Archive for the ‘Co-management’ Category

Caring for Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Sea turtles are endangered for all the reasons you might imagine, including pollution, plastics, propellers, nest destruction, egg poaching, disease, global warming, and bycatch from trawls, seines and long-lines. Through a lot of effort over the past 3-4 decades, their crash toward extinction has been slowed, and in some places some recovery has occurred – of course not to past population sizes, but at least away from the brink.

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle, the smallest of sea turtles,  lives mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, reaches sexually maturity at 10-15 years old (marinelife.about.com)

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, the smallest of sea turtles, lives mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, reaches sexually maturity at 10-15 years old (marinelife.about.com)

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles may have come the closest to extinction. They mostly live in inshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico where they forage for crabs. For a long time no one seemed to know where they nested, but in the mid 1940s a single nesting beach on the Mexican coast, Playa de Rancho Nuevo, was discovered. There possibly 120,000 females hauled themselves up the beach over a period of several days, dug their nests and laid their eggs, an extraordinary and tumultuous event we call an ‘arribada’. Several arribadas appear to have occurred on that one beach each summer, the same females returning to lay more eggs.

Females come ashore in large numbers over a few days, an arribada. Arribadas occur several times during the summer, involving the same renesting females (noaa.com)

Females come ashore in large numbers over a few days, an arribada. Arribadas occur several times during the summer, involving the same renesting females (noaa.com)

We know now that females nest every second year, so the total adult population at that time must have been about half a million. The beach was so crowded that females arriving on the second or third day often inadvertently dug up and destroyed the eggs of their predecessors as they scooped out holes to lay their own eggs.

Though the arribadas were unknown to biologists until then, they were certainly well known to people living along that coast who quickly dug up most of the nests and distributed the eggs among the coastal communities. Those were not the days of regulations.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle numbers plunged. Though protected by the US Endangered Species Act in 1970, only 700 females arrived to nest in the summer of 1985. But the arribada beach became tightly protected and monitored; many nests were moved to concentrated sites where they could be watched more easily; other nests were dug up, their eggs transplanted to other beaches along the Texas coast, hatchlings allowed to crawl to the surf, then recaptured and raised in captivity for 9-11 months to plate-sized juveniles, and then released in the Gulf of Mexico.

By 2010 about 7000 females once again nested, not just on the arribada beach, but also in small numbers where the eggs had been translocated. Not the numbers of the 1940s, but enough to think recovery was underway. A rare success, it was the result of huge coordinated effort by untold numbers of volunteers as well as biologists, communities, and government agencies from two countries.

Numbers of nests on the arribada beach in Mexico increased remarkably after prolonged efforts to protect the beach (esasuccess.net)

Numbers of nests on the arribada beach in Mexico increased remarkably after prolonged efforts to protect the beach (esasuccess.net)

Transplants of eggs to Texas beaches began in 1978. Now there are about 200 nests scattered among a number of protected beaches (esasuccess.org)

Transplants of eggs to Texas beaches began in 1978. Now there are about 200 nests scattered among a number of protected beaches (esasuccess.org)

Since 2010, things have not been so good. The BP oil spill damaged the main foraging region along the north shore of the Gulf, oiling and killing around 5000 of the foraging turtles. Causal or not, nesting numbers flatlined and now have declined despite all the efforts to protect them: in 2014 only 11500 nests were counted, indicating a drop to around 3-4000 nesting females and so an adult population of about 12,000.

Number of nests increased impressively until 2010, but not since (seaturtles.org)

Number of nests increased impressively until 2010, but not since (seaturtles.org)

To complicate the picture, many juveniles drift and swim out of the Gulf and head north with the Gulf Stream along the East Coast. Some of them reach Cape Cod Bay and even further into the Gulf of Maine, a risky venture since at sea temperatures less than 17-18 degrees C (65 degrees F), they are stunned and tend to die if they are not somehow soon rescued and warmed up again.

Until recently, each autumn only a few washed up stunned on the beaches of Cape Cod Bay where searching volunteers found them, warmed them up, and sent survivors back to Florida often through informal connections with air pilots. But this past autumn more than 1200 stunned juveniles washed up on those beaches, swamping local abilities to recover and transport them back south. Many more volunteers became involved, searching the beaches through the autumn months; stunned turtles were sent to a wide assortment of aquariums to recover them; transporting them back to the Gulf of Mexico was much more challenging.

Two no longer stunned  juveniles getting ready to travel back to the Gulf of Mexico

Two no longer stunned juveniles getting ready to travel back to the Gulf of Mexico

Once again, this has involved a huge labor-intensive and expensive effort by volunteers, biologists, and government agencies.

Now with declining numbers of nesting females and increasing numbers of stunned juveniles, we are nagged by the question of whether all the effort is making a difference. Comparable efforts of course struggle to protect and conserve the other species of sea turtles as well. They all remain endangered.

The case of Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles though is not reassuring. It has involved such huge effort to protect one species, with every conservation ingredient one could hope for. People truly care, and still recovery may fail, and fail because we cannot protect the animals from catastrophic oil spills or from the increasing and unpredictable stresses of climate change.

Hatchlings rush to water's edge. Much effort has been invested to help Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles recover, but has it been effective? (seathos.org)

Hatchlings rush to the water’s edge. Much effort has been invested to help Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles recover, but has it been effective? (seathos.org)

Though few marine species, including seabirds, marine mammals, fish, shellfish and other invertebrates have actually been reduced to extinction, population sizes of so many of them have declined precipitously, and local extinctions are common.

As a recent major review of marine ‘defaunation’ establishes, we are on the cusp of developing inshore waters in the ways we have developed terrestrial ecosystems over the past few millennia, development that has resulted in the extinction of so many terrestrial species. The review concludes that although much damage has already occurred, it is not too late to prevent marine extinctions on a similar scale – through protected areas, enlightened management and careful development.

But there is so much that is threatened, even in the rosiest of scenarios. We have hard choices ahead. How do we decide how much effort to invest in trying to recover one species, like Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle, when whole communities and ecosystems are at risk? Can somehow we protect both?

Either way, our energetic and global effort is essential.
And a world without sea turtles is a world immeasurably reduced.

The MPA Solution

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

More and more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being created around the world, but do they make a difference? Do they actually help depressed fisheries and their communities recover?

Sometimes yes, often no: it depends on a suite of features. So the question becomes not just how much coastline should we protect, but also how do we do it right.

Early in 2014 an extraordinary study published in Nature compared 87 MPAs from the shallow water coasts of 40 nations and showed us just how hard it is to create an effective MPA.

MPAs fail to be effective for a few reasons. The greatest problem of course is illegal harvesting, but inadequate regulations that allow harvesting also occur in far too many MPAs. And if the MPA is too small or it isn’t isolated, mobile species simply emigrate to quick capture elsewhere.

Five different features critical to the success of an MPA emerged from the study. Their acronym is NEOLI.

Coastal shallow-water MPAs included in the study. On the upper map, the 4 black spots are the sites of the most successful MPAs that are pictured below. (nature.com)

Coastal shallow-water MPAs included in the study. On the upper map, the 4 black spots are the sites of the most successful successful MPAs that are pictured below (nature.com)

– The MPA must be No-Take: no harvesting at all can occur. (N)
– Protection must be well-enforced. Otherwise illegal harvesting wrecks everything. (E)
– It must be at least 10 years old. Obviously that isn’t actually old, but this is a young business, and things take time. (O)
– It must be large, at least 100 km2. (L)
– And it must be isolated – surrounded by sand or deep water. (I)

No-Take, Enforced, Old, Large and Isolated: NEOLI.

MPas with 4-5 of the NEOLI features have dramatically greater fish biomass (nature.com)

MPas with 4-5 of the NEOLI features have dramatically greater fish biomass (nature.com)

The kicker is that an MPA must have 4 or 5 of these features, or it is ineffective, no different than adjacent unprotected fished areas. Of the 87 MPAs assessed, only 4 had all 5 features, and only 5 others had 4. So 90% had three or less.

These 9 sites, though, point the way. They had considerably more fish, larger fish, larger fish biomass, and included top predators like sharks, groupers and jacks.

Cocos Island, Costa Rica, uninhabited, tropical (underseahunter.com)

Cocos Island, Costa Rica, uninhabited, tropical (underseahunter.com)

Malpeco Island, 500 km west of Columbia uninhabited except for military site (seaseek.com)

Malpeco Island, 500 km west of Columbia uninhabited except for military site (seaseek.com)

Kermadec Island, 1000 km north of North Island, NZ. Uninhabited, subtropical (teara.govt.nz.com)

Kermadec Island, 1000 km north of North Island, NZ. Uninhabited, subtropical (teara.govt.nz.com)

Middleton Reef, Tasman Sea, 550 km east of NSW, Australia. Uninhabited, southern most oceanic platform coral reef. (hellomagazine.com)

Middleton Reef, Tasman Sea, 550 km east of NSW, Australia. Uninhabited, southern most oceanic platform coral reef. (hellomagazine.com)

The good news here is that recovery is possible, that restoring fish communities to levels of biodiversity and biomass perhaps not that different from past historical levels is not just another impossible dream.

Less encouraging is just how difficult reaching the NEOLI standard can be. The four MPAs with full NEOLI status are pictured above. All four are extremely isolated and almost completely uninhabited. They hardly represent our real and over-crowded world.

Still, knowing what is needed we may be able to rehabilitate many currently ineffective MPAs. Perhaps small ones can be made larger and more isolated. Certainly they can be made No-Take, enforcement can be ensured, and they will of course get older.

Other studies point out more that should be obvious. For instance, coastal fishing communities need to be included in the decisions to create No-Take MPAs, for they know where the MPAs should be placed, and enforcement is more successful if it comes from the community. Comanagement is critical to MPA success along inhabited coasts, and it works a lot better than any alternative.

School of hammerhead sharks, Isla del Coco, CR. Top predators modify their food webs. (superslice.com)

School of hammerhead sharks, Isla del Coco, CR. Top predators modify their food webs. (superslice.com)

Also, rehabilitation of existing failing MPAs is only part of the solution. Currently there are about 6500 MPAs around the world, which sounds like a lot, but in fact they barely cover 2% of the world’s oceans, far from the 20-30% that is probably necessary.

Of course creating new protected No-Take space is difficult, humans will still fish illegally, bottom trawlers still unfortunately exist, and enforcement is always a challenge. But knowing how successful a well designed and truly protected MPA can be makes a huge difference.

We can do this.

Canadian Government Fails Again

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

For the past six years delegates from 98 countries have hammered away at a document with the catchy title ‘Voluntary Guidelines on Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries’. Sponsored by the FAO, it is in its final draft, heading toward presentation to the FAO Fisheries Committee next month.

Coastal fishing communities and fisheries, like this one in Vietnam,  are particularly vulnerable in Asia and Africa (worldfishcenter.org)

Coastal fishing communities and fisheries, like this one in Vietnam, are particularly vulnerable in Asia and Africa (worldfishcenter.org)

Canadian delegates have participated throughout, helping to create what is surely one of the more idealistic and humane documents of international cooperation. Now, suddenly, Canada has withdrawn its support for the document, jeopardizing its future.

Ninety percent of fisheries are small-boat, family-owned operations, landing about 2/3 of all fish caught, and providing protein for billions of people. However, over the past decades, nations have increasingly supported industrial fishing and aquaculture at the expense of small-scale fisheries.

Small-scale fisheries need top down support to survive in the presence of the heavily subsidized large-scale fisheries (jenniferjacquet.com)

Small-scale fisheries need top down support to survive in the presence of the heavily subsidized large-scale fisheries (jenniferjacquet.com)

The Guidelines try to rectify this imbalance. They focus on human rights, cultural concerns, and Indigenous rights, and they emphasize the need for gender equity and equality. They invoke the need for the precautionary approach, ecosystem-based management, community-based co-management, and the rule of law. They emphasize that priority should be given to small-scale fisheries communities, and that with recognition of such tenure rights come responsibilities.

Women do much of the work in small-scale fisheries once the fish have been landed. Their role needs to be clearly recognized. (toobigtoignore.net)

Women do much of the work in small-scale fisheries once the fish have been landed. Their role needs to be clearly recognized. (toobigtoignore.net)

They also recognize that the real world has become one too often characterized by poverty, violence, corruption, crime, and economic abuse of women, and that coastal communities also face the accumulating stresses of climate change, pollution, coastal erosion, and destruction of coastal habitats.

That is what makes this document so valuable to the world. It is a model of what could be, and of what should be. It is, in the face of all that is wrong and threatening, a defense of the sustainability of small-scale fisheries and fishing communities, a defense of the poor and the marginalized, and a defense of women’s rights.

It is worth reading.

Even in Canada there are many fishing communities that are small, vulnerable, and in need of support (smallscales.ca0

Even in Canada there are many fishing communities that are small, vulnerable, and in need of support (smallscales.ca0

So what now, at the last minute, is the problem that Canada’s Harper Government has with the document? It seems that the most recent draft includes wording, proposed by Mauritania, that calls for the protection of fishermen “in situations of occupation“. The Harper Government apparently views this is as a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli intrusion, and Harper’s pro-Israeli political stance trumps any support he might have for improving global human rights and sustaining small-scale fisheries and communities.

In recent years the Harper Government has made clear its contempt for the UN, for other global agreements such as on fire arms and climate change, and within Canada for environmental protection and even for democratic processes. But this one is really beyond the pale.

The Canadian delegates are of course deeply embarrassed, and hope for a resolution. A number of Canadian fisheries scientists have written a concerned ‘Open Letter to the Government’. But we in Canada need a bigger solution. We need a government that recognizes we are part of a troubled world beset by human injustice and environmental threats. We need a government that believes in social justice and sustainability.

Canada should be a model to the world, not a pariah.

We need a new government, as soon as possible.

Chandrika Sharma and ICSF

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Most of the best leadership and action related to many of the stresses now plaguing our planet comes from international NGOs.

Sorting shrimp in Bagladesh. Small scale coastal fisheries vary immensely, but all need support (consult-poseidon.com)

Sorting shrimp in Bagladesh. Small scale coastal fisheries vary immensely, but all need support (consult-poseidon.com)

An effective example is The International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF). In the face of the calamitous impact of offshore, industrial fishing fleets, its ambitious mission is “to support fishing communities and fishworker organizations, and empower them to participate in fisheries from a perspective of decent work, equity, gender-justice, self-reliance and sustainability”.

ICSF encourages the development and protection of small scale fisheries, like this one in Cambodia (flikr.com)

ICSF encourages the development and protection of small scale fisheries, like this one in Cambodia (flikr.com)

It started up 28 years ago and now involves coastal fishing communities around Southeast Asia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and East Africa. The ongoing challenge continues to be to achieve recognition of the importance of small-scale fisheries, fishworkers and fishing communities.

One of its publications is An Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries that emphasizes the need for balancing human wellbeing and ecological wellbeing, for application of both the adaptive and precautionary approaches, for recognition of the value traditional knowledge, and for community participation in co-management.

This truly identifies the needs and hopes of the coastal fisheries of the whole world.

Chandrika Sharma was Executive Secretary of ICSF. She was a passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, on her way from KL to Beijing and then on to Mongolia where she would have represented ICSF at the 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific.

Chandrika Sharma

Chandrika Sharma

We so need rational, articulate, committed, persistent and well-informed social activists like Chandrika Sharma to give us at least some hope in these increasingly perilous times.

Losing her is distressing for too many reasons.
I wish that I had known her.

Good Models for Failing EU Fisheries

Monday, November 11th, 2013

The continuing experiment that is the EU ought to be a model of progress for the world, and perhaps in some ways it is, a response to the cries of ‘Never Again’ that rose up at the end of the 2nd World War. But in regulating its fisheries, protecting its fish from over-exploitation, it has clearly failed.

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the european Union is huge, one of the largest, with 25 million square km (wikipedia.org)

The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the european Union is huge, one of the largest, with 25 million square km (wikipedia.org)

Still, after decades of efforts, some progress occurred over the past few weeks, resulting in a general ban on discards or bycatch, and greater regulation of individual fisheries to meet the minimum requirements of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) management. Considering the various conflicting needs of so many nations, this is good news.

Atlantic cod stocks are ever closer to oblivion in the North Sea (bbc.co.uk)

Atlantic cod stocks are ever closer to oblivion in the North Sea (bbc.co.uk)

On the other hand, it is a disappointing outcome. It targets a 5% discard rate rather than zero, implemented gradually over the next decade, and some species will still be exempt. It should have banned all deep-water bottom-trawling, but instead proposes not to trawl sites that are identified as particularly vulnerable. Left undecided is how to enforce the new regulations and how to fund the enforcement. Meanwhile subsidies persist for a fleet that is 2-3 times as large as it should be.

Opposition to stronger outcomes came from Spain and France, and from industrial-sized vessels, all of which think they will be harmed even by the limited new regulations: they maintain the changes will happen too quickly, will be too hard to implement, and will be too expensive.

They are wrong. There are quite a few examples elsewhere that the EU could look to.

Atlantic cod - mostly gone from the North-west Atlantic, almost gone from the North Sea, is doing well in the North-east Atlantic (umn.edu)

Atlantic cod – mostly gone from the North-west Atlantic, almost gone from the North Sea, is doing well in the North-east Atlantic (umn.edu)

One is nearby, in Norway, not a member of the EU. Twenty five years ago, in response to dwindling cod stocks, Norway initiated a zero discard policy. More selective gear was used – letting smaller fish escape rather than become bycatch, and some fishing grounds were closed, particularly where the smaller fish were more common. To enforce the ban on discards, vessels have been closely monitored.

The Arctic or Norwegian cod population is in good shape, protected by  tight regulations (imr.no)

The Arctic or Norwegian cod population is in good shape, protected by tight regulations (imr.no)

As fish populations have recovered, catch sizes have increased. Norway also emphasizes ecosystem-based management, science-based decisions on quotas, and precautionary approaches – approaches hard to find in the new EU agreements. And if Norway can do it, so can the EU, as the Norwegians like to point out.

Another example is from the central coast of California. Fishing, including bottom-trawling, pretty well ceased in Moro Bay, south of Monterrey, for all the usual reasons. But then the Nature Conservancy proposed a new approach. With the agreement of the fishermen of Moro Bay, they bought up all the trawl fishing licenses, and the fishermen either left the fishery, or have leased permits back from the Conservancy. The intent – and the outcome – has been to support, yet reduce the level of trawling to a sustainable level, and to try to mitigate its impact.

A brown pelican in Morro Bay celebrates the new fishery regulations there. (flickr.com)

A brown pelican in Morro Bay celebrates the new fishery regulations there. (flickr.com)

And there’s more. In 2005, with the involvement of the fishermen and the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund mediated the designation of 3.8 million acres of coastal waters on the central coast as a no-trawling zone. Not the whole coast but a compromise intended to support fishing, and fishing communities, at a reduced but sustainable level.

Large areas off the central coast of California are now designated as no-trawl zones (edg.org)

Large areas off the central coast of California are now designated as no-trawl zones (edg.org)

The partnership has involved fishermen, community leaders, scientists, and state and federal agencies. This appears to be true co-management. And it is another model that can be exported, if only oppositional lobbyists can be successfully induced to recognize the need to compromise. When the alternative becomes a much wider ban on trawling, compromise is the only option.

We know now that bycatch can be eliminated. Trawling can be limited and regulated. Deep-water trawling can be banned. Enforcement is feasible. Subsidies can be used judiciously, even eliminated. Fleet size can be reduced. Cooperation among all the players is achievable. Ecosystem-based management is possible.

And then fishing is actually sustainable.

So listen up, EU. At stake is the sustainability, the viability of fish stocks in European waters.

The State of Global Fisheries

Friday, May 31st, 2013

So what is the global state of wild-caught or capture fisheries?

In recent decades, the amount of wild caught fish has leveled off, even declined, while the amount of farmed fish and shrimp has grown ever greater. We could conclude that we are now fishing sustainably from wild populations, and the surge in farming has helped reduce the pressure on them.

We would be so wrong.

Though the global sale of fish continues to climb, farmed fish are responsible for all the recent growth (earth-policy.org)

Though the global sale of fish continues to climb, farmed fish are responsible for all the recent growth (earth-policy.org)

Instead over the past few decades fishing fleets have grown in size and searched for fish ever further in the world’s oceans. The result is ever greater fishing effort, but increasingly less catch per unit effort. These are features of unsustainable fishing, not sustainable. The FAO estimates that 57% of fish stocks are fully exploited, and 30% are over-exploited. That doesn’t leave much.

As effort in fishing has increased (number and size of vessels), the catch per effort has decreased (worldbank.org)

As effort in fishing has increased (number and size of vessels), the catch has decreased (worldbank.org)

How can an industry continue to grow despite declining yields? This is a result of huge government subsidies, valued at about 19 billion dollars US per year for developing countries and about nine billion for developed.

Another view - as more and more of the world's oceans have been fished, the catch per effort has declined (worldbank.com)

Another view – as more and more of the world’s oceans have been fished, the catch per effort has declined (worldbank.com)

And there is much more.

For instance, we know that bottom trawling with its indiscriminate destruction of bottom habitats and of non-target species continues to occur on almost every coast and in increasingly deep water despite condemnation by conservation organizations and fisheries scientists.

We also know that for both fish stocks and coastal fishing communities to persist, large areas of coastline need to be protected as ‘no-take’ areas, but still only about 1% of the world’s coastlines are protected in any way. That number should probably be around 20-30%. Even where no-take areas exist, enforcement is often difficult or impossible.

No-take zones in marine protected areas work - like this area in the Dry Tortugas off of Florida where yellow tailed snapper and red grouper have a chance of survival (saltwatersportsman.com)

No-take zones in marine protected areas work – like this area in the Dry Tortugas off of Florida where yellow tailed snapper and red grouper have a chance of survival (saltwatersportsman.com)

If you want to really dig into the state of the world’s fisheries, the best place to go is The Sea Around Us Project where you can explore what is happening and what has happened in each of the world’s 65 coastal Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). It is a very sobering journey.

Much of all of this of course has been known for decades, but what’s new is that the amount of data, of evidence, has become immense. What’s now emerging is an ability to assess things accurately on a global scale.

For example, we now know that global fishing effort needs to be cut by about 40% in order to keep fish stocks sustainable. To get there, government subsidies need to eliminated, the number of large fishing vessels and licenses need to be reduced through buy-back programs, and smaller quotas need to be enforced. Reducing the industrial scale and increasing the locally managed fleets of smaller craft would mitigate some of the economic pain and support community-based management.

At the same time, the goal of global fisheries scientists remains to manage fisheries not at the species level but at the ecosystem level, even the level of the LME. Almost all nations except for USA and North Korea have ratified the UN Law of the Sea, agreeing to accept the associated obligations and commitments. Imperfect though it no doubt is, it is a vehicle for regulating fishing pressure and resolving differences. We know that where a few or more nations share an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), fisheries agreements are elusive at best and dangerously volatile at worst (as they currently are in the South China Sea). But treaties continue to emerge, and opportunities for cooperative management at least exist.

 Worth watching: China claims most of the South China Sea, and may reject the lines drawn as a result of UN Law of the Sea adjudication (victoryinstitute.net)


Worth watching: China claims most of the South China Sea, and may reject the lines drawn as a result of UN Law of the Sea adjudication (victoryinstitute.net)

With increasing global information about the world’s oceans – including challenging data on coastal development, pollution, ocean warming and acidification – we can encourage decisions that recognize that the Earth is a single, dynamic and adaptable system whose resilience in the face of rapid change is clearly not unlimited.

Fundy Tidal Power

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

When the first tide-driven turbines were placed in Minas Basin, the tides basically ripped them up within a few weeks. At the north end of the Bay of Fundy, tidal amplitude in the Basin reaches about 15 meters, and the sea moves in and out with the tide at up to 12 knots. These really are astonishing numbers, and you have to see them to believe them.

The Bay of Fundy funnels the tide to ever greater amplitude, reaching 15 meters or more in Minas Basin (yellowmaps.com)

At the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, though, the tides are less, about 6 meters, or 20 feet, and run at only about 4-6 knots, still impressive if you happen to try to navigate the area in a small boat. And there, near Eastport and Lubec, the first commercial-scale tidal-power generator in the US is now being placed.

This one ought to work. The turbine is about 100 feet long, 15 feet high, with long curved foils. Ocean Renewable Power Company is in charge, and a lot of outside investment has made the event happen.

The 98ft turbine sits on the bottom, fastened to a tide resistant supporting framework (pressherald.com)

There are a few ways to bring something new, like a wind farm, or a fish farm, or in this case underwater turbines into a coastal community. The method makes all the difference. It can be done secretly and aggressively, without concern for buy-in from the local community, and most likely it will fail. If it fails, nobody in the community cares.

Or it can be done with the extensive involvement of the local community.

The Eastport community has certainly been involved in the tidal power initiative there. Fishermen have advised on the best sites for placement of the turbines. Local conservationists have been consulted. Where possible, local contractors have been employed. Community officials have been included in making decisions. Restaurants and B&Bs have remained open beyond the usual three month tourist season.

The town of Eastport, Maine is as far east as you can go in the US, lying at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy just across the border from New Brunswick (treehugger.com)

The turbines at Eastport will start to generate power in October. Not much at first, but it’s a start. Over the next few years, more turbines will be added. In time, they should serve the needs of most of the town.

What works for Eastport should work for the many other coastal communities along the Bay of Fundy, and elsewhere around the world where tidal currents run fast enough.

This is not large-scale power generation. But it is community-based, and the community appears to be strongly supportive. It should succeed.

Where coastal communities are involved in all aspects of an initiative, whether it is a fish farm, wind farm, coastal fishery, or tidal-power generation, conflicts are reduced, and success is more likely.

Consultation, inclusion, integrity and transparency are all essential components.

Interesting, isn’t it, that we seem to have learn this lesson over and over again?

The Gulf of Mexico: High Hopes.

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Dr. Nancy Rabelais continues to monitor, analyse and comment on the everlasting Dead Zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

Nancy Rabelais is still at it. She deserves awards not just for her research on the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, but also for her enthused persistence for about the last 30 years. She has monitored the Dead Zone, warned relentlessly about it, pushed hard for corrective action, while the Dead Zone continues to recur every year. In fact, she just won the Heinz Award and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Ketchum Award honoring her extraordinary effort and ability.

The Dead Zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Red indicates hypoxic (oxygen depleted) water. (earthsky.org)

The Dead Zone, a result of runoff of fertilizers from the endless cropland of the immense Mississippi watershed, is, of course, just one of the discouraging stresses that have largely wrecked the Gulf Coast. Fish have been overfished, wetlands lost, barrier islands eroded, estuarine habitats degraded, pipelines laid, shipping channels dug, levees built, freshwater flow diverted – and then the ecosystem was hit first by Katrina and then by the pollution from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Existing (red) and planned (blue) oil and gas pipelines: it is getting crowded (eoearth.org)

What a test of resilience, for both a natural ecosystem and for the affected human communities.

In response to all of this, The Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force has just published its report, and it’s a report to want to believe in. The Task Force, established by Presidential Executive Order, was composed of representatives from the five Gulf States and from 11 Federal Agencies. The group listened to everyone – state and federal agencies, tribes, communities, academics, local government, business and industry, NGOs.

The Task Force report insists on the integration of the coastal human communities as a critical part of the ecosystem. It recognizes that waiting for scientific certainly is inappropriate, and that adaptive management should guide us through the restoration efforts. It calls for extensive monitoring and modelling by scientists, which is what they do best. It imagines a restored ecosystem, with improved water quality, protected coastal resources, sustainable fisheries, and enhanced community resilience.

If it is actually possible to restore a large-scale ecosystem, the Gulf Coast should be an excellent place to try. As always, the needed ingredients are knowledge, ability, incentive, cooperation, funds, and political will. Challenging, to say the least.

The Gulf of Mexico - large, complex, rich in resources, threatened but fixable (eoearth.org)

Of course it is a long-term plan, but nothing in the proposal is impossible. Much of it should have started sooner, in response to Rabelais’ work, and as a result of Katrina’s impact. Maybe this time it will become reality.

High hopes, yes. Based on past practices, we should limit our expectations.

But this is a chance, a rare opportunity to do the right thing. Let’s do this. And show ourselves and the world that it can be done, that large ecosystems can be restored to something that might be sustainable. They don’t need to deteriorate to sterility and oblivion.

Go Gulf.

Futile attempt at adaptation on Dauphin Island - a typical migrating sand bar, a barrier island off the coast of Louisiana. We're smarter than this (clui.org).

A Network That Works

Friday, November 18th, 2011

It is easy to forget that despite the mess the world is in, there are still successful initiatives, involving a lot of people, communities and organizations.

A remarkable example is a network of communities in the South Pacific that have adopted community-based, adaptive fisheries management. Formally called the Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, or LMMA, it has just celebrated its first ten years of operation and growth.

Its vision is to develop healthy coastal ecosystems and communities, with abundant and sustainable fisheries and, by working together, to take actions that have a high chance of measurable long-term success.

Coastal village in Indonesia (lmmanetwork.org)

Current members are Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Palau, and Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. Other Pacific island nations such as Kiribati and New Caledonia are exploring membership.

Island nations of the South Pacific. Not identified, in yellow: Indonesia extends west from PNG, and the Philippines lie to the north of Indonesia. Ignore Australia.

In each country, each participating village or group of villages agrees to support the basic vision of the network. Each sets up restricted or tabu areas, free from any fishing, and bans destructive fishing. Important species may be restored. Alternatives to fishing are explored. Mangroves are replanted. And each protects the area from commercial fishermen and poachers.

Diver monitoring site in Fiji (lmmanetwork)

Good communication is critical, of course. Information of successes and failures is freely shared. Villagers are trained to gather and analyse data in order to document the success of initiatives such as banning fishing of replanting mangroves, and they share their knowledge and experience with other communities.

Sharing information at a workshop (lmmanetwork.org)

These really are community-based initiatives. The community makes the decisions, guided by community leaders, with advice from conservation groups and university researchers from the region. Usually an NGO is involved, varying is size from local community-based organizations to WWF and The Nature Conservancy.

Gamma Gades, on the right, is a fisheries warden who helps protect Hinatuan Bay on Mindaneo Island, South Phillipines (lmmanetwork.org)

Ten years of existence is a very short time, and many communities have not been involved nearly that long, yet a new report indicates that the benefits are real. At selected sites in Indonesia, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji, fish catches have improved, poverty is less, new jobs (mostly related to tourism) have emerged, health and sanitation are better, local governance has improved, more women are involved, and more children are in school and staying in school.

The LMMA Network council (lmmanetwork.org)

Of course there still are problems. Poaching, intrusion by commercial fishermen, and destructive fishing can be hard to deal with, stressful for those who are trying to enforce the community’s regulations. Alternative jobs to fishing can also be hard to develop or sustain. And teachers can be hard to find to introduce the planned environmental programs in the schools.

But the protected coral reefs are healthier, fish stocks are improving, mangroves are growing, and communities are deeply invested. Increasing numbers of villages are joining the Network – there really is no limit to how big this could all grow. Certainly it has the potential to encompass all the island nations of the Indo-Pacific, and there is no reason to think it should stop there.

A report on poverty reduction where communities have joined the LMMA network.

Where does global warming, with its rising sea levels and ocean acidification, fit in here? Communities include in their objectives ways to adapt to climate change, but adaptation may in some cases be very difficult. Coastal communities participating in the LMMA Network will, however, be able to share their challenges and their solutions.

Hope lies in such rational, evidence-based discussion. The LMMA Network is a model we should look at carefully. Here’s the link again: lmmanetwork.org.

Community Leadership

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Why do some fisheries fail, from overfishing or mismanagement, while others appear to be successful, or at least sustainable?

A lovely study, published in Nature this past month (online Jan 5, but hard copy Feb 17), indicates that a carefully community-based, co-managed fishery is the way to go – perhaps the only way that fisheries can be prevented from crashing.

Such co-management involves the usual scientists and managers, but it also depends on the fishers, and a willingness by all to work together. The common objective is to manage the fishery successfully, while at the same time sustaining the fishing community. Who can argue with that?

The authors of the study (Nicolas Gutierrez, Ray Hilborn and Omar Defeo) call it “the only realistic solution for the majority of the world’s fisheries.” A strong statement.

They assessed 130 co-managed fisheries in 44 countries, and of course the diversity in ecology, community, and politics of the fisheries was immense. They identified a number of features of a successful fishery, and their conclusion is that the more features a fishery possesses, the more likely it is to be sustainable. That’s not surprising, but they also ranked the importance of the various ingredients.

This map of co-managed fisheries around the world is from the Nature article. Colours indicate how many useful features a fishery possesses - successful ones have most (light and dark green), while least successful ones have only one (red). (washington.edu)

The most successful examples of sustainable fisheries include protected areas where fishing is restricted, territorial user rights by those doing the fishing, and accepted quotas of what individuals or the community can catch.

Most important by far, however, is the presence of at least one individual in the community who is well respected, energetic, and deeply committed to the success of the co-management of the fishery. Of course there are conflicts over aspects like quotas, licenses, and poaching in even the best of co-managed fisheries, and such a community leader needs political skills as well..

This is reassuring news. Even hopeful. The other components are certainly necessary – scientists assessing stock sizes and proposing what the quotas should be, managers providing a diversity of regulations – but without strong community leadership, successful co-management is unlikely. And every fishing community is certain to have talented individuals interested and willing to provide the necessary leadership.

The advantages to community based co-management are so very clear. The authors of the Nature article point them out:
– Enhanced ownership by fishers, encouraging responsible fishing.
– Greater sensitivity to socio-economic and ecological constraints.
– Improved management through use of local knowledge.
– Collective ownership by fishers in decision making.
– Increased compliance with regulations through peer pressure.
– Better monitoring, control and surveillance by fishers.

On the one hand, it seems odd that we are only truly learning this now. What have we been thinking during all these years of fisheries failures? On the other hand, co-management is truly happening in more and more fisheries, and we now know a lot about what makes co-management succeed.

This is real, not fantasy. Community-based co-management works.
Community leaders arise! Now is your time.