Exploring ‘Other Effective’ Forms of Coastal and Marine Conservation

By Harry Jonas and Dan Laffoley

Borneo pygmy elephant on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, Sabah (Malaysia). Photo: Harry Jonas

Najib Ramsah and his friend Neville Yapp are up early. They untie the mooring ropes of a wooden boat, fire up the outboard engine and begin to motor down the Tabin river. On their left rises a giant strangling fig tree, which supports many rare species and is sacred to many of Borneo’s indigenous groups. They hear a gibbon calling from somewhere within the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, which is home to many other iconic species such as the orangutan, clouded leopard and Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino.

They journey forty miles downstream to Dewhurst Bay, the meeting point of the mighty 560 kilometre long Kinabatangan river and the Sulu Sea, which is home to irrawady and humpback dolphins, turtles and many other fishes and crustaceans. The entire boat trip takes place within the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands Ramsar site, a 78,000 hectare area on the east coast of Sabah (Malaysia). The site is larger than Singapore, and forms part of the largest watershed draining into the Coral Triangle, the world’s most biodiverse marine eco-region. The Ramsar site is formed of a number of state governed protected areas and includes within its boundary community governed areas that contribute additional habitat and support overall connectivity.

Neville Yapp (Forever Sabah) illustrating the locations of villages within the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands Ramsar SiteNajib and Neville work to support areas increasingly recognised as ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ or OECMs, namely areas outside state-governed protected areas that are nevertheless high in biodiversity. The term was included in an important international conservation commitment, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed in 2010 by Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Target 11 calls for at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10% of coastal and marine areas to be protected by 2020 through ‘well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.’

In 2015, the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas established a dedicated Task Force with over one hundred members to develop technical guidance on recognising and reporting on OECMs. The Task Force is making progress. It has held three expert meetings (Cambridge, UK; Vilm, Germany; Vancouver, Canada), collected over 50 case studies, and in April 2017 circulated a draft set of guidelines that have been field tested by Task Force members in several countries, including Bermuda, Colombia and Kenya.

The draft guidelines explain that the core difference between a protected area and an OECM is that while protected areas have as a primary conservation objective to promote the in-situ conservation of biodiversity, the defining criterion of an OECM is that it delivers effective and enduring in-situ conservation of biodiversity, regardless of its primary management objectives. In other words, OECMs are generally areas that are not primarily managed to conserve biodiversity but nevertheless do so through the active conservation of an area’s ecological functions (‘secondary conservation’) or because biodiversity thrives as a side-effect of other activities ('ancillary conservation’). Locally managed marine areas (LMMAs) are examples of ‘secondary conservation’.  Area closures around historic wrecks and associated war graves that protect areas of surrounding ocean are examples of ‘ancillary conservation.’

The guidance suggests a number of potential benefits of recognising OECMs as a complement to protected areas. For example, OECMs will engage a broader array of organisations in conserving biodiversity, including indigenous and local communities, spiritual and religious communities, and organisations that take complementary actions to protect cultural features in the landscape and seascape. The guidance on OECMs will help to define and consolidate the relationship of states and conservation organisations with these organisations in the management of conserved territories and locally managed marine areas such as those in the Lower Kinabatangan-Segama Wetlands Ramsar Site. It will also incentivise the recognition or application of robust conservation and management measures to areas of biodiversity significance, and contribute to improved management and restoration of areas that could usefully contribute to long-term in situ conservation of biodiversity.

A recent paper on OECMs argues that the development of OECM frameworks will widen the scope and nature of area‐based measures that deliver the goal of in situ conservation of biological diversity and ecosystem services in marine environments.

A map produced by community members providing information on their villages, that lie within the Ramsar siteHowever, it also underscores the need for a strict adherence to principles in recognising and reporting OECMs to ensure the integrity of the CBD’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (2011-2020) and the World Database on Protected Areas. For example, certain fishery closure measures aimed at ensuring sustainable fisheries are more appropriately reported under Aichi Target 6, which calls for “all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably.”

The Task Force’s work continues and it aims to deliver the guidelines by the 14th Conference of the Parties to the CBD in November 2018. It is quite possible that soon after COP 14, Najib and Neville will be able to add another layer of information to their formidable mental maps of the area – terrestrial and marine areas outside state-governed areas that are duly recognised for their importance in preserving biodiversity.


Aquatic Conservation

Read the paper An introduction to ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ under Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Origin, interpretation and emerging ocean issues by Dan Laffoley, Nigel Dudley, Harry Jonas, David MacKinnon, Kathy MacKinnon, Marc Hockings, and Stephen Woodley.


For more information:

IUCN WCPA Task Force on OECMs

LMMA on PANORAMA - Solutions for a Healthy Planet:

For Neville and Najib’s work: www.foreversabah.org

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