Applying Conservation and Management Lessons from the Great Barrier Reef to the Baltic Sea Region: Interview with Åsa Andersson

MPA News

In September 2008, the conservation organization WWF held a series of workshops throughout the Baltic Sea region. The workshops were designed to provide lessons in marine spatial planning and management to Baltic decision-makers and stakeholders, and were noteworthy for at least two reasons. One, they featured people who had led a process to re-zone Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (MPA News 5:10) - a place quite different from the Baltic in many ways. Two, these visiting Australians included not just management personnel from the Great Barrier Reef but a politician from there as well.

Below, MPA News talks with Åsa Andersson, Director of WWF-Sweden's Baltic Sea Programme, about the workshops and the reasons behind their design.

MPA News: The global MPA field has seen several cases in which MPA managers have traveled to other sites to share their experiences, sometimes as part of "sister MPA" relationships (MPA News 7:2). However, similar visits by politicians to share lessons in MPA governance seem relatively rare. Why did WWF decide it was important to invite a politician - David Kemp, Australia's former federal environment minister - as well as MPA managers to come and speak to people in the Baltic region?

Andersson: The simple answer is, strong political support is very important to integrated management of the Baltic Sea, including the establishment of MPAs. The Baltic Sea is a heavily used area where many interests are competing for the same limited space. We have to create space for both humans and nature, and that requires a process where different interests are balanced against each other in a sustainable way. Balancing these interests is clearly a political issue. The success of ecosystem-based, integrated sea-use management requires strong political leadership and cooperation between managers and politicians - at all administrative levels and in all nine Baltic Sea countries (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden).

This was the reason we invited the three people we did: Minister Kemp, as the politician who drove the legislative process for the re-zoning; Jon Day, with his long experience as Conservation Director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA); and Virginia Chadwick as the Head of GBRMPA during the re-zoning. We wanted them to provide a full picture and share their different perspectives with their counterparts in the Baltic. What were the key factors for success in the Great Barrier Reef? What were their different roles and what kind of leadership did they provide? What were the relations among them, and how did they cooperate?

The whole idea of this tour was to inspire. By showing a successful example of how the Australians had managed to establish integrated management of the sea, including protection and zoning of different uses, we wanted to create enthusiasm that something similar was possible in the Baltic.

MPA News: What was each workshop like?

Andersson: We organized a road trip with workshops in four countries: Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Germany. The audience consisted of managers, politicians, and representatives from different sectors and user groups. In most of the sessions, the Australians started with a two-hour presentation block among the three of them, with time for questions from the audience. This presentation block was important to provide a comprehensive picture of the Great Barrier Reef situation and zoning process, and to be able to discuss its possible application to the Baltic Sea. It was then followed by a few shorter presentations from the host Baltic country to give an overview of the situation in the region and place the Great Barrier Reef presentation in a Baltic Sea and national context. Afterward we had a longer, facilitated discussion on the lessons learned in Australia focusing on how we could create more integrated management of the Baltic Sea, including zoning and the establishment of MPAs. When preparing the tour, we gave the Australians a lot of information about the Baltic situation in advance so they could understand and contribute to the discussion.

Baltic reactions to the workshops have been very positive. What seems to have been most appreciated was that the Australians very openly shared all the fears, worries, and challenges they went through in their different positions - that the process was not easy, but was still worthwhile.

MPA News: There are many differences between the Baltic region and the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) - not least of which is that the Baltic is temperate and the GBR is tropical. Did these differences cause any problems for the information exchange?

Andersson: There are of course many differences between the GBR and us. The GBR is contained in just one country; the Baltic involves nine. The GBR has approximately one million people living in the region while we have 90 million. More significantly, the GBR is an established MPA with one responsible authority, while the Baltic exists under a myriad of governing bodies on different levels with different regulations.

However, there are many similarities. The sizes of the two regions are almost the same. There are similar challenges to resource management like shipping, fisheries, agricultural run-off, climate change, etc. The need for political support and leadership, integrated policies and legislation, stakeholder involvement, data and information, and the importance of good communications work are all the same. Many aspects about nature conservation and management are not about nature, as such, but about people - and people are very much the same everywhere.

I found most key lessons from the GBR to be applicable here in the Baltic Sea. However, the aim of the seminars was not to "buy the whole package" and just implement the GBR approach in the Baltic, but to listen to the lessons, get inspiration, and discuss what aspects could be applicable in the Baltic Sea and what has to be done differently. From this perspective, the workshops were very useful. There is not one standard process that will fit everywhere. All areas and regions are unique. Therefore, it is important to look at different examples and create a process that is adapted to the specific area.

[Editor's note: More information on the workshops, including links to presentations, is at www.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/baltic/solution/sea_use_management/?147344/Great-Barrier-Reef-Workshops.]

For more information:

Åsa Andersson, WWF, Solna, Sweden. E-mail: asa.andersson [at] wwf.se