By Silvia Bor, December 18, 2018

There are over 15,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) worldwide, yet nearly 60% of these are poorly managed and enforced, making them less effective at protecting marine species. WildAid’s marine program builds complete Marine Protection Systems through our BLUEprint for MPA Success to stop illegal fishing, enforce regulations, allow wildlife recovery, and encourage positive economic opportunity for communities.

In Galapagos, there was once extensive illegal fishing, with an estimated 12,000 sharks poached annually in 2009, and park rangers did not have the skills, tools, or resources to do their job. WildAid partnered with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment and Galapagos National Park to change this.

With the implementation of our program, the AIS and VMS surveillance systems now monitor 100% of the park, all rangers are fully trained and certified, and successful prosecutions of environmental crimes increased to 84%. Due to strong enforcement, there have been zero reported shark finning cases in the reserve since 2014 and the Galapagos now boasts the densest shark population in the world. Although fishing boats surround the reserve, they fear to enter due to the threat of prosecution for illegal entry. The Galapagos National Park is a Regional Leader, exemplifying effective marine conservation for Latin America. They have previously sponsored training workshops in Ecuador, providing mentorship and sharing their best practices with other sites in the region.

We see Regional Leadership as key to WildAid’s expansion of the BLUEprint approach. In order to expand our program regionally, WildAid has been piloting different approaches to identify the right in-country partners that are ready to implement a complete Marine Protection System. We decided to test a Discovery Workshop approach, which would allow us to bring together multiple sites to discuss their current enforcement capabilities and needs.

2018 Discovery Workshop

Together with the Galapagos National Park, we hosted the first regional MPA enforcement workshop for Latin America in July as a pilot test for our new Discovery Workshop approach. Attendees from seven countries and more than 30 MPAs shared their successes and challenges in the protection of their MPA. The Galapagos acted as regional leaders at the workshop, sharing strategies and tools for enforcement shaped during our long-term partnership.

This workshop worked well because:

1) Countries were pre-vetted to ensure each site was ready to partner with WildAid in implementing a complete Marine Protection System.

2) Attendees were high level MPA managers or government officials with the ability to make decisions in these areas, which meant that we could start a conversation about partnership in person and then continue discussing the feasibility of conducting a project remotely.

3) Galapagos National Park shared their own strategies and best practices for enforcing laws in the Galapagos Marine Reserve—highlighting WildAid’s role in shaping the current system. This allowed sites to see a real working example of how the BLUEprint can work at a particular site and what Regional Leadership means to us.

4) WildAid staff had the opportunity to present other case studies of our work, give more details on the BLUEprint for MPA Success, invite the people at this workshop to discuss a potential pilot project in their own country or MPA.

5) Each country presented their own approach to enforcement and the things that work well, and areas that could use help. This allowed WildAid to quickly identify where threats and opportunities aligned with our approach, as well as conduct follow-up conversations.

6) Lastly, participants in the workshop learned from each other and identified simple ways to improve enforcement in their own sites. They developed concrete project plans that they could pitch to donors and NGO partners, and through the use of a WhatsApp group, participants are still able to share successes and challenges with each other.

The outcome of this workshop was that our participants received valuable insights into what makes a successful Marine Protection System, found peers confronting similar threats that could act as a future resource for them, and we found three sites that are likely candidates for a WildAid project and future assessment. The workshop allowed us to meet with the right people to facilitate logistics and act as on-the-ground partners and when used in tandem with the Project Feasibility Index, we could quickly assess the feasibility of a project in that area. Overall, this workshop provided a valuable opportunity for the Galapagos National Park to share their expertise in managing a comprehensive Marine Protection System, and lead the way to successful marine conservation throughout Latin America.

We look forward to sharing additional lessons learned with you as we continue scaling WildAid’s marine program.