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Peer learning between Galapagos Islands and Great Barrier Reef

Monday, 30 March 2015
access_time 3 min read
Two staff members from the Galapagos National Park visit the GBRMPA offices and compliance room. © GBRMPA | GBRMPA

The differences in culture might be as big as the ocean between them, but Australia and Ecuador are home to two of the world’s best-known natural wonders. Site managers at the Galapagos Islands and Great Barrier Reef are entrusted with the care of vast areas that are vital for wildlife and treasured by people. UNESCO’s World Heritage Marine Programme facilitated an exchange bringing staff members from the Galapagos National Park to the Great Barrier Reef and vice versa. During these visits, Great Barrier Reef staff shared lessons learned from their efforts to balance ecological and economic pressures, as well as expertise to ensure compliance monitoring can be done efficiently.

A decade ago, the Great Barrier Reef rezoned the Marine Park to extend the network of no-take areas, which now cover one third of its surface area. The Ecuadorian government is now considering expanding the area of the Galapagos Islands that is off-limits to fishing to protect biodiversity, so the Australians were able to share their experiences and advice.

After his visit to Ecuador, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) reef recovery manager Darren Cameron said: “Our message to the scientists and managers from the Galapagos Islands is that zoning is an effective foundation to protecting biodiversity, but that you need to define and map all of your different environments, establish objectives for zones, and develop clear rules on what activities are appropriate for each zone.”

“Once you’ve done that, it’s a matter of making sure you achieve a balance between adequately protecting the area and supporting the sustainable use of the industries and communities that value and use these areas.

Mauricio Davila, responsible for International Projects at the Galapagos National Park, was involved in this project from the start: “The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s largest marine protected areas. They have achieved important advancements in the development of an efficient focus on enforcement, including a model including related processes/systems/resources and people. With this experience we were able to study the processes in place there in order to adapt them to the management of the Galapagos protected area, in a way that fits in with the local legal framework.

In addition, we also noticed that investigations are an important pillar in the enforcement of Great Barrier Reef protections, which have allowed them to disband groups devoted to breaking the protected areas laws. They have achieved this by logging all information generated around the Great Barrier Reef in a database; this has allowed them to understand all the factors that affect the site’s ecosystems and thus they can be dealt with / resolved in order of importance / urgency, it would be ideal to be able to use this system in Galapagos, this way we would be able to maintain a permanent control of the uses / activities inside the protected areas and we would be able to deal with them urgently.”

The site managers also discussed ways to prevent illegal fishing. Each park encompasses millions of hectares, and their size and remoteness makes them difficult and costly to monitor effectively. For the Great Barrier Reef, communications and education to encourage people to follow the rules are as important as technology-enabled surveillance.

The staff exchange is part of UNESCO’s ongoing efforts to foster a learning community where marine World Heritage site managers can share their expertise and support one another.  This initiative was made possible thanks to support from the Pacific Fund of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the French Marine Protected Areas Agency (AAMP) in the framework of exchanging best practices from World Heritage marine sites in the Pacific Ocean.

More information: 
Pacific Fund (the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development)