How Community and Indigenous Efforts Contribute to Protecting Our Oceans

Galápagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) in La loberia on Floreana Island, Galapagos, Ecuador
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Our ocean’s spectacular wildlife and plant life are at risk as biodiversity around the world teeters on the brink of irreversible loss. But the world is coming together to take action. To reverse nature loss, the Convention on Biological Diversity, a United Nations treaty focused on ecosystems, species, and genetic resources, has adopted an agreement to protect 30% of land, freshwater, and oceans by 2030—an effort commonly known as “30×30.” 

Clearly, change is needed to protect our ocean’s incredible wildlife, but we also need to ensure that such protection doesn’t cut off access to the ocean’s many varied resources for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on them.

While marine protected areas are the most well-known pathway to protect marine life and can incorporate community resource needs, there are other solutions that can also support both people and nature living along coasts. Those involved in ocean conservation are increasingly turning toward one such solution known as ‘other effective conservation measures’ (OECMs) to work alongside marine protected areas as complementary pathways that protect our ocean ecosystems. OECMs are geographic sites that are not within a protected area, that deliver long-term biodiversity conservation under equitable governance and management. They embrace the power and importance of local community involvement in protecting ocean ecosystems and recognize that many people already integrate conservation actions into their lives through religious or traditional preservation. With the community’s consent, governments can formally recognize these actions as OECMs, which could not only give legal recognition of Indigenous and community rights to the area but also count towards global biodiversity conservation targets such as 30×30.

WWF is working with coastal communities in Chile, Ecuador, and many other countries to encourage governments to formally recognize this community-led work, legitimize community and Indigenous actions, and support the protection of our ocean wildlife.

Here’s a closer look at how this work is moving forward.

Chile

On the Pacific coast of Northern Patagonia, about 24.85 miles from Chile’s Chiloé archipelago, lies a 50,000-acre island known as Guafo. Its position in the Gulf of Corcovado makes the island a critical habitat for migratory whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea birds, and other marine life—and a site of cultural and spiritual significance to the Indigenous Mapuche Hillichue communities of southern Chiloé.

The cultural and natural importance of Guafo has motivated a group of 11 Indigenous communities of Chiloé to promote the initiative “Wuafo Wapi, ancestral territory for conservation.” Wuafo Wapi seeks the declaration of a Coastal Marine Area of Original Peoples (ECMPO) in Guafo, the establishment of which would block any development that could be detrimental to the cultural, ecological, and ecosystem characteristics in the designated area. The proposal was officially presented to the National Corporation for Indigenous Development with the technical support of WWF Chile and approved by Chile’s Undersecretary of Fisheries and Aquaculture. WWF is currently exploring how the OECM mechanism can bring a more inclusive and Indigenous-led approach to marine coastal conservation for the communities of Chiloé.

Ecuador

Ecuador has rich and plentiful marine life which is, in part, thanks to the mangroves that line 61% of the country’s coastline. The coastal trees lock down sediment under their tangled roots, preventing it from smothering corals—home to important fishing grounds and a hotspot for biodiversity. The roots also provide shelter for shellfish as well as young juvenile fish, giving them a safe space to live until they grow large enough to venture out into open water and join the larger food web that supports a $5.5 billion industry in fish exports alone. These magnificent trees also store carbon, making them hugely important in curbing global warming, and protecting coastlines from storms. 

Despite these benefits, Ecuador’s mangroves are threatened by clear-cutting for illegal and unsustainable shrimp farming. To protect the largest stretch of mangrove forest while also allowing sustainable resource use, the government has conceded mangrove land rights to communities in the Gulf of Guayaquil so that they have the legal protection to continue traditional and sustainable harvest of mangrove crabs while also helping to report any clear-cutting to law enforcement. This mangrove concessions concept has the potential to be categorized as an OECM in the future and attain formal recognition by the government as Ecuador calculates its contributions to 30×30. The benefits of the program can be two-fold: protecting the mangrove ecosystems and directly benefiting people. However, more work is still needed to protect crabbing communities as interactions with pirates or shrimp farmers can become deadly.

Source: worldwildlife