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The protection of coastal marine ecosystems in sub-Saharan Africa

5th October 2010

By: In On Africa IOA

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The year 2010 has been a marker for reflecting upon the reduction of biodiversity loss around the world, as participating countries to the World Summit - held in 2005 in New York - have committed themselves to reduce this loss by 2010.(2) Today, the increasing threat of biodiversity and devastating destructions on the environment are especially eminent in tropical coastal marine ecosystems, where, inter alia, mangrove forests, coral reefs and numerous fish species support not only local livelihoods, but also a growing economic niche for tourism development and marine species trade. This is particularly prevalent in developing African countries with a high biodiversity of marine ecosystems, such as Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

 

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As coral reef destruction and fish species decline, all seem to point to over-exploitation of these resources. The protection of such ecosystems has thus become a priority among these countries' governments. However, what one might neglect to consider is the fact that contemporary global approaches to conserve coastal marine resources may not necessarily provide it with adequate protection, as it may, simultaneously, continue to exploit such areas by privatising coastal resource-use with internationally-funded conservation projects. In this process, some local African communities utilising these coastal resources might be alienated from either accessing these resources, or utilising it for traditional fishing practices to sustain their livelihoods.

 

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This paper briefly reflects upon contemporary conservation approaches to conserve coastal marine ecosystems, particularly as practiced in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique. It provides background information to the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs), and the integrated coastal management (ICM) paradigm upon which these governments (and others) increasingly draw to manage their coastal resources from an economic and sustainable perspective. The paper therefore signals a warning that contemporary marine protection mechanisms and practices might alienate Africa's local, often traditional coastal communities from accessing coastal resources, or project more harm onto coastal environments through new exploitative practices - sometimes encouraged by the same principles that established coastal protective mechanisms in the first place. In this way, contemporary marine protection in some ways departs from local traditional values and resource management systems that are used to (in some cases) sustain this biodiversity.

 

Conserving coastal marine ecosystems: a historical synopses of key international events

 

The need to conserve coastal marine ecosystems is evident in the fact that many scientists have noticed devastating impacts particularly on coral reefs in the Indian ocean.(3) To this point, 25% of coral reefs are estimated to have perished globally, while the fishing industry is said to be growing unsustainably; today 40% larger than what the oceans are calculated to be able to sustain.(4) Whereas bleaching of corals (a process whereby some corals die from higher sea temperatures) appears to occur as a result of climate change, other environmental stressors such as over-exploitation of fish populations due to destructive fishery practices (5) have caused certain marine species to be near extinction.(6) Some scholars also advocate for the decline of fish species to have been driven, at least in part, by technological innovation and demand-driven exploitation (for instance the fish trade) of such species due to globalisation.(7)

 

One common assumption, among some biologists, is that the only way to protect these ecosystems is to enclose it, which would increase marine species populations to benefit local communities by improving or maintaining a fish catch.(8) This is essential, considering that many local human populations in Africa depend on these resources.(9) It is therefore critical that this protection be integrated with the recognition of local human livelihoods and their traditional management systems of these resources.

 

The establishment of contemporary MPAs in order to minimise or even restrict the use of particular demarcated coastal marine environments has been driven in part by key international events. The first conference of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1958, is possibly the cornerstone of such leading global events.(10) This convention laid down the fundamental obligations of governments around the world to preserve their marine environments.(11) Other UN conferences followed such as the UN Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm in 1972, during which protected areas became a key phrase through which biodiversity loss was hoped to be combated. It is interesting to note that, even though developed nations today seem to accept the blame for climate change (12), a declaration of the UNCHE conference drew upon development to assist in conservation efforts, and blamed environmental problems on under-development.(13)

 

What followed was perhaps one of the second most important cornerstones of marine protection philosophies and practices, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) of 1992 held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), where more than 178 participating countries adopted key principles related to marine protection (inter alia).(14) Importantly, during the latter conference, the concept of ‘sustainable development' surfaced in a programme of action adopted during this conference, embodied in Agenda 21.(15) This Agenda was fundamental in shaping contemporary discourses on marine protection, such as integrated coastal management (ICM) approaches. In Agenda 21, an ICM approach was emphasised whereby mal-development (again drawing on the declaration of the UNCHE in 1972) would be counteracted by enclosing coastal resources within MPAs.

 

Furthermore, one may argue that an ICM approach to such MPAs had born out of these historical developments, and envisioned development - through international investments and conservation projects - to integrate conservation with that of economic growth in order to facilitate the protection of marine environments.(16) Stated differently, the conservation of ecosystems needed a financial incentive, without which this process would not be sustainable. Some scholars write that such a financial threshold through ICM follows the principles of neoliberal economic development; seeing development (such as privatising coastal resource-use or tourism) and conservation goals to be mutually exclusive, or at least interdependent.(17) Nevertheless, these key international developments have also ensured that conservation becomes a priority, as the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992 set the target that marine protected areas should encompass 10% of global marine ecosystems by 2012,(18) whereas the 5th World Park Congress in 2003 updated this percentage to 30% of each marine habitat to be closed to exploitation activities.(19)

 

Considering this international recognition to protect marine environments, realising this year's biodiversity loss targets is dampened by the fact that less than one percent of marine space was protected by 2008,(20) thus adding pressure upon governments to increase this percentage. It should be encouraging, though, that the creation of MPAs particularly to protect such ecosystems and to recover marine species populations for exploitation purposes, has gained momentum in recent centuries.(21) Prime examples include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, established in 1975 (22) and encompassing 344,000km2 of protected marine ecosystem, or the Galapagos Island Marine Resource Reserved enacted in 1998 and covering about 8,000km2.(23) Some evidence also seems to indicate that MPAs and proper enforcement on the restriction of fishing practices within these MPAs do in fact recover fish populations.(24) However, human population growth and increasing poverty particularly in sub-Saharan Africa all challenge the creation of MPAs, and therefore one needs to ask whether such a restriction on local resource-use is sustainable.

 

Africa's increasing poverty may call upon its governments to adopt different conservation strategies to western models and approaches, in order to integrate coastal management with that of local fishery communities that are heavily dependent on these resources, and to recognise some of the prevalent traditional values some still attach to coastal ecosystems. One way might be to open MPAs for exploitation by local communities, who are in return assisted to co-manage these resources. One study conducted on the Torre Guaceto MPA in south-eastern Italy indicated that opening a sector of a MPA may indeed benefit local fisheries and reduce over-fishing.(25)


Integrating coastal management with local fishery communities: Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique

 

Much of the coastal areas along Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique are key to the traditional livelihoods of many local communities that dependent on marine resources through either resource extraction or traditional customs and beliefs. See for example Torre-Castro and Rönnbäck's analysis of the links between humans and seagrasses in Zanzibar.(26) Kenya's coastline, for example, hosts rich coastal resources such a mangroves and coral reefs that nurture the lifestyles of many local communities. Traditional fishery practices such as using fine-meshed nets, cloths, basket traps, hand-lines or spears to catch fish all dependent on marine species such as coral reefs or shellfish, some of which are sold to Asian markets.(27) A number of these traditional practices have also been embodied in tourism pamphlets, and continue to shape such landscapes in travel magazines or books.

 

In many cases, resource-use is also regulated by traditional rights and privileges associated with family structures or chiefdoms.(28) For example, Mozambique's coastline of 2,770km produced traditional local resource management systems among some coastal villages. These practices had been studied and are said to have existed prior to colonialism in Africa.(29) Some scholars even acknowledge that a number of marine ecosystems, such as mangrove forests along Mozambique's coastline, have been moderately exploited by local communities at a sustainable level.(30) However, many of these coastal communities are very poor, and the evidence of destructive practices cannot be ignored.(31) Therefore, MPAs in these countries are indeed essential to protect coastal marine ecosystems, but only if such approaches are an improvement on traditional practices, and integrated with local land-use and communities' rights to continue to utilise these resources, sustainably.

 

In an effort to increase the scope of marine protection - and arguably also mal-development in a developing country, even larger-scale MPAs have recently been established or proposed in Eastern Africa. For example, the Quirimbas National Park in Mozambique was established in 2002 with a total area of 7,506km2, encompassing 40 local villages that support an estimated 5000 people.(32) Another initiative is the Mnazi Bay-Ruvuma Estuary Marine Park (MBREMP) in the Mtwara coastal region of Tanzania, establishment in 2000 and covering an area of 6,59km2, while encompassing about 33,000 local inhabitants.(33) Increasingly, tourism and economic development initiatives have been proposed for the Mtwara region such as marine compressed natural gas exploitation.(34)

 

More expansive transboundary MPA initiatives are also planned to combine the protection of coastal resources across Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. This area is generally referred to as the Eastern African marine Ecoregion (EAME), and has become a priority for conservation among these governments as it hosts several endangered marine species.(35) However, an estimated 22 million local people are dependent on the coastal resources of this EAME such as mangroves, coral reefs, seagrass or fish, which are already heavily exploited and under threat of destruction. It is therefore difficult to imagine how tourism, for example, will improve these conditions with a new influx of people and holiday resorts. Nevertheless, such protection and possibly also tourism development are essential though, since poverty is prevalent in these regions. Still, illegal fishing, coral mining, mangrove cutting and general overharvesting of marine species by local communities in these areas all seem to pose threats to these large-scale coastal conservation areas, that aim to restrict the use of such resources within the demarcated MPAs. Unfortunately, in some cases, relocation of local communities have resulted (such as within the Mtwara coastal region of Tanzania) in the wake of expansive proposed MPAs.(36) This challenges the assertion that ICM will benefit local people with the provision of employment or with the recovery of fish populations to benefit local people, and signals that such new conservation practices might eventually alienate Africa's own local populations from having access to these resources.

 

Since the protection of coastal marine ecosystems with newly established (and growing) trends toward creating larger, transboundary MPAs, one has to wonder how this will impact upon the livelihoods of poor sub-Saharan African people especially since it is the poor who are argued by some scholars to be the most vulnerable to the changes in ecosystems, brought about by over-exploitation and globalisation. Some case studies of poor coastal communities in Kenya and Tanzania (among others) have already indicated that local, often poor communities struggle to cope with disruptions of ecosystems, the latter which include degradation but also restriction on resource-use through top-down management interventions (such as ICM approaches as enforced by governments) designed to conserve, for example, coral reefs.(37)

 

A number of local coastal communities in Tanzania and Mozambique have also indicated overwhelmingly negative perceptions of their current livelihoods due to destruction of the reefs that support them,(38) and conflict over resource-use, especially along Kenya's coastline, have been documented to accompany over-exploitation and overall changes in the ecology.(39) It is commonly accepted among scholars that community participation in the management of MPAs may resolve such conflict and build consensus and trust between governments and local coastal communities. However, since external funded projects to support conservation efforts - with international funders such as the World Bank, UN or the Global Environmental Facility - are increasingly drawn upon by these African countries,(40) one needs to ask how much of the local knowledge and livelihood practices are really being supported or even encouraged in the development of marine conservation areas.

 

Conclusion: the way forward for managing MPAs in sub-Saharan Africa

 

This paper attempts to draw attention to the current conservation paradigm of coastal marine ecosystems, particularly as practised in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique. Following from key international events related to marine protection, it highlighted how the establishment of MPAs and current initiatives to expand them, might inadvertently further restrict and marginalise traditional, local coastal communities. This can be accomplished in several ways. Firstly, restricting local people from using coastal resources and hence to continue with their traditional fishing practices. Secondly, relocating communities to make way for protected areas. Lastly, privatising resource-use in particular coastal areas or developing economic incentives for the protection of such resources. These are all, it seems, underpinned by one rationale of ICM and sustainable development, which is to finance such projects and hence to make it feasible to protect it. Subsequently, as this protection is increasingly advocated and needed, it adds pressure upon these countries to develop ways to protect coastal environments.

 

Since tropical countries in Africa do host a spectacular fish biodiversity supported by pristine coral reefs, enriched with expansive mangrove forests, the protection of these areas is fundamental and can most definitely be beneficial to local communities in terms of providing employment. However, as this article has demonstrated, caution is needed to ensure that the same international declarations, philosophies and principles that underpin contemporary marine protection, do not, inadvertently, alienate Africa's own people further from either using these resources or restricting their access to these, as some case studies have already drawn attention to. Furthermore, caution is also needed to ensure that these do not do more harm to the environment through newly exploitative practices that do little to recognise some of the old traditional local values people attached to the protection of coastal habitats.

Written by: Jan Anton Hough (1)


NOTES:

( ) Contact Jan Anton Hough through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Eyes on Africa Unit (eyesonafrica@consultancyafrica.com).
(2) ‘About the 2010 Biodiversity Targets', Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010, http://www.cbd.int.
(3) Wilson, S.K., Graham, N.A.J., Pratchett, M.S., Jones, G.P. & Polunin, N.V.C. 2006. Multiple disturbances and the global degradation of coral reefs: are reef fishes at risk or resilient? Global Change Biology, 12(1):2220-2234.
(4) Tobey, J. & Volk, Richard. 2002. Learning Frontiers in the Practice of Integrated Coastal Management. Coastal Management, 30(4):285-298.
(5 )McClanahan, T.R. 1999. Is there a future for coral reef parks in poor tropical countries? Coral Reefs, 18(4):321-325.
(6) Editorial. 2010. Conservation of fishes. Journal of Fish Biology, 76:2003-2008.
(7) Wiber, M.G., Rudd, M.A., Pinkerton, E. Charles, A.T. & Bull, A. 2010. Coastal management challenges from a community perspective: the problem of ‘stealth privatization' in a Canadian fishery. Marine Policy, 34(3):598-605.
(8) McClanahan, T.R. 1999. Is there a future for coral reef parks in poor tropical countries? Coral Reefs, 18(4):321-325.
(9) Tobey, J. & Volk, Richard. 2002. Learning Frontiers in the Practice of Integrated Coastal Management. Coastal Management, 30(4):285-298.
(10) Nichols, K. 1999. Coming to terms with "integrated coastal management": problems of meaning and method in a new arena of resource regulation. The Professional Geographer, 51(3):388-399.
( 1) ‘The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea', Oceans and Law of the Sea, 2010, http://www.un.org.
(12) Hough, J.A., ‘Carbon Trade: the real threat facing Africa?', Consultancy Africa Intelligence, 2010, http://www.consultancyafrica.com.
( 3) ‘Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment', United Nations Environment Programme, 2010, http://www.unep.org.
( 4) Guerreiro, A., Chirop, A., Grilo, C., Viras, A., Ribeiro, R. & Van der Elst, R. 2010. Establishing a transboundary network of marine protected areas: diplomatic and management options for the east African context. Marine Policy, 34(5):896-910.
( 5) Ibid.
( 6) Nichols, K. 1999. Coming to terms with "integrated coastal management": problems of meaning and method in a new arena of resource regulation. The Professional Geographer, 51(3):388-399.
( 7) Ibid.
( 8) Guerreiro, A., Chirop, A., Grilo, C., Viras, A., Ribeiro, R. & Van der Elst, R. 2010. Establishing a transboundary network of marine protected areas: diplomatic and management options for the east African context. Marine Policy, 34(5):896-910.
( 9) Ibid.
(20) Ibid.
(21) Guidetti, P. & Claudet, J. 2009. Comanagement practices enhance fisheries in marine protected areas. Conservation Biology, 24(1):312-318.
(22) ‘REEF FACTS: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area', CRC Reef Research Centre, 2010, http://www.reef.crc.org.au.
(23) ‘Galapagos Marine Reserve', Galapagos Online, 2010, http://www.galapagosonline.com.
(24) Guidetti, P, Milazzo, M., Bussotti, S., Molinari, A., Murenu, M., Pais, A., Spanò, N., Balzano, R., Agardy, T., Boero, F., Carrada, G., Cattaneo-Vietti, R., Cau, A., Chemello, R., Greco, S., Manganaro, A., Di Sciara, G.N., Russo, G.F. & Tunesi, L. 2008. Italian marine reserve effectiveness: does enforcement matter? Biological Conservation, 141(3):699-709.
(25) Guidetti, P. & Claudet, J. 2009. Comanagement practices enhance fisheries in marine protected areas. Conservation Biology, 24(1):312-318.
(26) De la Torre-Castro, A. & Rönnbäck. 2004. Links between humans and seagrasses - an example from tropical East Africa. Ocean & Coastal Management, 47(7-8):361-387.
(27) Bunce, M., Rosendo, S. & Brown, K. 2010. Perceptions of climate change, multiple stressors and livelihoods on marginal African coasts. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 12(3):407-440.
(28) McClanahan, T.R., Mwaguni, S. & Muthiga, N.A. 2005. Management of the Kenyan coast. Ocean & Coastal Management, 48(11-12):901-931.
(29) Bryceson, I. & Massinga, A. 2002. Coastal resources and management systems influenced by conflict and migration: Mecúfi, Mozambique. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 31(7/8):512-517.
(30) Ibid.
(3 ) McClanahan, T.R., Cinner, J.E., Graham, N.A.J., Daw, T.M., Maina, J., Stead, S.M., Wamukota, A., Brown, K., Venus, V. & Polunin, N.V.C. 2009. Identifying reefs of hope and hopeful actions: contextualizing environmental, ecological, and social parameters to respond effectively to climate change. Conservation Biology, 23(3):662-671.
(32) Guerreiro, A., Chirop, A., Grilo, C., Viras, A., Ribeiro, R. & Van der Elst, R. 2010. Establishing a transboundary network of marine protected areas: diplomatic and management options for the east African context. Marine Policy, 34(5):896-910.
(33) Ibid.
(34) Bunce, M., Rosendo, S. & Brown, K. 2010. Perceptions of climate change, multiple stressors and livelihoods on marginal African coasts. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 12(3):407-440.
(35) Guerreiro, A., Chirop, A., Grilo, C., Viras, A., Ribeiro, R. & Van der Elst, R. 2010. Establishing a transboundary network of marine protected areas: diplomatic and management options for the east African context. Marine Policy, 34(5):896-910.
(36) Bunce, M., Rosendo, S. & Brown, K. 2010. Perceptions of climate change, multiple stressors and livelihoods on marginal African coasts. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 12(3):407-440.
(37) McClanahan, T.R., Cinner, J.E., Graham, N.A.J., Daw, T.M., Maina, J., Stead, S.M., Wamukota, A., Brown, K., Venus, V. & Polunin, N.V.C. 2009. Identifying reefs of hope and hopeful actions: contextualizing environmental, ecological, and social parameters to respond effectively to climate change. Conservation Biology, 23(3):662-671.
(38) Bunce, M., Rosendo, S. & Brown, K. 2010. Perceptions of climate change, multiple stressors and livelihoods on marginal African coasts. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 12(3):407-440.
(39) McClanahan, T.R., Cinner, J.E., Graham, N.A.J., Daw, T.M., Maina, J., Stead, S.M., Wamukota, A., Brown, K., Venus, V. & Polunin, N.V.C. 2009. Identifying reefs of hope and hopeful actions: contextualizing environmental, ecological, and social parameters to respond effectively to climate change. Conservation Biology, 23(3):662-671.
(40) Tobey, J. & Volk, Richard. 2002. Learning Frontiers in the Practice of Integrated Coastal Management. Coastal Management, 30(4):285-298.

 

 

 

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