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Supporting and creating marine protected areas

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are powerful biodiversity management tools. They provide essential safe havens for marine species and their habitats, and function as insurance against the unexpected. From an economic perspective, MPAs have been shown to maintain vital fisheries resources and to attract valuable tourism.

Mutually recognised importance
WWF’s desire to expand and reinforce marine protected areas networks is shared by the the countries in the region. Every country in the ecoregion has established marine protected areas because of their recognised importance to fisheries, tourism, and biodiversity conservation.

A need to transcend boundaries
However, at a recent regional MPA meeting, it became clear that the current MPAs do not fully cover the region’s key habitats, nor were they designed to ensure the adequate protection of all the important nesting, reproduction, nursery, or migration sites. This is largely because each country established MPAs to respond to their specific national needs and little consideration was given to the highly mobile nature of many key species or the linkages between habitats. Furthermore, there was not, until recently, a means to coordinate MPA development at a supra-national scale.

Working at the transnational level
This situation has now changed. In February 2001 when WWF, IUCN, FIBA (Fondation Internationale du Banc d’Arguin), SERP (Sub-Regional Fisheries Comissions), and UNESCO co-sponsored a regional workshop of national experts to examine the region’s MPA needs, the status of existing MPA, and to design a regional strategy for coherent MPA development. A Regional Strategy for West African Marine Protected Areas was agreed and is currently being implemented.

The stern of a Spanish fishing vessel in Senegalese waters © WWF / Jo Benn

Ways to make this work
WWF and its partners have joined hands under a joint programme - the PCRM. They are working to achieve many of this region's strategy goals.

Success will depend on the use of several cross cutting tools, including communications, advocacy and lobbying, as well as the establishment of partnerships.

Dialogue and consensus are the foundations of sustainable conservation and form the operational cornerstone of the key part of the project's work.

Over the coming years funds will be continuoulsy sought to increase the number of MPAs supported and established.