Coastal communities lead successful marine conservation efforts

Posted on March, 20 2024

A new report highlights the importance of communities in conserving and managing resources, and their collective contributions to building healthy and resilient coastal ecosystems.

Indigenous Peoples, local communities and small-scale fishers have long been the custodians of remarkable coastal ecosystems. They are the unsung heroes of marine conservation, the stewards of coastal habitats teeming with biodiversity, and the keepers of time-honoured traditions. 

WWF’s Coastal Communities Initiative, spanning 29 countries, is elevating the role coastal communities play as ocean stewards, and working alongside community leaders to secure their rights to a healthy and bountiful environment.

The Coastal Communities Initiative Impact Report details results and progress of efforts aimed at accelerating and scaling community-led conservation. The data and stories presented in the report offer  insights into the effectiveness of inclusive conservation strategies, such as implementing human rights-based approaches, promoting gender equality, fostering participatory governance and social inclusion.

“Coastal communities are vital custodians of their ecosystems, but face growing threats from industry and climate change. Urgent action is needed to address biodiversity loss and empower community-led conservation. This impact report is a story of our collective action over the last three years, attaining impact at scale and ushering a new era for coastal community-led conservation,” says Maria Honig, WWF Coastal Communities Initiative Lead. 

Starting with 62 sites in 2019, the Coastal Communities Initiative has scaled out community-led conservation best practices to 128 sites in 29 countries. More than 700 local and international partners have been involved to date, protecting 87 million hectares of critical coastal habitats through the establishment of 84 marine protected areas or locally managed marine areas, and 540 co-management units. This work directly benefits 300,000+ rights-holders, including 120,000 women and 74,000 young people (15-24 years), indirectly benefiting more than 1.5 million stakeholders.

Through this report, WWF showcases stories of resilience and hope, illustrating the power of locally-driven solutions in areas such as the Coral Triangle, Mediterranean, Southwest Indian Ocean, Latin America, Pacific, and Northern Indian Ocean.

In Indonesia, community-based organization FORKANI supports Indigenous Peoples to leverage their wealth of experience to drive sustainable resources management in Wakatobi National Park. As part of the Inter Islands Forum, FORKANI and other local organizations build stewardship and accountability by enhancing communities’ skills to manage marine resources and adopt sustainable fishing practices. With the support of the Ministry of Marine Affairs, the new Marine Centre of Excellence takes capacity-building to scale and offers training spanning a wide variety of topics, including fisheries monitoring,  seagrass farming and processing, community-based tourism, disaster mitigation and climate change adaptation efforts in coastal areas. 

Halfway around the world, in the Mediterranean, Gianni Colelli, a fisher from Porto Cesareo, Italy, reflects on the benefits of co-management: “We always used to complain about things down at the harbour, but we never got anywhere. Now we can talk about these issues with people who can lend us a hand to solve them.” 

Across the Mediterranean, small-scale fishers play an active role in decision-making, from locally-tailored collaboration in fisheries management to advocating for their rights and adequate recognition of small-scale fisheries in policies at national and international level. Recent figures show that half of all Mediterranean countries now have some co-management or similar participatory systems in place, and this number is sure to rise as its benefits become ever more apparent.

Creating opportunities to develop alternative income streams that don’t rely on overexploiting marine resources is essential for enhancing stewardship. In Solomon Islands, through mechanisms such as women’s savings clubs, communities have been able to set up 145 community conservation enterprises to pay for children’s school fees and cover other priority family needs while also reducing the pressure on the reefs’ fish stocks.

“We continue to learn together with coastal communities in the Pacific. What we have seen is the power of sharing back impact stories and helping communities monitor and document change in their natural environments in order to make better decisions. This report captures exactly that and comes at a pivotal time when impact needs to be felt, seen and acknowledged across coastal communities worldwide. They are literally on the frontlines and there is so much we can learn from their efforts,” says Hanna Helsingen, Conservation Director WWF-Pacific. 

This work is a call to further action and investment in conservation that builds social, economic and ecological resilience as we address the threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. Read the Coastal Communities Initiative Strategy.

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Global presence of WWF's Coastal Communities Initiative