Seascapes Approach Helps Solve Complex Ocean Problems

A man with his two sons in Ecuador's Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve.

A man with his two sons in Ecuador’s Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve. (© CI/photo by Keith Lawrence)

November 21st is World Fisheries Day, an observance celebrated every year by fishing communities across the globe. CI’s Keith Lawrence recently met with residents of one Ecuadorian fishing community, where he saw firsthand the positive impact that broad conservation efforts are having on local livelihoods.

The huge body slaps back into the ocean with a thud, a forked tail flicks above the surface, and then she is gone. I’m here in Ecuador’s Galera-San Francisco Marine Reserve, in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape (ETPS), and I’ve just gotten a glimpse of one of the area’s largest residents: a humpback whale.

I’m here to meet with an inspiring, committed group of lobster fishermen, who are testing a new approach to manage the rich resources of coastal Ecuador. The local lobster population had all but vanished by 2010; 90% of lobsters caught were so young, they had not yet had the chance to reproduce and were below the legal minimum size allowed. CI and NAZCA, a local NGO, are now paying these fishermen to monitor the lobster population, providing income for four years. In return, the fishermen agree not to catch any lobsters during this period, giving the stock time to recover.

And our blubbery companion? Humpback whales aggregate off the Pacific coasts of Colombia and Ecuador to breed and give birth from July to September. This one must be one lazy lady, as it’s October and the other whales left a month ago for their long trek to their Antarctic feeding grounds. Perhaps she just wanted one more day of playing in the tropical sun before heading to colder climes — I know I would!

She may also be encouraged to stay by the fact that the countries in the ETPS — Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador — have generally healthier oceans than many of the surrounding countries, as evidenced by the recently launched Ocean Health Index (see graph below).

The Index gives a score for 171 countries and territories around the world, based on 10 goals representing a variety of services that the oceans provide to humans, ranging from biodiversity to carbon storage to coastal livelihoods and economies.

While the Ocean Health Index measures the state of ocean health, taking into account the interconnected nature of these 10 goals, the seascapes approach implements effective, comprehensive solutions that seek to achieve these goals. The approach enables work at a range of scales, from individual communities to agreements between multiple nations.

CI works in four seascapes around the world. It’s my job to work with our field teams to pursue new innovations, research projects, policies and partnerships. For example, CI and partners have worked with governments to designate more than 2.5 million hectares (6.2 million acres) of new marine protected areas in the ETPS, and strengthen the management in many other areas. This directly contributes to the Index’s “lasting special places” goal.

Tuna fishing boat in Manta, Ecuador.

Tuna fishing boat in Manta, Ecuador. Among other goals, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape aims to help participating countries regulate their fisheries sustainably. (© CI/photo by Keith Lawrence)

Similarly, here in the Galera-San Francisco, lobster fishermen will ensure greater artisanal fishing opportunities once the lobster populations have had time to increase in size and number. After 18 months, there is already striking evidence that this is happening.

Related projects are underway in new “responsible fishing areas” in Costa Rica and in Colombia’s special artisanal fishing zone. We are now exploring the next step in their evolution: implementing rights-based management of these fisheries, which will strengthen communities’ rights to their resources, create an incentive for sustainable management, increase the economic benefits they obtain and improve food provision.

Coastal livelihoods and economies can also be improved by creating new market incentives, such as building a relationship between the Red de Frio fishing community on Colombia’s Pacific coast and the national Wok restaurant chain. Through a partnership with MarViva, a regional NGO, ice facilities were installed to keep the fish fresh, and fishers were supported in switching to more sustainable fishing gears; they now receive a higher price for their fish, and the restaurants get a reliable supply of sustainable, high-quality seafood. It’s a win-win.

Iconic species have also been helped in the seascape by a ban on manta ray fishing in Ecuador, and legislation in Costa Rica to ban shark finning.

Meanwhile, Colombia is establishing the political mechanisms to implement comprehensive ocean management through its “Agenda Azul” and by creating a localized version of the Index.

This is only a small sampling of the impressive array of initiatives that come together under the banner of the seascape. I’m incredibly proud of the results achieved already, not only in the ETPS but also in the Bird’s Head, Abrolhos and Sulu-Sulawesi seascapes. It’s a genuine honor to work with our field teams and partners, who have dedicated their talents to proving that the seascapes approach really works.

Keith Lawrence

Keith Lawrence

We all aim to create a healthy ocean both for people and for species like the humpbacks. Perhaps our friend will have a calf with her on next year’s journey — maybe that will inspire her to hurry up a bit!

Keith Lawrence is the senior director of CI’s Seascapes program.


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