SEAGONG – a community-based sea grass and dugong conservation initiative safeguarding food security and resilience in vulnerable Andaman coastal communities in a changing climate

 

IN A NUTSHELL
Project timeline: 8 months from inception (early 2021)
Funding agency: IUCN
Partners:NatureMind-ED, UNEP CMS Dugong, SAN, DNP, DMCR,

          

Objectives

  • Co-design, through participatory methodologies, of sea grass and dugong conservation areas co-managed by communities, private organizations and national authorities geared towards sustainable fisheries and climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Technical capacity building and leadership related to sea grass nursery establishment, in situ propagation and monitoring, seagrass-related biodiversity assessment, Dugong population monitoring (various methods including sonar and drone/aerial counting)
  • Alternative livelihood co-design, participatory assessment of market needs, and financial plans and parallel development of a an Eco-guide training program for community members with official Eco-guide certification delivered by the Tourism authority of Thailand
  • Co-development and contextualization of an Experiential Ecology and Biodiversity Education school curriculum in collaboration with local schools
  • Communications and awareness-raising plan to inform communities about seagrass and related ecosystems vulnerability in relation to increasing water temperature and the need to minimize pollution to increase its resilience (integration with other ongoing projects such as coral, mangrove and tropical forest community-based conservation).

 

Background

 

Seagrass has enormous importance for communities in the Andaman region, who rely on seagrass ecosystems to nurture the marine life on which coastal residents depend for livelihoods and food security (commercial and subsistence fishing). Seagrass also protects marine and coastal health by filtering sediments, nutrients, and pollutants and providing a buffer against extreme weather events. Andaman seagrass areas are global hotspots for biodiversity, harbouring multiple species of ecologi

cal and cultural value, including globally important populations of dugongs and sea turtles. Seagrass also serves a key role in climate change mitigation, sequestering twice as much carbon per hectare as terrestrial forests. In contrast to specific national targets for forest coverage and prioritisation given to REDD+ policies in the region, no country has set a measurable goal for seagrass protection. Indeed, there is no national data by which to benchmark such targets for seagrasses. With seagrasses remaining largely unmonitored and

unmanaged, major seagrass losses in the region are driven primarily by coastal and port development, agricultural and industrial runoff, and destructive fishing practices such as trawling and blasting. Estimated seagrass loss is 20-30% in Thailand. In Thailand as in other southeast asian countries, poverty is the primary barrier to achieving environmental protection goals. Rega

rdless of policies set at the national level, at the implementation level (within localities) income-producing activities (e.g. destructive fishing practices) and cost-cutting strategies (e.g. dumping untreated waste) and tourism activities (e.g. anchors, sedimentation, noise disturbances) take precedence over long-term conservation. Closely associated with poverty is the lack of integrated institutional capacity and resources to enforce environmental protection despite intentions in that direction set by the 2015 Fisheries act. In a region heavily impacted by tourism which generates important volumes of income to a subset of the population with important environmental costs, it is timely and cost-effective to integrate eco-tourism activities into environment conservation and management to address environmental justice issues that costal communities suffer from.

 

Project plan, timeline and methods

Below is a description of the clusters of activities to be conducted to achieve the objectives listed above.

OUTPUT 1 (first month): Participatory Design ofconservation areas: Activity 1.1.Participatory mapping and conservation aea boundary delimitation and FGDs 2 sessions per area (i.e. Krabi Long beach; Krabi Aonamao),Activity 1.2. Ground truthing, transects, aerial observations (immediately following participatory mapping sessions), Activity 1.3. Workshopon co-management and legal instruments, co-design of rules and regulations (2 workshops per site).

OUTPUT 2 (month 2 onward, monitoring action every 2 months):Management technical expertise: Activity 2.1.Training and set up of facilities for seagrass nurseries “labs”, sustainable in situ seed collection, and propagation techniques (capacity building for government staff (DMCR) Activity 2.2. Modify or develop new methodological tools for monitoring seagrass, and biodiversity (including marine megafauna), designed for community participation, Activity 2.3. Trainings (one per site) provided to local stakeholders (Protected Areas admin, local communities, volunteers) on assessment of seagrass status including climate change threats, Activity 2.4. Trainings (one per site joint with previous) provided to local stakeholders (Protected Areas admin, local communities, volunteers) on marine megafauna biodiversity monitoring techniques including questionnaires and a

erial surveys using UAV. Activity 2.5. Data collection at all sites, with community participation, to build on and integrate with any existing data concerning the location, extent, conservation, and SES of seagrass meadows and megafauna. Activity 2.6.Translation of existing kits (i.e. seagrass watch) for further knowledge dissemination to other communities in the area.

OUTPUT 3 (month 3): business models Activity 3.1. Assess and report on each site’s financial needs regarding Seagrass conservation (e.g. to community, government-managed Protected Areas), and identification of funding gaps. Activity 3.2. Two local workshops per site to assess current community needs and practices and identify capacities for business models. Activity 3.3. Legal, financial, operational/environmental (including climate change parameters and risks of maladaptation), and monitoring feasibility assessed and demand and supply side defined for each site; frameworks of the business models developed. Mechanisms specified for how a portion of proceeds will be reinvested into seagrass conservation. Frameworks will facilitate full participation of women and, where applicable, indigenous or other marginalised groups. Activity 3.4. Implementation capacity developed through one training sessions at each site for business readiness. Activity 3.5. Business start-ups launched using at least one business model at each site.

OUTPUT 4 (month 4 onward):Education, Eco-tourism and citizen science Activity 4.1. Participatory development with local teachers of seagrass ecosystem and SES (seagrass ecosystem services) educational curriculum and educational material covering essential biological and ecological knowledge in relation to seagrass and climate change as well as outlining main procedures for hands-on monitoring, species identification and reporting (4 participatory sessions convening teacher representative from the participating schools).Activity 4.2. Development of experiential tourism/citizen science material, including developing an easy protocol to use the smartphone app “Seagrass Spotter” which can help with awareness building and education including in the context of experiential eco-tourism activities. Activity 4.3. Adaptation of the curriculum to professional training for eco-tourism guide certification in collaboration with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (4 participatory workshop with tourism professionals).

OUTPUT 5 (month 5 onward):Communication. Activity 5.1: Development/launching of dedicated project website and social media accounts. Links to existing partner websites and accounts established to enable information sharing and cross-promotion. Andsupporting non-electronic publications (e.g. hard copy reports, press releases, brochures, newsletters) published in English and in Thai Activity 5.6: One promotional local events (eg. Seagrass Festivals) per site per year. Activity 5.7: Scientific articles prepared based on project data. Activity 5.8: Seagrass data shared with open-access databanks, e.g., Global Biodiversity Information Facility (gbif.org), Pangaea (pangaea.de), UN Environment Science Division (environmentlive.unep.org). Activity 5.9: Sharing and promotion of project outcomes into CMS processes, including policy papers or side events at CMS COP, Dugong MOU, Marine Mammal Conference, and International Seagrass Biology Conference.

 

Likely benefits to wetland ecosystems, species, or community livelihoods

The proposed action will directly address the technical knowledge and resources limitations that need to be handled to improve data monitoring and conservation area design and management as well as enable strengthened policy dialogue for community-based co-management of seagrass meadows and related coastal and marine resources enhancing the sustainability of the actions through improved local governance. The inherent poverty trap within which fishers community are and that is related to a decreasing fisheries capacity and fisheries-related subsistance and income generation together with increased vulnerability to marine will be address by the development of complementary business models and income-generating eco-tourism strategies that will have the benefits to also support conservation activities and reduce fishing pressure. These structural and functional innovations will be strengthened in their outcome by extensive education and awareness as well as communication activities, which will also help mainstream the community-based co-management and ecotourism approach to other sectors in the region.

Alignment with IUCN Mekong WET Project Objectives:

IUCN Mekong WET project’s overarching goal is the establishment of an effective and replicable framework for delivery of ecosystem-based adaptation and mitigation benefits from existing and planned Ramsar sites (or wetlands of international importance). Our project proposal aligns with this goal in several ways:

  • Our community-based ecosystem-based adaptive governance model for seagrass conservation is replicable to other geographic settings and easily extends in scope to include tropical forest, mangrove and coral conservation.
  • The sites selected are in proximity to Tourist areas which offers an opportunity to address man/biosphere delicate interactions and insure our approach is fine-tuned and operationalized to current development constraints
  • The sites are also fringing Krabi estuary Ramsar site and as such reinforce its impacts expanding its zone of influence and offering an opportunity or justification for Ramsar site extension if relevant
  • The project is strongly embedded in community and led by community members. The lead organization in charge of implementing the project, NatureMind-ED, is a social enterprise dedicated to mobilize local resources, and channel some of its income (eco-tourism, sustainability consulting, education) to in-kind contribution and financial matching

 

The project is complementary to the project ‘ Conservation of biodiversity, seagrass ecosystems and their services – safeguarding food security and resilience in vulnerable coastal communities in a changing climate’, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU) through their International Climate Initiative (IKI) and is being implemented in five countries in southeast Asia, including Thailand

Team & Partners

 The principal investigator, Dr. Pierre Echaubard is an ecologist and sustainability scientist with strong experience in community-based natural resource and health management projects at the interface between human and the environment in a context of climate change. The PI has also long history of developing frameworks and methodologies towards building adaptive capacity, social innovation and resilience towards sustainability of social-ecological systems including navigating uncertainty in Southeast Asia, Thailand in particular. More specifically, in line with the focus of this project, the PI has created NatureMind-ED a project building social-ecological systems resilience through which he launched several community-based biodiversity conservation project linking tropical forest, mangroves, seagrass and coral ecosystems in collaboration with various local institutions belonging to a diverse range of sectors including NGOs, Universities, tourism professionals and governmental agencies.

Mr. Karn Khlongsamut will be project manager strong of his experience as local tourism professional and local business owner and his involvement in NatureMInd-ED operations since its inception. Mr Khlongsamut is a local and as such understands customs and livelihoods and is ideally gifted to insure smooth project implementation.

The Hat Noppharat Thara–Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park head office support the project implementation with access allowance and technical support

The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources is supporting the project and will be involved in setting up monitoring programs and reporting to government institutions. Representative are Mrs Ornanong Pengchumrus, Director of seagrass services and monitoring (DMCR Trang), Miss. Supaporn Ongsara (Supervisor DMCR Trang), Mr. Santi Ninwat (Director of DMCR Trang)

Save the Andaman Network is an NGO leading community-based seagrass conservation projects along the Andaman coast from Trang to Phuket.

The project receives advice as needed from the CMS Dugong MOU Secretariat, based in Abu Dhabi and led by Dr. Donna Kwan.

Mark Isenstatd, our field supervisor has been involved in seagrass conservation, including leading Corporate Social Responsibility programs targeting seagrass nursery establishments, experiential tourism, monitoring programs with local communities throughout the Andaman coast from Trang to Phuket.

Dr. Barry Bendell (advisory consultant) regional seagrass watch reference person and seagrass scientist will provide technical guidance when necessary

 

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