Last week I was in Pohnpei, Micronesia, to help the wonderful folks at The Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Society of Pohnpei to facilitate a state-wide protected area network planning workshop (Pohnpei is one of four states in the Federated States of Micronesia).
Previous conservation planning initiatives have produced impressive results on paper, but have fallen short during implementation. We’re hoping that this time around, with strong local leadership, and by focussing on both biodiversity conservation commitments and local objectives, we can do better.
The plan will be “ridges to reefs”, encompassing terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems. But discussions rarely emerged from the water for long, with devising effective means to manage nearshore fisheries a primary concern. Ali Green and I presented new and exciting science on movement patterns and connectivity of coral reef fishes, and how to design marine protected areas to take these into account. We were quickly humbled by the fishermen present who informed us that it might be new and exciting for us, but they’ve known about fish movements for decades…
Nevertheless, an exercise using information on movement patterns of important fishery species in Pohnpei (identified the previous day) to assess the adequacy of existing MPAs was enlightening for all. The majority of MPAs are too small to protect the species that people care about most. But when livelihoods depend on fishing, establishing large MPAs is a big challenge. So we will need to look carefully at options for redesigning the marine protected area network AND alternative fisheries management tools.
Fortunately, after an exhausting few days in the conference room, we had the weekend to explore a bit of the spectacular environment that we are working to conserve!