still a barrier to many community organizations being able to verify carbon impact and access finance without strong support from an English-speaking organization (like Blue Ventures). The certification, reporting, and verification processes need to be democratized in order to create a truly accessible carbon standard.

MPA News: If an MPA manager came to you and asked what steps they could take to start monetizing their blue carbon, what advice would you give them?

Glass: The first advice would be to listen. Blue Ventures focuses on understanding the barriers to effective marine management that communities face. What are the needs on the ground, and could a carbon project help to address these needs? To answer this, a broad understanding of the potential carbon income is necessary, but at these initial stages national or default values can be used. Do not be overwhelmed by the carbon science aspect of blue carbon projects! There are various manuals available – such as this excellent one produced by the Blue Carbon Initiative (also available in Spanish and Chinese) – that can help with this.

If it is decided that blue carbon is a suitable approach, the next step must be the participatory development of the management plans and actions that will underpin the project. We have written about our experiences here. Marine resource use is complex and underpins livelihoods, so never underestimate how long this process takes. Without effective management that has the full buy-in of all stakeholders, you won’t have a carbon project.

Once this important step is underway, you can start the activities that are unique to carbon projects. This includes calculating the potential scale of the CO2 emission reductions and removals, defining the monitoring and reporting framework, and supporting project partners to define a benefit-sharing scenario.

The last piece of advice would be to not try to fit a square peg in a round hole. With the certification options currently available to projects, not all management initiatives will be able to access carbon finance. In dollar terms, the carbon value of coastal ecosystems is often far outweighed by those of other ecosystem goods and services, such as fisheries. If carbon isn’t viable, look into these other assets as potential funding mechanisms for blue carbon systems and the marine landscape more broadly. These are incredibly valuable ecosystems and we must work as a sector to develop approaches that enable communities to sustainably realize their full value.

For more information: Leah Glass, Blue Ventures. Email: leah [at] blueventures.org


Looking to expand: The Mikoko Pamoja project in Kenya

In Gazi Bay on the southern Kenya coast, local communities have signed an agreement with the national government to allow them to manage a designated area of mangroves. In this locally managed marine area, the Mikoko Pamoja project is protecting 117 hectares (1.17 km2) of the bay’s 615 hectares of mangroves, and planting 4000 trees annually in the degraded intertidal areas. Mikoko Pamoja means ‘mangroves together’ in Swahili, which is the project’s whole mission – to partner together in conserving mangroves.

Mikoko Pamoja was launched in 2013 and is managed by three groups: a community organization that consists of representatives of Gazi Bay villages; a steering group that provides technical support; and the project coordinator, the Association for Coastal Ecosystem Services (ACES), a charity registered in Scotland. Plan Vivo is the third-party verifier of the carbon credits.

Mikoko Pamoja stores an average of 2500 metric tons of CO2 annually, which generates about US$12,500 in credit sales per year, adjusted for market fluctuations and other factors. Project coordinator ACES is in charge of selling the credits on the voluntary carbon market. Buyers so far have included individuals, conferences, universities, and companies seeking to promote their green credentials.

Of the revenue from credit sales, 65% goes to support community development projects, including provision of schoolbooks, construction of school buildings, and the provision of clean drinking water. The rest of the carbon income is used to pay salaries and wages for the project coordinator and community members working for the project.

James Kairo is a Forest Carbon Specialist and a Project Developer for Mikoko Pamoja.

MPA News: What challenges have you faced so far with Mikoko Pamoja?

James Kairo: Blue carbon projects are a simple concept but quite complicated to implement. Our success so far with Mikoko Pamoja has been due to good science, strong community, government support, and a good network of international actors. But this has not been without challenges, and as the first community-led project to restore and protect mangroves through the sale of carbon credits, we have had to overcome quite a few. The main one has been community over-expectations related to carbon projects, including in terms of the amount of revenue that can be generated. We have also suffered from the lack of similar reference projects, and have had to rely on terrestrial projects, which are not the same. And we have had the problem of fluctuating carbon prices in the international market. 

MPA News: If an MPA manager came to you for advice on getting started with blue carbon, what would you say?

Kairo: The best place to start would be the Blue Carbon Primer, which was published earlier this year by CRC Press. It has a wealth of information on coastal wetland science, policy, and practice. We contributed a case study on Mikoko Pamoja to it, describing our step-by-step process.

MPA News: Mikoko Pamoja is looking to expand into seagrass restoration, and selling carbon credits from that as well. What is the status of those efforts?

Kairo: Initial consultations with the local Beach Management Unit have started. In Kenya, Beach Management Units are the co-management bodies on fisheries issues, combining local and national management. Since seagrasses are associated with supporting fisheries, they are managed through BMUs. Mapping of the seagrass around Gazi as well as ecological baselines have been carried out, and we have revised the Project Document to incorporate seagrass. But we are not at the point yet of selling any credits from seagrass.

MPA News: What factors did you consider in choosing a third-party verifier?

Kairo: Our choice of Plan Vivo was related to the low volume of our verified emission reductions, which may have been too small for other verification bodies, and the relatively short turn-around time in working with Plan Vivo compared to other bodies. However, we are now in talks with communities in Mozambique and Tanzania to conduct similar but larger projects there, and we are considering using another verifier for those due to the huge potential volume of carbon.

For more information: James G. Kairo, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute. Email: gkairo [at] yahoo.com


Verifying that the carbon credits meet a standard: Plan Vivo Foundation

As mentioned earlier, for carbon credits to be sellable (either on compliance markets or the voluntary market), they must be certified by a third-party verification body. Such a body ensures that a project meets certain criteria. One criterion, for example, is that the stored carbon must be additional – meaning a project’s activities lead to lower atmospheric CO2 levels than would have happened under business as usual. (In other words, a project cannot sell credits for a mangrove forest that already existed before the project.) The verifier visits the project site annually to monitor and audit the amount of ongoing carbon storage.

There are several third-party verifiers for carbon credits, including a few that offer blue carbon methodologies. The verifier chosen by both Tahiry Honko and Mikoko Pamoja to certify their credits is Plan Vivo Foundation, based in the UK. Plan Vivo places a strong emphasis on equitable benefit sharing: when it partners with a carbon project, it requires that a certain percentage of the project’s income from the sale of credits goes to community partners.

Chris Stephenson is Head of Operations for Plan Vivo Foundation.

MPA News: The Tahiry Honko and Mikoko Pamoja projects are the first cases in which Plan Vivo has certified blue carbon credits. Normally you certify terrestrial carbon. Have you faced any challenges with blue carbon?

Chris Stephenson: Plan Vivo has always been interested in new scientific developments, and new tools to measure carbon mitigation benefits. The carbon sequestration benefits of mangrove systems and the associated sediments, as well as the climate adaptation benefits of restoring and protecting at-risk mangrove forests, are very clear in the literature. 

What have been challenging are the significant uncertainties that can relate to dynamic systems such as these. Look at seagrass, for example. Some evidence suggests that the carbon storage capacity of seagrass and associated sediments may be even higher than for mangroves; yet, to date, methodologies to credit these benefits in seagrass are not commonplace. This can be discouraging when trying to look at whole systems – including, say, mangroves, seagrass, and other habitats in proximity – that may involve multiple interventions and activities. Monitoring blue carbon systems can also be costly compared to terrestrial systems, and accessing the sites can be challenging, as well as finding suitable reference areas to demonstrate project effectiveness.

With systems like these that display higher levels of uncertainty, very conservative estimates of biomass increments and, potentially, soil carbon accumulation must be used. This suggests that certification currently is only able to credit a portion of the real climate benefits.

To go some way toward compensating for all this, a suite of adaptation and livelihood benefits and a good narrative describing a project's aims can help blue carbon credits command higher prices than similar (mostly terrestrial) projects that involve Agriculture, Forestry, or Other Land Use, or AFOLU.

MPA News: Do you have a sense yet of how large the market for blue carbon credits could become?

Stephenson: From chats and anecdotal experience, it seems there is high demand for these credit types – particularly from potential buyers or supporters that have a direct link to the health of the oceans, and also tourism companies. However, it is a very small market currently in terms of supply.

MPA News: What advice would you give MPA managers who are considering whether blue carbon is right for them as a source of revenue?

Stephenson: It is important to be realistic about the costs involved in such projects, and to consider scale early on. While small sites may offer the best way to start an initiative as they are more manageable, carbon projects in the AFOLU sector generally need to reach a certain size, so that the costs of third-party audits, certification, monitoring, and other operations make sense in the overall scheme of things. Economies of scale can be important.

A certification organization such as Plan Vivo may well be the right choice. We encourage new potential initiatives to contact us as well as those initiatives that have pioneered approaches in the space to understand the challenges and to learn from adaptations they have already made.

For more information: Chris Stephenson, Plan Vivo Foundation. Email: info [at] planvivofoundation.org

Editor’s note: In our next issue, MPA News will explore the future of blue carbon credits, including the possibility of selling carbon credits based on the biomass of an MPA’s fish, whales, and other wildlife. How realistic is it?

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the world, MPA News continues to compile resources that may be of value to our readers. Here is our latest batch.

Blogs, news media, journal articles

The lockdown seriously impacted Mediterranean MPAs: Results of survey (MedPAN) – MedPAN’s survey of 35 practitioners found reductions in tourism and fishing at MPAs across the Mediterranean, as well as several other impacts.

Brief videos by World Heritage site managers on how their sites are coping with the COVID-19 crisis (UNESCO) – These videos include testimonials from four marine sites: Banc d’Arguin National Park (Mauritania), Komodo National Park (Indonesia), Sundarbans National Park (India), and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines).

Managing Buccoo Reef Marine Park (Trinidad and Tobago Newsday) – During the temporary closure of Buccoo Reef Marine Park amid the pandemic, Tobago policymakers used the downtime to institute a new user policy and permit system with the goal of transforming the MPA from ineffective to effective.

Galápagos Biosecurity Lab Tests for COVID-19 (WildAid) – A laboratory built to control invasive species and diseases in the Galápagos Islands has been converted temporarily to a COVID-19 testing facility for the archipelago.

In COVID’s Shadow, Illegal Fishing Flourishes (Hakai Magazine) – With COVID-19 lockdowns, Brazil’s capacity to monitor for illegal fishing has plummeted, including in Abrolhos Marine National Park.

The COVID-19 Pandemic, Small-Scale Fisheries and Coastal Fishing Communities, by N.J. Bennett et al. (Coastal Management journal) – While much of the COVID-19 news for coastal fishing communities is dire, there have been some positive outcomes such as collective actions to safeguard rights, collaborations between communities and governments, and reduced fishing pressure in some places.

Webinar recordings

Marine Management Challenges for the Caribbean UK Territories in the Context of Covid-19, held 15 June 2020; co-hosted by Marine Conservation Society (UK) and the UK’s Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM)

COVID-19’s Impact on Poaching & Reducing Shark Fin Demand, held 24 June 2020; hosted by WildAid

Prior MPA News articles

MPAs, COVID-19, and the coming financial crisis: What impacts are practitioners already seeing, and how are they responding?, MPA News, May 2020

“Donors have started to shift funding to address other urgent and essential needs”: An interview with Markus Knigge of Blue Action Fund, MPA News, June 2020

“We need to be talking about innovation”: Insights from the World Economic Forum panel on MPAs and COVID-19, MPA News, June 2020

More resources on MPAs and COVID-19: Guidance and grants, MPA News, June 2020

By Ambassador Teburoro Tito, Chairman of the PIPA Conservation Trust Fund Board

Editor’s note: Teburoro Tito is Ambassador to the US and Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati. Previously he served as President and Foreign Minister of Kiribati from 1994-2003.

On 11 December 2018, Kiribati made history by being the first country in the world to have its domestic marine conservation initiative – the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) – recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (Resolution A/Res/73/124 titled “Oceans and the Law of the Sea”) as an exemplary model of international cooperation, coordination, and collaboration in marine protection and conservation.

This complimentary recognition was reflected in Operative Paragraph (OP) 267 of the Resolution. In that paragraph the General Assembly “acknowledges the Micronesian Challenge, the Eastern Tropical Seascape Project, the Caribbean Challenge and the Coral Triangle Initiative which seek to create and link domestic marine protected areas to better facilitate ecosystem approaches, notes the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as a multinational partnership and reaffirms the need for further international cooperation, coordination and collaboration in support of such initiatives.”

To get that small bolded phrase inserted into paragraph OP267 of the resolution was not as easy as initially envisaged, especially in a meeting of ‘expert’ representatives from 193 states who attended the negotiations that lasted several weeks prior to the plenary session of the General Assembly. Many of these representatives were not enthusiastic about the PIPA insertion for fear of setting a precedent where other states might later demand the same privilege in regards to their national marine conservation initiatives.

Understandably, they wanted the Kiribati delegation to answer the question:

“What is so extraordinarily unique about the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to justify its special mention and elevation in the UN General Assembly resolution?” 

To answer this question was indeed a huge challenge for the small Mission of Kiribati with only four permanent staff and one intern, and no real expertise to match the caliber of the many other experts involved in the informal consultations. The Kiribati Mission was fortunate to have the good support of delegations from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada right from the start, and these were later joined by delegations from a number of small island developing states and, much later, the European Union and the United States. This greatly eased the effort of Kiribati to turn the remaining delegations who were strongly opposed to the inclusion of the PIPA, or any nationally owned MPA for that matter, and who argued, quite reasonably, that the paragraph was meant to highlight only existing and well-known regional and multinational marine conservation initiatives.

To overcome this strong and valid argument, the Kiribati delegation had to gather, compile, and present to the informal discussions much information about the PIPA, including some of the recent scientific discoveries (e.g., the massive breeding ground for tuna, the abundance of heat-resistant coral communities and reef systems, and the highly diverse and abundant and ancient life on PIPA deep seamounts) to prove that the PIPA is a fully functional marine ecosystem contributing substantially to the health and wealth of the world’s oceans – far exceeding the efforts and outputs of other nationally and regionally owned marine conservation initiatives known within the United Nations system.

This article will highlight the unique facts and success stories about the PIPA that were presented during the negotiations that led to the overwhelming support for the special mention of the PIPA in the UN General Assembly Resolution of 11 December 2018, referred to earlier.

A Kiribati Sacrifice to Humanity

From the day back in 2006 when the Government of Kiribati issued an environment conservation order, known as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Regulations, under the Environment Act 1999 – designating the natural resources of the eight islands of the Phoenix group1 and of the exclusive economic zone around them, covering an area of about 409,000 sq. km, as prohibited and closed to any extractive activity – many people in Kiribati questioned how this would impact on the economic development of Kiribati in general and the Phoenix Islands region in particular.

Successive administrations since independence had recognized the huge economic potentials of these uninhabited islands, with abundant fish populations and pristine white beaches, blue lagoons, and dense underwater jungles. They had attempted to turn the islands into major fishery and ecotourism assets for the nation. To suddenly close off what people had understood to be a potentially valuable part of Kiribati, comprising about 12% of its total EEZ and about 3.5% of its total land area, was therefore met with much resistance. The resistance was particularly strong from those who saw the environment conservation regulation as not in keeping with the long-held vision of these remote islands as possible hosts of resettled and relocated populations, ecotourism resorts, fishing-related industries, copra milling, and other coconut-related industries. These were long-term concerns that were raised.

A more immediate concern related to the impact this might have on the fishing license revenue of the Government. It was predicted that the closure would result in a 17% loss in tuna licensing revenue, being the computed average of the licensing income derived from tuna fishing in the PIPA area over a long period of time prior to the closure. There was also concern over the coconuts that were coming out of the massive coconut replanting scheme that had been undertaken on one of the Phoenix Islands, Orona, some years prior to issue of the closure order. This valuable resource was going to be wasted if it was not harvested and brought to the copra mill in Tarawa to add to the nation’s GDP. 

These important concerns were accommodated to some extent in section 6(2) of the PIPA Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2009. This law created the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Conservation Trust, an unusual non-governmental Kiribati charity set up to provide support for the conservation objectives of the closure. Section 6(2) states that the “Trust may provide the government with reasonable compensation for loss of revenue occasioned by measures to limit or prohibit exploitation of the resources of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to the extent agreed between the Trust and the Government from time to time pursuant to the terms of the Conservation Contract.”

Beyond the terms of the law, however, there was no real assurance of the Trust’s ability to compensate the Government at the time. Nonetheless, the majority of the members of Parliament under the leadership of then-President Anote Tong welcomed the closure – more as a gift to humanity and a matter of prestige for Kiribati, but with an underlying belief that humanity, through the United Nations and beneficiary international and regional organizations and agencies, should also be in a position to compensate Kiribati for any GDP losses associated with the closure.

A Multinational Partnership NGO

The PIPA owed its beginnings to a combination of efforts of many personalities from within and outside of Kiribati. Worldwide a growing awareness of Kiribati began with an influx of foreign visitors whose curiosities were aroused by the nation’s pristine beauty and cultural wealth, as portrayed in live broadcasts of Kiribati as the first nation in the world to enter and receive the first dawn and sunrise of the new millennium. This world-famous event was greeted by a moving celebration on Kiribati’s Millennium Island (formerly Caroline Island) featuring traditional chanting, dancing, and singing and other cultural performances, and by the Millennium song of then-leader of Kiribati, President Teburoro Tito (author of the essay you are reading), who five years earlier had shifted the international date line (IDL) to get the whole nation of Kiribati on the same side of the IDL. Notably the song, with a theme of “World peace in harmony with Nature’, stresses key elements for the achievement of lasting world peace such as the solidarity and togetherness of humanity in combating global challenges; rebuilding families, cultures, and communities where human dignity and values are treasured; and greater respect for Mother Nature.

This initial flow of Millennium visitors was later mixed with a good number of environmental, marine, and wildlife scientists and nature lovers who found the untouched nature of these remote islands to be the kind of paradise they had been searching for. Dr. Gregory Stone, who at that time was chief ocean scientist of New England Aquarium, was among the first of such ocean-loving scientists to discover what he and his fellow paradise hunters would refer to later as the “underwater Eden” below the surface of the PIPA waters. As Dr. Stone aptly put it in his first encounter with the pristine underwater jungle as he plunged for his maiden dive into the waters of the PIPA, “It was the first time I’d seen what the ocean may have looked like thousands of years ago.” A similar sense of wonderment has been expressed by many who subsequently took their first peep into the mesmerizing look of the PIPA’s unspoiled underwater paradise.

The idea of setting aside the uninhabited islands in the Phoenix Group began to find roots in the minds of environmental staff of the government, which led then-Minister for Environment, Hon. Tetabo Nakara, and his top advisors to take a serious look at the long-term merit of such an initiative. This subsequently led to Cabinet’s approval of an order to designate the PIPA islands and their surrounding waters as a conservation area, closed to fishing and other extractive activities, as referred to earlier. In turn, this was followed by Kiribati’s acceptance of a cooperative and partnership arrangement with two US-based NGOs, Conservation International (CI) and New England Aquarium (NEA). It was on the basis of this tri-partnership arrangement that the PIPA Conservation Trust Act was enacted by the Kiribati Parliament in 2009, providing for the establishment of a novel charitable entity under the laws of Kiribati, with CI, NEA, and Kiribati as founding members. At the same time the PIPA Conservation Trust was registered in the US as a non-profit organization. The NEA has since left the partnership and the Aquarium of the Pacific of Los Angeles, California, has now joined as a partner instead.

To get the PIPA Conservation Trust Fund started and to begin the process of building an endowment for the incremental costs of managing the new conservation closure and potentially provide compensation for any GDP losses, the Kiribati Government and CI’s Global Conservation Fund agreed to contribute US$2.5 million each towards a $5-million endowment fund that invested in bonds and stocks. Income from that endowment fund has helped maintain the operations of the Trust and the Kiribati management of the PIPA. The PIPA Trust also dedicated itself to reaching out to other potential funders of marine conservation initiatives. As the good news about the PIPA hit headlines, more and more inquiries were received from conservation foundations, agencies, philanthropists, and others. Among those who graciously offered to help launch the PIPA Trust and the Kiribati PIPA Initiative were the Waitt Foundation and Oceans 5, a funders’ collaborative.

For the past decade or so, the PIPA Trust Board has been guided by a Science Advisory Committee (SAC) headed by Dr. Randi Rotjan, Professor of Biology at Boston University. The SAC advises the Board and Government on scientific programs and activities needed for greater understanding of the health of the PIPA and its potential value for Kiribati and the world ocean at large. The SAC carries out the scientific activities in partnership with Boston University and other universities and marine institutions in the US and elsewhere, and with funding and in-kind support from various US-based institutions such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Sea Education Association, Robertson Foundation, the Atlantic Donor Advised Fund, and several others.

At regular intervals, the SAC updates the Board and shares with the scientific world its latest findings. These have added to the field of marine science in a way that will be articulated later in this article. To enhance local capacity and ownership of the PIPA scientific activities and information, Dr. Barenaba Kautu, a medical research scientist based at Harvard Medical School in Boston (US), was recently appointed as a PIPA co-scientist and the Vice Chair of the SAC. Dr. Kautu is aware of the huge potential of the PIPA becoming a source of genetic materials for the  development of pharmaceuticals.

A snapshot summary of how this multinational partnership came into being could not be better described than in the words of Dr. Stone: “The conversation that began in Tarawa in 2001 marked the beginning of a remarkable partnership. The story of the Phoenix Islands shows how a simple, small action by a few individuals can grow to enlist the expertise, energy, and passion of people around the world – from ordinary citizens to professionals to policy makers at the highest levels of Government.”

A World Heritage

Soon after the establishment of the PIPA and the PIPA Trust, the Government of Kiribati submitted an application to UNESCO for the PIPA to be inscribed as a World Heritage site. This was approved in March 2010, setting a new record at the time for being the largest and deepest World Heritage Site, covering an ocean surface area of 408,250 sq. km with a depth ranging from several feet in the shallow to over 5000 meters in the deep, with an average depth of about 2000 meters. In terms of volume, the PIPA is estimated to hold about 820,000 cubic km of marine biodiversity.

Within such a gigantic volume of always-warm tropical surface water, there are 800 known species of marine fauna including 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals, and 44 bird species that have been reported. We can think of the PIPA as being in a ‘Goldilocks’ zone with respect to central Pacific climate and oceanography. It is on the edge of the eastern Pacific El Niño, so heat waves have been generally less extreme and less frequent in the PIPA than on reefs further to the east. Yet the PIPA still gets nutrients that are upwelled from deep due to the trade winds, and its waters are warm enough to support the abundant life there. The conditions are “just right.”

A Natural Laboratory for Science

The absence of human activity in the PIPA (aside from a handful of caretaker officers and their families on Kanton Island), coupled with its remote locality thousands of miles from the nearest metropolitan centers, makes the eight-atoll group and surrounding ecosystems one of the least-disturbed natural laboratories on Earth. This is invaluable not only for marine scientists but other branches of science as well, including those tasked with understanding the impact of global warming and sea level rise on islands built of coral and reef materials, and on the livelihoods of island people dependent on the health and wealth of the ocean. As more scientific research is conducted in the PIPA, the area’s role in revealing how marine ecosystems function and their ability to adapt to ongoing global environmental change has become more and more critical. The PIPA is providing key information to support the sustainable management and conservation of marine areas far beyond the PIPA’s waters and around the world. Indeed the PIPA’s leadership has inspired other nations to study, manage, and conserve critical marine ecosystems.

A Breeding Ground for Tuna

In a collaborative research effort, a study was conducted to determine whether or not tuna spawning was occurring in the PIPA. Scientists from SEA, WHOI, and Boston University (including student Christina Hernandez, Dr. Rotjan, Dr. Ian Witting, and others) observed from the movement of newly hatched tuna larvae around the PIPA’s periphery that larvae are ‘born’ inside the least-disturbed, more-central part of the PIPA and slowly drift following the flow and direction of the wind and current. This is a very important finding, providing evidence that the closure of the PIPA is adding to the tuna stock of the Pacific Ocean. Put differently, the PIPA is working as a powerful ecological tool for re-stocking tuna for the Pacific. More work will be carried out to determine the quantity of tuna being produced within the PIPA. Similar studies are envisaged for determining whether other species of fish are also breeding successfully inside the PIPA, and to what extent the PIPA is contributing to re-stocking of fisheries in ways that are beneficial to all Pacific nations and the world’s tuna fisheries.2

A Nursery and Supplier of ‘Super’ Corals and Reefs

Potentially very important reefs and corals have been discovered in the PIPA and nearby islands by Dr. Anne Cohen at WHOI and her team, facilitated by the SAC and assisted by Kiribati observers. (These observers accompanied the WHOI team on multiple expeditions to the PIPA, providing critical support and local knowledge that led to these discoveries.) Findings from such research reveal that the corals in the Phoenix Islands are able to adapt to the abnormal heat that accompanies El Niño episodes and have a good chance of surviving future global warming. The ability of scientists to access the PIPA’s remote reefs over the last 20 years, deploy instruments, and conduct surveys has allowed them to study the reefs through three El-Niño heat waves, noting how they respond and recover. And by boring into the limestone base formed from layers of dead corals, Dr. Cohen is able to read the footprints of successive generations of corals that have survived through different thermal conditions. She concludes that unlike corals in other parts of the world that are swept to extinction by a sudden rise in temperature, the corals and reefs in the PIPA have survived heatwaves for hundreds of years, developing into what Dr. Cohen describes as ‘super resilient’ reefs. Many label such corals and reefs as Super Corals and Super Reefs.

Of these Super Corals, some wither or hibernate when temperature rises to a certain level, but quickly rebound and bloom as soon as the temperature returns to normal. Others are genetically wired to withstand the extreme temperature brought by El Niño; their offspring carry those resilient genes to other parts of the reef so that gradually the PIPA coral communities are becoming more heat-resistant over time. Critical to the success of PIPA Super Reefs in this time of rapid climate change is the protection afforded by the marine protected area. This is because even Super Reefs are vulnerable to pollution, overfishing, dynamiting, and dredging. Their protection within the PIPA is the best guarantee of a continuing supply of the reef-building materials needed to keep the islands’ topography on pace with sea level rise, as predicted by climate scientists.

The PIPA’s Super Reefs have inspired beyond the PIPA’s borders. The Polynesian Leaders Group of nine Polynesian nations has called for a Pacific-wide collaboration to locate, study, manage, and conserve Super Reefs. As a result, some islands are working to establish their marine protected areas to protect their Super Reefs; the Aquarium of the Pacific is committed to establish the first Super Corals exhibit; and two short films (including this) have been made and shared with 145 institutions worldwide and translated into multiple languages.

The discovery of healthy Super Reefs in the PIPA raises the possibility of farming the PIPA’s corals to restore coral reefs that have been ravaged and destroyed by global warming in other parts of the world. There is significant financial investment in coral reef restoration and in breeding genetically enhanced Super Corals to stock restored reefs. Careful farming of the PIPA’s Super Reefs could provide a steady and sustainable supply of naturally resilient corals of different species, establishing the PIPA as a restoration hub and global supplier of resilient corals for the 21st century.                         

A Protected Space for Ancient Corals and Sponges in the Deep Sea

The deep sea (>200 meters) of the PIPA was unstudied until 2017 when 25 deep-sea ROV dives took place from the US NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer and the Schmidt Ocean Institute R/V Falkor. On these deep-sea missions spearheaded by Dr. Rotjan and colleagues, many new discoveries were made including thriving and abundant communities of deep-sea corals and sponges, many of which were over 1000 years old. These initial studies of the deep sea revealed many charismatic creatures such as six-gill sharks and dumbo octopus, and also elucidated new species of corals, living specimens of Monoplacophorans (a class of mollusk), and completely novel bacteria unknown in the terrestrial and shallow-water worlds. These bacteria may be important in revising our understanding of innate immunity in mammals, which demonstrates the value of deep-sea exploration in protected areas where nature is still largely undisturbed. On these deep-sea expeditions, debris is also counted and it is exciting that the PIPA had relatively little marine debris in the deep sea compared to many other areas in the Pacific.

Deep-sea research in the PIPA has also brought on a new project called “My Deep Sea, My Backyard” to help bring affordable, deep-sea technology to the people of Kiribati so that we can explore our own waters. In this way (and others) UN SDG 14 goals of technology transfer, capacity building, and ocean stewardship are part of the PIPA science program. To date this project has brought two Trident underwater drones on 100-meter tethers, and a custom-built 1800-meter-rated “Reel Cam” made by Dr. Brennan Phillips of the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Rotjan and Ms. Tooreka Teemari – the two co-chief scientists of the PIPA – worked together with members of the PIPA, the PIPA implementation Office, members of the Kiribati Government, local village leaders, and fishers to deploy these technologies together in partnership. The first deep-sea imagery was taken in the Gilbert Archipelago (on Tarawa, the capital island of Kiribati), revealing colorful, vibrant, and abundant life on the seafloor. All of the technology was gifted to Kiribati and remains in-country for the I-Kiribati people to use and deploy. Findings from the project and the science of the PIPA has thus far been showcased to over 2000 school children in Tarawa, helping to “bring PIPA home” as described below. 

Back to Mother Nature: Bring PIPA Home

Most of the secondary activities of the PIPA Trust spelled out under section 7 of the PIPA Conservation Trust Act (2009) and its recently revised version of 2019 require the Trust to promote environmental conservation throughout Kiribati. This involves various means, including:

  • Collaboration with local government and natural resource institutions and other interested parties to build a national commitment to environmental conservation;
  • Supporting environmental awareness and education programs that promote biodiversity conservation in Kiribati;
  • Activities similar to those the Trust pursues with respect to the PIPA in other protected areas within Kiribati; and
  • Activities relating to the conservation of the environmental, cultural, and historical resources of Kiribati for the benefit of the public.

In short the Trust is tasked to serve the people and government of Kiribati by mobilizing local authorities, education authorities, natural resources institutions, communities, and other interested parties to cultivate a new mindset – one that elevates concern for conservation and sustainability measures over and above exploitation mechanisms. This calls for greater understanding, knowledge, and appreciation of Mother Nature’s ways to sustain herself through the harm and damage suffered from human exploitation. Such education opens the way for Kiribati people to revive their rich traditional knowledge about the living and non-living things around them – particularly in the sea – that have defined their existence and development for thousands of years prior to westernization and globalization.

This is a very ambitious goal for the Trust, and one that requires far more resources than it currently possesses. However, it is pleasing to note that despite such fiscal handicap, some inroads into this huge agenda have already been made with the launch six years ago of the “Bring PIPA Home” (BPH) initiative, the appointment of the PIPA Ambassador for BPH in the person of Ms. Christine Zinnemann, and the provision of the budget needed for BPH activities.

Consequently, the conservation and cultural revival activities have started to generate the desired mindset especially in communities where the BPH Agenda has been launched. This conservation message as disseminated by the PIPA Trust has brought about encouraging changes in the minds of people who used to resist any conservation policies, rules, or laws, notably in fisheries, on the premise that it was violating their ownership and economic rights over the resources of their ocean. These people are now receptive and appreciative, and therefore ready to cooperate with such measures. It is now becoming quite fashionable for villages and communities to make their own rules to protect or conserve a resource that they consider valuable for their general wellbeing and development.3

A recent national climax of this conservation movement was the declaration of the coastal waters of Kiribati’s Southern Islands as a no-take area, called the Southern Line Islands Marine Protected Area (SLIMPA), designated jointly by the ministries responsible for the Environment and for the Line islands respectively. This has led to the appointment of Kiribati, under the visionary leadership of President Taneti Maamau, as the 2019 Commonwealth champion for sustainable coastal fisheries management under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. The Blue Charter was launched by H.M. Queen Elizabeth in 2018 as an embodiment of the collective will of the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth to promote and support all efforts aimed at protecting and improving ocean health and wealth.

Conclusion

Earlier I presented the question of why the PIPA was included as an exemplary model of international cooperation, coordination, and collaboration in marine protection and conservation in the Resolution Operative Paragraph 267. What is so extraordinarily unique about the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to justify its special mention and elevation in the UN General Assembly resolution?

I hope I have begun to answer that question here. I invite everyone to learn more about Kiribati’s remarkable contribution to the world: the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.

(A note of thanks: I would like to thank Members of the PIPA Trust Board and members of the SAC for their encouragement, comments, and edits, which have assisted in the final form of this article.)

_____

Footnotes:

1 The PIPA islands include:

  1. Kaonton Island (a Kiribati word for Canton)
  2. Enderbury Island (named by Kiribati ancestors as Abairiringa, meaning 'a land under the heat of the sun')
  3. Birnie Island
  4. McKean Island
  5. Rawaki Island
  6. Manra Island 
  7. Orona Island
  8. Nikumaroro Island, believed to be where the famed American pilot Amelia Earhart spent her final days as a castaway, after an attempted circumnavigation of the globe failed when her plane ran short of fuel and had to land.

2 Regarding the early prediction that Kiribati would suffer a 17% loss in tuna licensing revenue from the PIPA designation, that loss has not materialized. Interestingly, the licensing revenue has increased from 2009 up to now, mainly because of the adoption of a new licensing regime by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, or PNA. (The PNA comprises the eight major tuna countries of the Pacific – Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea.) The regime imposes a standard licensing rate for all fishing vessels regardless of origin, calculated on the number of fishing vessels and the number of fishing days. This is called the vessel-day scheme.

3 In response to BPH, a number of communities have voluntarily imposed rules on themselves against the dumping of rubbish into the sea, and have volunteered time to clean up coastlines. Others have imposed rules against the reckless use of mangrove resources and have engaged in re-planting efforts. Some villages and communities have agreed to prohibit catching of bonefish during their spawning periods. For the violation of such rules the communities impose monetary or material penalties, which a rule-breaker must pay for the collective benefit of the community. 

For more information: Ambassador Teburoro Tito, Kiribati Mission to the United Nations. Email: prun [at] mfa.gov.ki

By Ton IJlstra

Editor’s note:Ton IJlstra served as Programme Manager for the North Sea in the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. He retired this month.

Development of North Sea policy in the Netherlands is characterized by a strong antagonism between conservationists on the one hand and defenders of fisheries’ interests on the other. This debate started in the mid-1980s when it became clear that the adverse effects of bottom trawling on the nature of the North Sea were more extensive than previously assumed.

Now, 30 years later, we can assess that many negative trends in marine nature conservation have been reversed. Water quality has considerably improved, cetacean populations have stabilized, and important commercial fish stocks have recovered. But important challenges remain, including the continued decrease of certain bottom-dwelling marine organisms due to bycatch in bottom trawling, and declines in some inshore and coastal species due to invasive species, habitat loss, and other factors.

Meanwhile, there have been two significant developments with regard to spatial use of Dutch waters:

  • Marine space has proved to be very attractive for the development of wind energy. This has become necessary as a result of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change requiring a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.
  • In 2002 the European Union imposed on Member States the obligation to implement the EU Natura 2000 programme for the marine environment. This implies the establishment of marine protected areas.

These two developments (wind energy and nature conservation) each put an important claim on the availability of The Netherlands’ marine space. The commercial fishing industry viewed this as detrimental: the sector projected its available fishing area could decrease significantly in the short term and maybe more in the long run. For this reason, the North Sea Foundation (an NGO) called in 2017 for an agreement among stakeholders that would preserve the North Sea ecosystem while enabling sustainable fisheries and the expansion of wind parks.

With an assignment from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (responsible for fisheries and nature conservation), the North Sea Foundation organized a series of sessions with representatives of the fishing industry and wind energy industry. One year later, on the request of the North Sea Foundation, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management appointed an independent chairman who conducted the negotiations on an agreement for the North Sea.1 This process started in 2018 and led to the desired agreement in June 2020.

The North Sea agreement

The main challenge for participants in the negotiations on the agreement was to establish a new balance among three important transitions:

  • Use of the Dutch North Sea for wind energy purposes;
  • Nature conservation and restoration; and
  • Use of the sea for food production, including fisheries.

These three transitions are key to understanding the agreement. Relatedly, the Government was represented by its three main ministries for the North Sea.

Throughout the negotiations it was clear that establishment of wind energy parks was necessary to meet international obligations for CO2 reduction, given the Paris Agreement and the need to develop sustainable energy strategies. A governmental paper on developing the nation’s offshore wind energy, Roadmap 2030, was fully accepted by the negotiators, as was the goal of producing 11.5 gigawatts of wind energy in the Dutch part of the North Sea by 2030. At the same time, conservation obligations under the EU’s Natura 2000 program required establishment of more MPAs: although Natura 2000 has no percentage target for MPA coverage, it does require protection of particular habitat types and species, some of which were not yet protected in Dutch waters.

The Dutch fishing fleet was squeezed between these two spatial claims, witnessing a potential loss of space of approximately 20-25% by 2030. The fleet had to be brought into conformity with the new spatial reality, while still allowing the industry to thrive.

The negotiation participants agreed that wind energy areas necessary after 2030 should be located more to the north of the Dutch North Sea, far away from the most profitable fishing locations. At the same time, the participating NGOs (including the North Sea Foundation, WWF, and Greenpeace) struck a deal with the fishing industry: the NGOs dropped some of their requests for MPA sites – thus enabling some important fisheries to proceed in traditional fishing areas – in return for an increase in MPAs where bottom trawling would be prohibited. Ultimately this should lead to MPAs covering 15% of the surface of the Dutch North Sea by 2030, a substantial increase to the current 4-6% coverage, depending on the method of calculation. (The question of a potential target of 30% protected area coverage by 2030 – as will be considered under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – was discussed amongst the parties. The conclusion was that for the time being the national target would remain 15%.)

Bear in mind that if the same number of fishing vessels used a substantially decreased surface area, the fleet’s environmental impact would likely increase. In addition, it was concluded that the Dutch fleet must modernize and innovate to meet demands of a sustainable fishing activity. Specialized in demersal fishing, the Dutch fleet uses a beam trawl with tickler chains, which causes substantial damage to seafloor habitats and bottom-dwelling species. Furthermore, only 3.5% of all vessels are younger than 10 years, with an average fleet age of 34 years per vessel (as of 2017) – this means old engines causing various types of air pollution.

In response to the North Sea agreement, the Dutch government has made available 119 million Euros to subsidize a substantial fleet-reduction scheme. It is estimated that the fleet should be reduced by some 20%. The funds will also provide incentives for modernizing remaining vessels, gear, and methods to more sustainable ones by 2030.

Overall, the Dutch government has made available 200 million Euros for the agreement’s implementation, including the fleet reduction and modernization. This amount also includes an increased effort in enforcement and control (including development of new techniques), ecological monitoring and research, nature restoration, and improved operational techniques in wind energy parks to increase shipping safety. The agreement covers some 39 pages and it is hard to render justice to all the different components of it.

Is everybody happy? No

It is important to note that not everybody is happy with the agreement. These negotiations led to a rupture among the various fisheries organizations represented at the table. The fishing industry as a whole was at the negotiating table throughout the process. But after publication of the first chair’s proposal of the agreement, the fishing industry split, with 54% of companies wanting to proceed without governmental intervention (no financing, no MPA designations) and 46% wanting to use the fleet reduction scheme to leave the business. It is for this reason that the minister of Agriculture asked a well-known Dutch public administrator to explore the possibility of securing the support of the whole Dutch fishing sector for the agreement. His work will likely be finished at the start of the new parliamentary season (September 2020). If he fails in his task, the agreement will nonetheless enter into force. It will be up to the minister of Agriculture to decide whether the fleet reduction scheme and the innovation subsidies will be put into place.

At the beginning of the parliamentary session we will also know more about the proposed institutionalization of the North Sea forum that was created for this negotiation. It will probably in some form become a permanent forum for open and consensus-oriented discussions on Dutch North Sea issues between Government and stakeholders.

Footnote:

1 The Netherlands' three ministries for the North Sea are Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality; Infrastructure and Water Management; and Economy and Climate Change. The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management is charged with coordination of North Sea policy amongst all ministries.

For more information: Ton IJlstra, The Netherlands. Email: ton.ijlstra [at] gmail.com

Canada joins Global Ocean Alliance, advocating 30% ocean protection by 2030

In early July, Canada became the 22nd nation to join the Global Ocean Alliance, a group of countries in favor of protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030. Current MPA coverage of Canada’s waters is 13.8%. Globally, the World Database on Protected Areas calculates 7.4% of the world ocean is under some protection.

Members of the Global Ocean Alliance support setting a worldwide ‘30x30’ target next year under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Started by the UK in 2019, the alliance now includes Belgium, Belize, Cabo Verde, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Fiji, Finland, Gabon, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Monaco, Nigeria, Palau, Portugal, Senegal, Seychelles, Sweden, the UK, and Vanuatu.

A recent study by over 100 economists and scientists concluded that the economic benefits of protecting 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030 would outweigh the costs by a ratio of 5-to-1. Media coverage of the study is here, here, and here.


Cook Islands to grant licenses for seabed mining exploration in Marae Moana

The Cook Islands has announced plans to license prospecting for seabed minerals within its 1.9 million-km2 Marae Moana marine park in the coming 12 months. Marae Moana is a multiple-use MPA that encompasses the nation’s entire EEZ. The possibility of allowing seabed mining has been a consideration since the MPA was first proposed in 2012. However, such a possibility has typically been expressed with the caveat that any extractive activity would need to be justified as sustainable, with minimal environmental impacts.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown, who oversees the nation’s seabed minerals, says prospecting is the only way to know mining’s potential impacts. “Without exploration (which I stress, is not ‘mining’), we have no realistic way of gaining a better understanding of the deep-sea environment, and indeed to know whether we may or may not be able to harness the resources which exist at these depths in the longer term,” he said.

Conservationists have expressed concern that, with Marae Moana’s marine spatial plan not yet finalized, mineral exploration might be carried out in areas that in fact should be protected. In August 2019 at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the governments of Fiji and Vanuatu supported the idea of a 10-year moratorium on seabed mining in the region, from 2020-2030, to allow time for research on potential impacts. The Cook Islands expressed opposition to such a moratorium, which remains under PIF consideration. Marine scientist Jacqueline Evans, who directed the Marae Moana coordination office from 2017 to 2019 and won the Goldman Prize in 2019 for her work, was fired last year after expressing support for the moratorium.

For more information on the nation’s seabed mining situation, the Cook Islands News is providing regular coverage.


Fishing company must forfeit US$16M vessel caught bottom trawling in MPA

A New Zealand court has ordered fishing company Sealord to forfeit its fishing vessel that was caught bottom-trawling inside one of the nation’s Benthic Protection Areas. The 64-meter-long Ocean Dawn is valued at NZ$24 million, or US$16 million. In addition, Sealord faces a NZ$24,000 fine for the offenses, which occurred in 2018. The vessel master and first mate were also fined for their roles.

Sealord may appeal to the court for relief from the effects of forfeiture, which could prevent the vessel from being forfeited permanently. New Zealand has 17 Benthic Protection Areas. No trawling or dredging is allowed within 100 meters of the seabed in these areas.


Nuisance algae smothering corals in Papahānaumokuākea

A newly described species of red alga is smothering some coral reef areas of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. First detected in 2016, the nuisance algal species has since grown into mats of over 9000 square meters each, around an atoll within the MPA (Pearl and Hermes Atoll). It is unknown whether the species, now named Chondria tumulosa, was introduced from another region. The first detailed study of the alga, its taxonomy, and its ecology is here.


Documentary series seeks MPA stories and practitioners around Baffin Island and Hudson Bay, Canada

OceanX is producing a companion digital documentary series project within a larger TV documentary series project, to be filmed around Canada’s Baffin Island and Hudson Bay. Lindsay Blatt of OceanX writes: “We're currently researching potential stories, characters, and Inuit voices who are working in the region and would like to hear from you! Some themes we are especially interested in featuring include Coral, MPAs, Megafauna, Fisheries/Food Sustainability, Human Impact, and Technology. We're also looking for topside stories that are connected to marine science.”

Please contact lindsay.blatt [at] oceanx.org with a summary of your work and what you might be able to film together in mid-2021. This request is related to the Azores project that was shared in last month’s MPA News.


Latest thing on Portofino MPA’s seafloor: A storied wreck from 16th century

The wreck of the Santo Spirito e Santa Maria di Loreto – one of the largest Italian merchant vessels of the 16th century – is believed to have been located by professional divers in the Portofino MPA, in northwestern Italy. The divers spotted the remains at a depth of about 50 meters. Cultural protection authorities are now investigating the wreck to verify it.

The wooden galleon sank in a storm in 1579, carrying cannons, ammunition, and shipbuilding hardware. Locals helped rescue the ship’s crew, risking their own health in the process: a plague epidemic was underway at the time in Genoa, the vessel’s prior port of call.

MPA News readers might recognize the name of the Portofino MPA. In 2011 we reported how a winemaker, Bisson, was aging bottles of sparkling white wine on the MPA’s seafloor, at a depth of 60 meters (scroll to the bottom of our Notes & News from March 2011). Bisson still produces its sparkling wines this way. MPA News can confirm the wine is quite good, and the unique pattern of marine biofilm on each bottle is very cool.


From the MPA News vault

Features and news items from yesteryear

Five years ago: July-September 2015

  • Assessing the state of the art in MPA management training programs
  • New book analyzes two sides of the marine reserve debate: ‘nature protectionists’ vs. ‘social conservationists’

Ten years ago: July-August 2010

  • Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: The Experiences of MPA Managers So Far, and What Lessons Can Be Learned
  • Is Offshore Drilling Worth the Environmental Risk of Spills?

Fifteen years ago: July 2005

  • Developing a National System of MPAs: US Working To Promote Coordination of Existing and Future Sites
  • Feedback on the Roles of Science and Stakeholders in MPA Decision-making

Twenty years ago: July 2000

  • International MPA Plans Are Emerging Slowly, Amid Obstacles
  • Perspective | Are Traditional Models Adequate for Evaluating Prospective MPAs?

For these and all other issues of MPA News, go to https://mpanews.openchannels.org/mpanews/archives