Ridge to Reef workshop develops new global initiative

21 June 2010 | News story

Healthy well-managed river basins and coastal areas, where people and nature thrive, is the vision behind the development of a new IUCN initiative 'Ridge to Reef'.

A workshop to kick-off the Ridge to Reef initiative took place in Punta Leona, Costa Rica, between 19-21May. It brought together the Mesoamerica and Oceania Regions, the Asia ‘Mangroves for the Future Initiative’ and the Caribbean Initiative, as well as regional projects working on ridge to reef approaches, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), IUCN Mesoamerica Members, and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre and Global Water Programme.

The workshop focused on developing a framework for a new programme designed to tackle management challenges to freshwater systems and their impact on coastal areas. “The challenge is to understand the technical and management links between rivers and coasts”, said Juan Mario Davy, IUCN Regional Members Committee President for Mesoamerica, “often our laws and regulation approaches are not suitably developed to cope with managing land based impacts on the marine environment.”

Rocio Cordoba, IUCN Water Coordinator for Mesoamerica, highlighted the need to raise awareness on the connectivity of water systems. “These linkages seem obvious to us working in water” said Cordoba, “but as urban growth continues and more people live in cities and coastal areas, we have to start changing practices to maintain the integrity of our freshwater and marine environments.”

Janaka de Silva, Programme Coordinator for the IUCN Asia Office, brought long-term and critical experience from  the ‘Mangroves for the Future Initiative’ to the workshop. Established following the Indonesian Earthquake in 2002, the Mangroves for the Future Initiative supports communities in managing their coastlines through maintaining natural infrastructure, mangroves, coastal forest, seagrass, reefs, and other ecosystems, which not only provide food and livelihood bases, but also increase coastal resilience to storms and future climate change impacts.

“There are important lessons to learn from islands, and vice versa from continental approaches” said Dr. Milika Sobey, IUCN Water Coordinator for Oceania. “Many of the islands we work with do not have rivers, but rely on very shallow groundwater. As sea levels rise and storms occur more frequently, we have to manage these freshwater lifeline systems better to prevent increasing salinity. We already face huge challenges keeping freshwater aquifers free of pollution for drinking – adding in seawater intrusion brings more difficulties”.

The new initiative will be framed around better understanding the connectivity between fresh and marine water systems, and the need for greater recognition by civil society, the private sector, and governments on the impact and role they have in reducing pollution from the land into the sea. Governance of the coast is different to land and freshwater. Integrating these approaches is crucial in order to reduce damage to reefs and other ecosystems that communities rely on for food, tourism and coastal defense. Marine habitats, estuaries and coastal wetlands are some of the most biodiverse habitats on the planet. Extending water management between salt and freshwaters is a serious challenge, the Ridge to Reef initiative aims to tackle this through demonstration of different approaches and better economic understanding of the links and reliance between salt and freshwater ecosystems.

For further information contact:

Rocio Cordoba, IUCN Water Coordinator for Mesoamerica: rocio.cordoba@iucn.org