The Micronesia Challenge: Assessing Progress Over the Past Two Years

MPA News

In November 2005, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau challenged his fellow leaders in the Micronesia region of the Pacific Ocean to conserve 30% of their nearshore marine waters by 2020. His "Micronesia Challenge" was intended to help address threats to the region's marine resources, such as climate change, while positioning Micronesia as a global leader in conservation.

Neighboring governments accepted the challenge. Within five months, leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Marshall Islands, as well as the US territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, pledged to meet the 30% target, in addition to a related goal to protect 20% of their terrestrial lands by the same date ("The Micronesia Challenge", MPA News 7:9).

Efforts to meet the challenge are now underway, including the establishment of a major new endowment to fund conservation activities in the region. For a snapshot of some of the progress so far, MPA News spoke with:

  • Marion Henry, assistant secretary of the FSM Division of Resource Management and Development, and
  • Willy Kostka, executive director of the Micronesia Conservation Trust (www.mctconservation.org), which serves as the housing mechanism for what will be a US $18-million Micronesia Challenge endowment.

MPA News: As one of the countries that pledged to meet the Micronesia Challenge, how close is FSM to meeting its goal of protecting 30% of its nearshore waters?

Marion Henry: As of now, we have established 26 MPAs constituting about 4% of our marine ecosystems. Admittedly, not all these MPAs are effectively managed. In June 2008, a meeting was convened to develop regional indicators of management effectiveness with which to track our progress over the next 12 years. Although we have an indication of the areas of biological significance within the FSM, we will be completing Rapid Ecological Assessments this October that will assist us in getting a better handle on the status of and gaps in management.

MPA News: What are the main obstacles to meeting the goal in FSM?

Henry: The FSM has a complex federal system of government comprising four largely autonomous States (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae) with numerous islands (607 inhabited islands) extending across a vast expanse of ocean (total EEZ of 3 million square miles). As such, successful efforts to design and establish a nation-wide protected area network will take time and must be built from the bottom up, beginning with communities, local governments, and state governments.

To begin to address these challenges, a core team led by the FSM Protected Areas Coordinator and composed of representatives from the FSM National Government, the Micronesia Conservation Trust, and The Nature Conservancy (Micronesia Program) has been working with state governments and local conservation NGOs to build support for protected areas. Members of the core team have made numerous state visits to give presentations, facilitate workshops, and meet informally with local communities, elected leaders, and other key stakeholders.

MPA News: Palau intends to create a self-funding protected area network for itself through establishing a trust fund and implementing a tourism user fee (MPA News 8:1). Another Pacific nation, Kiribati, is establishing an endowment to finance its Phoenix Islands Protected Area (MPA News 9:8). How will the FSM Government fund its own protected area network?

Henry: In December 2007, the five governments involved in the Micronesia Challenge (FSM, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) agreed to utilize the Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT) as an endowment manager. MCT began as a nongovernmental organization in FSM to assist locals in accessing international funding for conservation activities. But it has now become regional to accommodate the decision to use it as an endowment manager for Micronesia Challenge funds, with high-profile board members from throughout the region [including leaders from the public and private sectors]. We will be raising funds from international sources for the endowment to ensure sustainable financing over the long-term.

Internally, FSM has earmarked funding through the Compact of Free Association [i.e., financial assistance from the US, which formerly governed FSM in trust] that is now being used for activities in conservation and resource management, including protected areas. We also aim to establish a national-level endowment to help provide sustainable financing for our protected areas, with money from local and international sources.

MPA News: What is the status of fundraising for the $18-million Micronesia Challenge endowment?

Willy Kostka: Thus far over $13 million has been pledged from various institutions - The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the Global Environment Fund. The government of Taiwan has contributed Palau's portion of the endowment. MCT will begin managing these funds in September 2008. The five governments in the Challenge are leading the fundraising.

MPA News: What kinds of organizations and projects will receive funding through the endowment?

Kostka: MCT can give grants both to government agencies and NGOs. The Micronesia Challenge is a government-led initiative, so government is going to be leading the implementation of Challenge activities. I see government's roles as setting policies and legislation, providing enforcement, and allocating local funding sources to projects, among other activities. In contrast, I see NGOs' main role as being the liaison between local communities and government agencies (as well as outside technical groups). I also see local NGOs providing technical assistance - i.e., monitoring, training, etc. - to local communities. Nongovernmental organizations in FSM, for example, have made some very good progress working with local communities and on the ground.

For more information

Marion Henry, Division of Resource Management and Development, Federated States of Micronesia. E-mail: marionh [at] mail.fm

Willy Kostka, Micronesia Conservation Trust, Federated States of Micronesia. E-mail: mctdirector [at] mail.fm


BOX: Future issues for the Micronesia Challenge

The Micronesia Challenge Support Team - consisting of a wide range of policy makers, stakeholders, and international institutions - recently assessed efforts to implement the Challenge, including lessons learned. The excerpt below summarizes what the team identified as "future challenges" for implementation efforts to address (for the full assessment, e-mail Bill Raynor, chair of the Micronesia Challenge Support Team, at braynor [at] tnc.org):

  • Work with communities to identify the best ways to support their conservation efforts and address their socio-economic needs.
  • Develop and implement sustainable finance strategies and disbursement, monitoring, and management mechanisms in all jurisdictions.
  • Develop and implement a coordinated regional fundraising strategy.
  • Continue to showcase the Micronesia Challenge to the international community to build global support until all goals are achieved.
  • Institutionalize the Challenge in all jurisdictions so that the commitment survives future leadership transitions.
  • Standardize the measurement of conservation baselines across the region.
  • Define and measure "effective management" across the region.
  • Develop a long-range business plan for the Challenge detailing implementation benchmarks and financial needs.