IUCN holds workshop in San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 22            June 7, 2001

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Members of the IUCN workshop

Last weekend, Hol Chan Marine Reserve hosted representatives from Panama, East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and Belize at a World Conservation Union (IUCN) workshop entitled "Linking Tourism to Marine Protected Areas and Communities". Held at the Coral Sand Convention Center, IUCN personnel invited a wide variety of tourism stakeholders, government and non-governmental organizations, conservation groups, institutional representatives and the media from all participating countries attending the three-day event.

    Opening the workshop was Coordinator Francisco Pizarro of IUCN's Regional Office for Mesoamerica (ORMA). He introduced his (ORMA) associate Rocio Cordoba; Sue Wells, a Marine Coordinator from the IUCN Regional Office of East Africa and Reynaldo Guerrero of the Belize Institute of Management, who acted as facilitator for the three-day program. Mr. Guerrero expressed kind words during his introduction of Dr. Marcelino Avila of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives, for taking time out to attend on behalf of Minister Daniel Silva. Dr. Avila, an expert in this field of study, expressed his delight to see the cooperation of all countries attending, adding he thought of Kenya as his "second home," having spent six years there.

    The workshop revolved around IUCN funded projects regarding tourism activities and their impacts related to marine protected areas (MPAs) and surrounding communities in the three countries. The purpose of the workshop was to: 1) exchange lessons learned from these individual experiences, 2) develop action plans, 3) define projects to achieve the goals and 4) ultimately establish global guidelines for tourism and MPA management. IUCN's long term goal is to "contribute towards ecologically and economically sustained marine and coastal biodiversity conservation through integration of coastal community livelihoods, development of coastal tourism and marine protected areas.

    Simply stated this workshop was designed to establish guidelines to follow so that tourism, and the development that goes with it, does not destroy but sustains the environment (i.e. wetlands, mangroves) and livelihood or economy (i.e. fishing industry) of the native people surrounding these MPAs and at the same time supports the protected area. Its goal is to link tourism, conservation and the community so that all may benefit and be preserved.

    Presentations were made by key personnel from each area studied. Speaking on behalf of Belize were James Azueta of the Fisheries Department, Janet Gibson representing Coastal Zone Management Authority/Institute, Miguel Alamilla of Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Mito Paz of Green Reef. Making presentations for East Africa were Coordinator of Marine Projects, Sue Wells; Runisha Chikambi, a biologist from the Tanzania Marine Park and Reserve; and Warden Janet Kaleho and Irene Ngugi of the Kisite Marine Park in Kenya. Panama's projects were presented by Angel Gonzalez of PROMAR foundation (an environmental protection organization) and Ruben Navarro of AMIPETAB (a small business organization). Provided as an economic consultant for the Mesoamerican participants was Cynthia Cordoba of the Costa Rica Census and Statistics Institute. Special invited guest Carlos Lopez of Amigos de Sian Kaan Reserve in Quintana Roo, Mexico spoke on behalf of the Belize-Mexico Alliance for the Management of the Common Coastal Resources (BEMAM CCOR).

    The sites selected all had nearly the same geography, socio-economic situations and contained similar marine life. Common challenges for each of the MPAs and surrounding communities were found, such as exploitation of resources, over-fishing, lack of regulation enforcement, adverse climactic changes, development, waste disposal, environmental damage (dredging, mangrove clearing), pollution, government control, etc. Several reasons for these conditions were explained, such as poor management or lack of management of tourism or the MPA, lack of community environmental education, lack of government funding and poor economic conditions. Common approaches were used to improve situations in all areas.

    In Belize, IUCN projects were undertaken by Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) as well as Green Reef, the marine conservation organization on Ambergris Caye. Hol Chan Marine Reserve staff completed three projects. To heighten the awareness of environmental education, the staff has almost completed the renovation and remodeling of the Hol Chan Visitor's Center. Updating of the reserve's management plan has involved community consultation and the development of multi-use zoning areas. This zoning scheme provides opportunities for protection of specific natural features, maintenance of environmental services as well as recreational (tourism) and fishing activities. Working closely with government led to an extension of the reserve to include Shark Ray Alley, increasing the benefits to marine life and the tourism industry. An assessment of tourism's sustainability at the marine reserve (park fees) and a rapid valuation of the environmental services (operational costs) was completed. It was determined that, in general, Hol Chan was a model example of sustainability. Based on these results and because the reserve is co-managed by government, it will be determined what amount of increase and when park fees will be increased. Green Reef's first project focused on an environmental education and training program for HCMR staff, local tour guides and volunteers. This accomplished one of the project's goals of integrating the management and community. It also contributed directly and indirectly to the sustainable management of the reserve by forming a volunteer support corps for protection of the area's natural resources. Green Reef's second project involved a water quality and environmental pollution assessment of the island. This study identified the most common types of pollution affecting the reserve utilizing the services of a volunteer group consisting of high school and medical school students. This information will be used to reduce pollution affecting the coral - Hol Chan's main tourist attraction.

    The IUCN project in East Africa was located at Kisite Marine Park (KMP). Situated on the east coast of Africa, this is the smallest marine protected area inside Africa's largest national park and lies between Somalia and Tanzania. After their MPA was established there was much anger and misunderstanding among the native people in outlying villages who were dependent on fishing. Many challenges arose very similar to the effects tourism and protected areas have on Ambergris Caye. Local fisherman became tour guides to make a living, but were being shut out of the market by bigger foreign business owners. The KMP project focused on economic alternatives and environmental education for communities surrounding the park. To convince the locals of the benefits they could derive from the park they focused on separate groups. Two of their projects focused on empowering women's groups, who they maintain are responsible and perform most of the work in their community. The projects included: the building of a mangrove boardwalk for tours and an export seaweed farming enterprise. For the tour guides to be able to compete in the existing market, they provided administrative skills training (bookkeeping, business management, etc.) and established a boat operators' code of conduct. Relationships between park management and the community has strengthened so much that tour guides and fishermen now assist rangers in the policing and monitoring of the marine park.

    Effects on the community near a protected area seem to be universal and only differ slightly due to geography. Adding to the East African report was Biologist Runisha Chikambi speaking on two of Tanzania's MPAs. He explained over-fishing and dynamiting for fish influenced the decline of the commercial fishing industry and damaged the coastal environment in his area. The main priority was to designate and divide the MPAs into nature reserves, specified use (local fishing), regulated use (foreign recreation) and buffer zones. Their second step was to involve the communities in the decision-making process. Both of these were accomplished after integrating locals, business representatives and government officials into committees. With additional education and research, the communities helped to develop a General Management Plan, a negotiating document used by all groups in the management of coastal areas. The challenge remaining was to develop their tourism sector. Their strategy is currently underway and includes training and improving the range of services in their area, i.e. hotels, restaurants, and other recreational facilities. Their projects are presently financed by government and monitored by the various committees to prevent corruption.

    The third "demonstration site" involved Bocas del Toro, an area located near the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park of Panama. Although tourism is on the rise in the area, the marine park is not one of the main attractions due to the coral reefs being located outside of its boundaries. Park entry fees were raised, adversely affecting the livelihood of the indigenous people in the outlying areas of the park. Their economy also suffered because of the MPA's affect on their fishing industry which resulted in resentment and opposition. They also received no share of the benefits from tourism directly or indirectly. Deterrents to their sustainability were a lack of services, training and  language barriers. It was decided to develop a tourism management plan for this area combining local and multi-agency input. First, a pilot community was chosen that appeared to have no inner-community conflicts. The Panamanian project leaders (PROMAR foundation and AMIPETAB), like those of Kenya, chose an already established group of women artisans for their project as men were found to be "too lazy" to undertake the initial phases. Based on the lack of hospitality services in these areas, it was decided to create a restaurant and cabañas as alternative sources of income for the community and as a means of preserving a dying culture. It was discovered that some of the group already had a broad knowledge of the tourism perception but terminology differences stood in their way. Utilizing local teachers in the community, language barriers were broken down and education and training commenced with multi-lingual pamphlets, videos and posters as tools. Men's roles were realized when it came to the construction of the cabañas, as tour guides and when a vegetable garden was established to provide the restaurant with food supplies. To complement and sustain the project's initiative, park trails were built, a community farm formed, and marketing tools for tour guides established.

    All of the projects entailed much lobbying of government, strategic planning with local agencies and organizations, an abundance of communication with local people in these areas and a lot of hard work. Lessons were learned, actions planned and projects proposed by the members of the workshop. IUCN is to be commended on their efforts to aid developing nations in their efforts for a sustainable balance between their community, its tourism development and environmental conservation.

    Recognition must be given as well to Bel Caribe Communications, Ltd. for their bi-lingual communication equipment, their overworked interpreter Poli Carpio and technicians Marxi Guerra and Hopeton Hemmings. Their efforts made communication "a breeze" during the three-day multi-national workshop.

    Information will now be compiled and analyzed by the World Conservation Union and the results will be released in the near future.

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