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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 3)

>>  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)

>>  >>  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)

4. The Establishment of a Regional Network of MPAs in Practice: Example of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion

The establishment of a potential bilateral MPAs network between China and Vietnam could benefit from the experience of many existing processes of establishingregional networks of MPAs in the world. A review of all relevant processes is surely useful to draw lessons which can be applicable to the South China Sea but such a research is beyond the scope of this paper. This section focuses rather on analysing how a regional network of MPAs is being implemented by three countries, also bordering the South China Sea, which are Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. For a better understanding of this process, a general description of its ecological and socioeconomic importance as well as the history of the establishment of the region‟s general framework for the conservation of the marine environment is given beforehand.

Ecological and socioeconomic characteristics of the Sulu-Sulawesi

The Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion is located in the Indo-West Pacific, within 1º30 to 12º00 N latitude and 117º00 to 127º00 E longitude. It has an area of about a million square kilometers, covering the territories of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The marine region is comprised of the Sulu Sea, the Sulawesi Sea and Philippine inland seas.

The Sulu-Sulawesi is an outstanding marine ecoregion for biodiversity. It is part of the Coral Triangle, the highest coral and reef fish diversity in the world with recorded numbers of 500 and 1200 species respectively. Many species listed in the IUCN‟s Red List of Threatened Species such as sea turtles, giant clams, whale sharks and seahorses are found in this area. The region is also characterized by diverse and productive ecosystems which include mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs and soft-bottom and pelagic environments. The region is inhabited by about 35 million people from at least 50 indigenous cultural groups.

From an economic perspective, the Sulu-Sulawesi is significant to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines for fisheries, tourism and navigation. It is a critically important fishery area that provides food for coastal communities and highly prized species for commercial fisheries such as Napoleon wrasse, groupers, snappers, migratory tuna, billfishes, seerfishes, barracudas, mackerels, rainbow runners and dolphin fishes. The average annual production from capture fisheries alone is about 2.3 million tons with a value estimated at 1 billion USD. Tourism is also well developed in the Malaysian and Philippine parts of the region and is expanding in the Indonesian part. The rich habitats and diversity of marine life make Sulu-Sulawesi a global priority destination for scuba divers and snorkelers, and for environmental tourism based on its physical beauty, biological richness and cultural diversity.

Figure 2Sulu-Sulawesi Sea WWF Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Conservation Program, Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (Quenzon: WWF-SSME Program, 2004)

Figure 2Sulu-Sulawesi Sea
WWF Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Conservation Program, Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (Quenzon: WWF-SSME Program, 2004)

The Process of Building a Regional Framework for the Protection of the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion

In 2001, a Biodiversity Vision for the Sulu-Sulawesi was formulated by over 70 experts representing academe, governments and non-governmental groups from three countries Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines but also from Australia and the United States. The vision set a 50-year goal to make the Sulu-Sulawesi a region that “remains to be globally unique and a center of diversity”, a “highly productive ecoregion” and “an ecoregion where biodiversity and productivity are sustained through the generation by participatory and collaborative management across all political and cultural boundaries”. A total of 58 priority conservation areas were also identified which represented the biodiversity and natural processes in the ecoregion.

Guided by the Biodiversity Vision, a Conservation Plan for Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion was developed through a participatory process with the organization of 12 workshops across three countries and the participation of 153 stakeholder organizations from the local and national levels.127 The Plan determined 10 objectives and set actions to be undertaken by the three countries, individually or jointly, in the next 10 years to achieve the Biodiversity Vision.128 The objectives of the Conservation Plan for Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion are:

  • To establish management strategies and coordinated institutions for effective ecoregional conservation;
  • To establish and manage a functional integrated network of priority conservation areas to ensure ecological integrity;
  • To develop sustainable livelihood systems that support marine and coastal conservation across the ecoregion;
  • To shape economic development compatible with biodiversity conservation;
  • To enhance understanding of biodiversity resources and factors affecting them to form basis for management decisions;
  • To develop communication, education and outreach program and strategies to motivate people to take conservation action;
  • To develop a sustainable financing mechanism to support the cost of conservation and resource management;
  • To build and enhance capacity of stakeholders to effectively manage the conservation of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion;
  • To implement coordinated protection of threatened marine species to ensure maintenance of viable populations and protection of critical habitats;
  • To improve coastal, oceanic and other types of fisheries resource conditions and management by developing a framework strategy, institutions and appropriate interventions.

In 2004, the Conservation Plan for Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion was adopted by a tri-national Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by Ministers representing Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.130The MOU stated that parties shall endeavour to take necessary steps to encourage, facilitate and promote cooperation in the areas identified by the Conservation Plan. A Tri-National Committee which consists of representatives of the designated national authorities of the Partieswas also set up to implement the Conservation Plan. The MOU was then ratified by the Government of Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia respectively in January 2005, June 2005 and February 2006 to take effect until February 2016.

The first meeting of the Tri-National Committee was convened in 2006, Indonesia. At this meeting, three technical/scientific subcommittees were established under its framework to respond to major issues in the Sulu-Sulawesi Ecoregion, namely the Sustainable Fisheries Subcommittee, the MPAs and Networks Subcommittee and the Endangered, Charismatic and Migratory Species Subcommittee.It was agreed that every year the Tri-National Committee would convene and discuss the achievements, progress and lessons learned from the work of each Subcommittee.

In 2008, a project aiming to improve the condition of fisheries and their habitats in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion, which was agreed at the Sub-committee on Sustainable Fisheries was proposed to the Global Enviromental Facility and approved for funding. This project has began to be implemented since June 2010.

MPAs Network under the Framework of the Conservation Plan for Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion process

The use of MPAs and MPAs network as tool for the protection of the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregionhasreceived attention early in the process. As stated above, a total of 58 priority conservation areas were identified in the Biodiversity Vision for the Sulu-Sulawesi in 2001. They include areas which are considered having outstanding biodiversity value in the Indo-Pacific Region, the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion itself and its subregions as well as corridors and large areas which are major migratory routes of marine species and important for pelagic fisheries.

Figure 3Priority Conservation Areas for the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion WWF Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Conservation Program, Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (Quenzon: WWF-SSME Program, 2004)

Figure 3Priority Conservation Areas for the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion
WWF Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion Conservation Program, Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion (Quenzon: WWF-SSME Program, 2004)

In 2003, a workshop was convened by the WWF and the Borneo Marine Scientific Research Institute, Universiti Malaysia Sabah in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries- Sabah and Sabah Wildlife Department in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to develop the Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. The workshop was able to agree on a draft General Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Region. It determined guiding principles and decision rules for the establishment a network of MPAs in the region based on both biophysical and socio-economic criteria. Participants also set out actions to implement this Framework which includes actions of immediate priority (immediate to two years), intermediate priority (one to five years) and long-term priority (three to ten years).

In the Conservation Plan for Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion adopted in 2004, marine protected areas related activities were mentioned in action objectives at both the ecoregional level and national level. For instance, the second objective for actions to be implemented at the ecoregional level was to establish and manage a functional integrated network of priority conservation areas to ensure ecological integrity. Activities planned to achieve this objective included to review and approve the Framework for a Network of Marine Protected Areas for the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion and to make an inventory of existing MPAs in priority conservation areas. At the national level, Indonesia would determine the type of regulations needed to better manage the protected areas, which would be then legislated. New MPAs would be established and a network organized. The Philippines would proceed to an assessment of existing MPAs within the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion. Based on this assessment, new areas would be identified and/or existing areas expanded using the criteria set for the Sulu-Sulawesi MPA network. Malaysia also planned to establish new conservation areas as potential protected areas in its territories located in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion as well as to establish linkages with other protected areas in the region.

The Subcommittee on Marine Protected Areas and Networks was established under the framework of the Tri-National Committee in 2006. It has the objectives to support the effective management of existing and new MPAs and networks and to maintain the full range of sustainable marine resources and provide the long-term socioeconomic and cultural needs of human communities in the Sulu-Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion and to support the establishment of new MPAs and Networks in the context of ecosystem-based management.

Finally, one of the planned outcomes of the Project “Sulu-Celebes Sea Regional Fisheries Management”, starting to be implemented in 2010, is to increase fish stocks at five to ten percent at demonstration sites. It consists of promoting and adopting an integrated fisheries management approach, namely the “Growth, Control and Maintenance” mechanism, to achieve target of increasing fish stock at demonstration sites and replication sites in three countries. One of the measures to be implemented under this approach is to establish networks of resilient MPAs for critical habitats and open water areas to protect spawning, migration routes, populations of mature fish, endangered species and other resources with no-take fish sanctuaries and management zones.

(To be continued)

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