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On Cooperation in Joint Development

A bilateral network of marine protected areas between Vietnam and China: Is it the solution to substitute China’s unilateral ban on fishing in the South China Sea? (Part 2)

>>  A bilateral network of marine protected areas between Vietnam and China: Is it the solution to substitute China’s unilateral ban on fishing in the South China Sea? (Part 1)

2. The support of MPAs Network in international and regional texts

The establishment of MPAs networks, in particular at the regional level, has been supported by a number of international and regional instruments relevant to the protection of the marine environment, to which both China and Vietnam are parties. This sub-section gives an overview of those international and regional texts, which could provide the legal and political framework for cooperation towards the establishment of a bilateral network of MPAs between two countries.

The support of MPAs Network in international texts

Provisions relating to MPAs and MPAs network can be found under the framework of Convention of Biological Diversity, the World Summit on Sustainable Development and United Nations General Assembly resolutions:

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity was signed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio De Jainero in 1992 to ensure the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its components and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Article 8 of the Convention asks states to implement a series of tasks to ensure in-situ conservation. Those tasks include, inter alia, establishing a system of protected areas; developing guidelines for the selection, establishment and management of protected areas; regulating or managing biological resources important for the conservation of biological diversity whether within or outside protected areas; and promoting environmentally sound and sustainable development in areas adjacent to protected areas.

The Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the governing body of the Convention, has also adopted many decisions relating to MPAs network. The most important one established a programme of work on protected areas, in 2004. The objective of this programme was “the establishment and maintenance by 2010 for terrestrial and by 2012 for marine areas of comprehensive, effectively managed, and ecologically representative national and regional systems of protected areas”. It also stated that, the establishment and management of protected areas should be considered in ecosystem and bioregional terms when the relevant ecosystem extends beyond national boundaries. In 2010, the programme was reviewed with a new objective of establishing networks of MPAs that cover at least 10 percent of the coastal and marine areas of the world by 2020.

  • At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, a Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development was adopted. It comprises the commitments to undertake concrete actions and measures to achieve the overarching objectives and essential requirements of sustainable development. Relating to the protection of the marine environment, the Plan requires effective coordination, cooperation and actions at all level to, inter alia, the establishment of MPAs consistent with international law and based on scientific information, including representative networks by 2012.
  • The support for the establishment of MPAs networks is also expressed by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolutions relating to ocean and the law of the sea. For instance, in the Ocean and Law of the Sea resolution in 2010, the General Assembly affirmed the need for states to continue and intensify their efforts to develop and facilitate the use of diverse approaches and tools for conserving and managing vulnerable marine ecosystems, including the possible establishment of MPAs and the development of representative MPAs networks by 2012.

The Support of MPAs Network in Regional Texts

The establishment of a network of MPAs is equally provided in a number of regional instruments for the protection of the marine environment relevant to the South China Sea that both China and Vietnam have participated in. These texts include the Action Plan for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Marine and Coastal Areas of the East Asian Region, 1994 and the Sustainable Development Strategy for the East Asian Seas, 2003.

The Action Plan for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Marine and Coastal Areas of the East Asian Region is one of the 13 UNEP‟s Regional Seas Programmes, initiated in 1983 and reviewed in 1994. Its members are Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The principal objective of the Action Plan is to provide a comprehensive strategy to protect the environment and to promote sustainable development in the East Asian Seas region. Relating to MPAs network, the Action Plan states that a network of properly managed MPAs including strictly protected areas should be established. Critical habitats forming parts of the network are to be selected on the basis of their productivity, uniqueness and vulnerability. Such measures should have the twin goals of conserving biodiversity (to the degree possible) and maintaining useful levels of productivity with respect to human needs.

The Sustainable Development Strategy of the Marine and Coastal Areas of the East Asian Regionwas adopted by the Putrajaya Declaration in 2003 by states participating in the Partnership in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia programme. The Strategy contains a package of applicable principles, relevant existing regional and international programmes, agreements, instruments, objectives and implementation approaches for achieving sustainable development of the seas of East Asia. One of the objectives stated by the Strategy was to have a common management system for MPAs of transboundary importance. The actions to achieve this objective are to select and prioritize coastal and marine protected areas of transboundary importance and to establish appropriate management regimes for marine protected areas and particularly sensitive sea areas of transboundary significance.

3. The Process of Establishing a Marine Protected Areas Network

The establishment of a MPAs network is not a “one shot” exercise but a multi-step process of which the success depends on many factors. This section gives a detailed description ofthe process by explaining the basic criteria on which a network of MPAs should be established, the different steps that the process of establishing a MPAs network need to follow and essential factors for the success of the process.

Criteria of Network of Marine Protected Areas

To be able to fulfill its function, a network of MPAs needs to be established based on a number of criteria. Though calledunder various terminologies, the applicable criteria for a network of MPAs are most commonly designated as representativeness, resilience and connectivity. Most of them are ecological but some socio-economic ones also need to be taken into consideration. A summarized explanation of different criteria for the establishment of a MPA network follows:

  • Size, shape and spatial distribution of individual marine protected areas in a network: individual components of a MPAs network have to be of an appropriate size, shape and spatial distribution. MPAs networks should be self-sustaining or viable in the sense that they must be able to maintain the persistence of populations and ecosystems through natural cycles of variation. For the protection of species, the individual MPA should be large enough to capture the home-range sizes of many species, as well as allow for self-seeding by short-distance dispersers.

Relating to the shape of the MPA, it is important to consider the ratio of edge habitat versus core interior habitat as the edges are often extensively fished and therefore do not offer the same refuge to fish species as core interior protected areas do. It is also important to include a variety of depths and transitional zones while planning for representation of all habitats types within a network. The shape of an MPA should aim to capture the onshore-offshore or habitat-habitat ontogenic shifts of species.Besides, the MPA should be designed to encompass, not bisect the protected ecological features.

The spatial distribution between MPAs must be guided by movement of species, their larvae, eggs and spores into, out of and between MPAs which in turn depends on their dispersal distance. MPAs must be appropriately spaced to capture the broadest range of dispersal possible. Furthermore, the spacing of MPAs should also consider habitat patterns. Within the network, spacing to the next MPA should offer suitable habitat for target species or range of target species.

  • The permanence of the network: an MPAs network as a whole has to be considered permanent, even if units within it change. Protecting biodiversity, restoring and maintaining species requires long-term commitments. Long-term MPAs not only can have positive results on the biomass, abundance, size and diversity of species within the protected area but also benefit areas outside its boundary thanks to spill-over of juveniles and export of larvae and eggs. The time to accrue social, economic and environmental benefits can vary from few seasons to decades depending on various elements (such as life story of target species, conditions of the ecosystem or speed of development of the network).
  • The representativeness of the network: in general, species diversity increases with habitat diversity, therefore the greater the variety of habitats protected, the greater the biodiversity conservation. For this reason, a network of MPAs should be fully ecological representative in the sense that one or more MPAs need to be established for each of full range of biological diversity (from genes to ecosystem) and the associated oceanographic environment in the given area. The network should also aim to capture the differences in biodiversity across different depths as well as geographic areas. The representativeness of a network is assessed using a biogeographical approach, which studies all possible scales of analysis of the distribution of life across space, and how, through time, it has changed with a focus on distribution and dynamics of diversity.

The total area set aside for the protection of each habitat should be approximately related to its relative prevalence in the region. It is estimated that, a network of fully protected areas should cover 20% or more of all biogeographic regions and habitats in order to meet all fishery and conservation goals. The World Parks Congress has called for strictly protected MPAs covering 20 to 30% of each habitat for healthy and productive oceans by 2012. The Conference of the Parties to the CBD, in its programme of work adopted at the 7th Meeting in 2004, called for the protection of at least 10% of the marine ecological regions in the world by 2012.

  • The resilience of the network: the ecological resilience of a network refers to its ability to survive natural disasters and major impacts, and to absorb shocks. Resilience is important to ensure the long-term function of a MPAs network regardless of natural and human changes. To increase resilience, MPAs networks should include multiple samples of habitats types, separated spatially to spread the risks of large scale event destroying the only protected site of a certain habitat (practice of replicating). Replications of habitats within MPAs networks play an equally important role in providing step-stone for dispersal of marine species sites for studies on MPAs effectiveness. The resilience of MPAs network can also be improved by ensuring that a number of MPAs within the network are free from extractive uses, preserving the genetic variability of the species and ecosystems involved in the MPAs network and paying attention to especially vulnerable species and habitats.
  • The connectivity of the network: Connectivity refers to linkages that exist as a result of particular characteristics of marine organisms (larval dispersal, pelagic juveniles and adults and reproduction through spawning) and of the marine environment (mixing of waters through wind, tides, currents and upwelling). These linkages exist spatially, both in localised situations and basin-wide and temporally in terms of genetic flow and generational time-scales. To ensure the protection of ecological functioning and system productivity, an MPAs network should maximise and enhance connectivity between individual MPAs, groups of MPAs within an area and MPAs networks in the same or different regions.
  • Cost-effectiveness, efficiency and equity of the network: Finally, the establishment of MPAs network must ensure a balance between cost and benefits, appropriate equity in their distribution and include the minimum number of protected areas to achieve the system objectives.

Steps for the Development of a MPA Network

This section explains the most important steps of the process of developing a network of MPAs. According to different guidelines, the process of development of an MPAs network can be divided into six steps: identification of an ecological unit for management, evaluation of the current situation of the area, determination of goals and objectives, designation of new marine protected areas, implementation of the network and monitoring.

  • Identification of the ecological unit for management: the first step is to determine which geographical scale to build a network of MPAs or in other terms, to define the boundaries of the network. MPAs networks can be established at different scales from a local network of few MPAs within a single large one to a national network within a country and regional network involving several ones. In practice, the choice of a geographical scale would depend on geophysical, biogeographical, ecological, political, jurisdictional and socioeconomic characteristics of the area. For instance,different systems of division of world oceans into smaller units have been realized:

– The system of 18 marine ecoregions based on bio-geographical criteria with consideration of political boundaries of the World Commission on Protected Areas.
– The system of 64 large marine ecosystems based on hydrographic, topographic and biological characteristics of United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
– The “nested” system of 12 realms, 62 provinces and 232 ecoregions based on biogeographic characteristics of the WWF.

  • Evaluation of the current situation: in order to determine appropriate goals and objectives of a network of marine protected areas, it is necessary to assemble and evaluate all relevant information about the natural, political, regulatory, socioeconomic and cultural situation relating to the region to be protected.With regards to the ecological situation of the region, information about two subjects should be gathered: the current distribution and status and trend of its biodiversity. An evaluation of the current protection measures, in particular existing MPAs in the region should be conducted which will help figure out gaps of the current system.
  • Determination of goals and objectives: Goals and objectives must be set for a network as a whole and each individual component within it. Three broad categories of objectives should be considered: ecological, economic and socio-cultural. Ecological objectives are to protect, manage and restore marine ecosystems and their components, including processes, structure, function and integrity, as well as wildlife and geographic features. Economic objectives include providing for the continued welfare of people affected by the creation of MPAs, short- and long-term view of their cost and benefits and how to distribute them. Socio-cultural objectives refer to the contribution of protected areas to the quality of life of the local community.
  • Designation of new MPAs: Once all the gaps have been analysed and objectives identified; new MPAs should be designated pursuant to criteria relating to location, size and shape and socioeconomic criteria described above. A number of methodological approaches for MPAs selection have been developed, such as scoring methods and complementary methods. The former consists of assigning scores to each site based on a set of criteria and ranking them in order of their priority according the received scores. The site with highest score will be added to the existing system and the process will stop when the size of the area deems desirable for protection and the cost of implementation has been reached. The complementary approach takes into account the extent to which a site or set of sites contributes to meeting the desired objectives of the overall framework. It tries to find the most efficient solution to the problem of designing a network of MPAs that meets a specified conservation goal while engendering the minimal cost.
  • Implementation of the network: Implementing a network of MPAs include the deployment of management measures at the network and site-specific levels. The purpose of management is to ensure that the objectives set for a particular MPA or for a MPAs network are met.To be effective, MPAs need to be established and managed in integration with other management frameworks such as marine spatial planning and integrated coastal zone management and in synergy with other marine environment conservation and management tools, such as traditional fisheries management measures or prevention of marine pollution from land-based sources.

At the large scale, the establishment of multiple-use MPAs can be a useful solution. According to the National Marine Protected Areas Center of the United States “multiple-use areas allow for integrated management of complete marine ecosystems, usually through a zoning process”. Multiple-use protected areas generally have two types of sub-areas: a core zone which is strictly controlled and another zone in which some extractive uses may be allowed. This zoning practice can minimize the conflict between expanding coverage of conservation and urgent economic pressures.

  • Monitoring: To evaluate the effectiveness of a network of marine protected areas, regular monitoring and periodic assessments should be conducted. They allow the manager to measure whether the goals and objectives set earlier have been achieved and to make any refinement in management if necessary. Two types of monitoring have been recommended for conservation and development projects: biodiversity monitoring and impact monitoring. The former measures changes in biological diversity and the latter involves assessment of human activities on species under management. Besides, monitoring and assessment should be done at three levels: at the individual MPA level, biogeographic level and at the level of the network as a whole. Finally, monitoring systems should be appropriate, cost-effective, achievable and involve a transparent and consultative process.

Essential Factors for the Success of a Network of MPAs

For the successful establishment and functioning of a network of MPAs, certain factors are very important in supporting the process: the participation of all relevant stakeholders, a supportive legal and political framework, the use of the best available knowledge, an effective system of compliance and enforcement, sustainable financing and the formation of social MPAs networks.

  • Involvement of all stakeholders: One of the most important conditions for the success in the establishment and maintenance of individual and network of MPAs is to involve all relevant stakeholders since the beginning of the process. “Stakeholders” can be defined as any individual or group who may be involved in, affected by, or express a strong interest in, the management of a particular resource or area. Stakeholder participation will help achieving the equitable sharing of benefits rising from the creation of MPAs, allow decisions to be made in an inclusive and transparent way and facilitate the involvement in decision-making and management of a wide range of players, increasing the likelihood of success. Besides, many communities have customary rights over the protected territory and resources (which might not be officially recognized). Relevant stakeholders should be identified. Relevant to the process of establishment of a network of MPAs include people living within or close to the MPA, people whose livelihoods may be directly affected, people having a decision-making role (formally or informally), people representing a community interest and people whose activities will affect the success of the MPA. The most common methods to involve stakeholders in the process of establishing of MPAs include workshops, public meetings, public hearings, formal consultation, individual interviews, surveys, questionnaires, demonstration or field trips.
  • A supportive legal and political framework: A strong and effective MPAs system is generally supported by appropriate legal instruments and policies. The implementation of a MPAs network should be accompanied by a solid legal authority in form of clear rules. The relevant legal framework can be provided by statutory law or traditional customary rules. The content of the legislation should include details relating to individual MPA and network of MPAs such as authority to establish MPAs, the delineation of their boundaries, role and responsibility of participants, enforcement mechanisms, dealing with threats to protected areas and the protection of rights and legitimate interests of affected people.
  • The use of the best available knowledge:good information can lead to optimal design of MPAs networks as they improve the quality of decision-making and enhance the quality to predict consequences of action or inaction. For this reason, from the beginning of the process of establishing a network of MPAs, the manager must gather all best available data and information for gap analysis, planning and decision-making. These data and information are based on current knowledge about biodiversity, environmental services, social issues and management strategies. In case of uncertainty and lack of information, MPAs networks still need to be established in pursuance with the precautionary approach which states that when there is a serious threat to the environment or human health, measures should be taken even there is a lack of full scientific certainty to prevent the degradation. In any case, more research should be conducted to further the understanding how MPA can be managed in the most effective way. At the same time, MPAs also present great opportunities for the implementation of ecological experiments on specific spatial and temporal scales.
  • Sustainable financing: Financial sustainability of protected area was defined under the framework of the Convention of Biological Diversity as “the ability to secure stable and sufficient long-term financial resources, and to allocate them in a timely manner and appropriate from, to cover the full costs of protected areas (direct and indirect) and to ensure that protected areas are managed effectively and efficiently”. Creating and maintaining a representative and effectively managed network of MPAs requires substantial funding and the scaling up from individual MPA to network asks for even more comprehensive funding mechanisms. There are two major elements of costs relating to MPAs that need to be covered: compensation to local people for benefits foregone by the establishment of an MPA and the management costs for the MPA.
  • The formation of social marine protected area networks:finally, to maximize the benefits of the process of networking MPAs; social networks of MPA-based people at different levels (local, national, regional and international) should equally be formed. Practical experiences have shown that such social networks can participate in the management and financing of MPAs, share lessons and in management between practitioners and develop a collective information database about MPAs. Members of a social network can include community members, traditional leaders, conservation staff, inter-disciplinary academics and researchers, donors and decision-makers.

Establishment of Transboundary Marine Protected Areas

When a MPAs network is established at the bilateral or regional level, relevant countries might need to designate transboundary MPAs to protect sites or habitats that lie across the boundary or in the border region. There is no single model to establish transboundary protected areas. Neighbouring countries can establish protected areas that are adjacent to each other or protected areas that are close to the boundary but not adjacent to each other. They can also establish a protected area on one side of the boundary and implement other measures of natural resource management or conservation on the other side.

Relating to transboundary adjacent protected areas, there are six levels of cooperation, ranging from no-cooperation at all to full cooperation with joint planning and management of activities (for more details see table below).


Table 1 Levels of Cooperation between Transboundary Adjacent PAs
Trevor Sandwith, see supranote 119

(To be continued)


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