IMCC5 Focus Group: Overcoming ethical challenges in marine conservation communication

To colleagues who have primarily collaborated to plan this, and to colleagues who are new here; please be informed that, it’s official, we are hosting this Focus Group at 5th International Marine Conservation Congress to be held from 24 to 29 June 2018 in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

We are now looking for more contributions to this Focus Group. Join us as a speaker, and be part of the planned Working Group on Marine Conservation Communication!


5th International Marine Conservation Congress

Focus Group: Overcoming ethical challenges in marine conservation communication

Communications and Public Relations are getting rapidly increasing attention and allocation of resources within marine conservation organizations. But Mainstream Media (MSM) is struggling with either huge lack of institutional capacity or editorial priority to cover related affairs as part of regular news agenda. In many cases, high resource needs to operate in remote marine areas and the novelty of the subjects to the newsroom are related to this scenario.

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This dynamic is making way for ‘embedded’ journalism covering conservation efforts without clearly laid-out ethical safeguards on both sides. I’ve observed many such cases in Bangladesh, Thailand, Singapore, and the USA, where MSM is being engaged to disseminate contents while being directly or indirectly guided and sponsored by the subjects, that is nature conservation and conservation groups, but this kind of communication and PR contents are not the replacement for objective journalism. This practice consequently deprives the nature conservation of objective reporting and critical coverage which are cornerstones of transparency, accountability, and public trust. A strong, responsive and dynamic ethical regime is imperative to address this challenge.

The Focus Group is designed to gather information about ethical challenges faced in marine conservation communication, identify key values and ethics, and prepare a draft for an ethical guideline. Before the conference, the host and other contributors will prepare a working-paper and distribute among the registered participants for their feedback and inputs.


So, whether you work with communications, marine conservation, media ethics or not, if you have experience and expertise to contribute to this Focus Group, please do reach out to us to submit Abstract and join us as a speaker.

Email address: arju @ saveoursea . social, or mohammadarju @ gmail . com (Md Kutub Uddin)

Featured Photo: Perhentian Islands, Terengganu, Malaysia. by Anwar Hossain Chowdhury

Report on Saint Martin’s Island Ecosystem Boundary

This study was conducted by Save Our Sea, co-funded by the BOBLME project of United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The report titled ‘Report on Saint Martin’s Island Ecosystem Boundary, Bangladesh’ was prepared as one of the outputs of the Strengthening national capacity on managing Marine Protected Areas (MPA) project in Bangladesh implemented by the IUCN Bangladesh, with the assistance of BOBLME-FAO and Save Our Sea.

My co-authors are Alifa Bintha Haque, Lecturer of Zoology at the University of Dhaka (formerly the Director of R&D at Save Our Sea); Mohammad Eusuf Hasan, Conservation Biologist, Dr Niamul Naser, Professor of Zoology at the University of Dhaka, and Dr. Kazi Ahsan Habib (Former Adviser at Save Our Sea), Professor of Fisheries Biology and Genetics at the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.

You can find the PDF file on Save Our Sea’s Website or search for it on the Website of BOBLME-FAO project.

Takeaways from Global Youth Biodiversity Network’s Asia Capacity Building Workshop

On May 27, 2017 we’ve just wrapped up one of the most important events in Asia this year. I know, most of you did not heard of it, but don’t be surprised; we know, relying on mainstream media as the only source of information has its own limitation- in many cases, the media fails to report on important things.

So, please let me convince you about how the recently held Global Youth Biodiversity Network’s Asia Capacity Building Workshop will shape the future of Asia and the planet Ocean.

The Homework

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One of my fellow participants at the workshop, Naseem Sultani from Afghanistan already written about it; the week-long workshop held in Singapore (with generous support from Singapore’s National Parks Board and Japan Biodiversity Fund) had a wide range of participants from the Central, South, Southeast, West and East Asia, and all of them are back to their home countries with a very specific homework. And the homework is not just about same-old-same-old romantic environmentalism about biodiversity; it is not about photogenic environmentalism of just holding another conference. The organizers were very clear about it, and this policy position was well reflected in all of the training sessions of the workshop (See the Schedule: PDF File).

The workshop was designed to train the youth leaders in real down-to-earth efforts for utilizing the already available multi-national process and mechanism (Convention on Biological Diversity, for example) on local, national and regional level to minimize the impact of market-economy on the diversity of life our planet hosts, and eventually help the governments in successful drafting and implementation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) to achieve Aichi Biodiversity Goals.

With this homework, the trained participants are out, therefore, more learning and real work, in their respective countries.

Using ‘System Thinking’ approach, they’ve built a scenario of current status and identified best possible leveraged to contribute to the conservation of biodiversity in Asia as a youth group. They’ve conceptualized several programs for the coming years to establish ASEAN and South and Central Asian sub-regional networks, to build a knowledge network, and to run a grassroots conservation program through Participatory Action Research led by youth organizations and fellows. In the coming months; they will design, develop and start implementing the programs.

So, in a brief, with the goal to secure more diversity of life on the planet, this workshop just deployed a team of well-trained youth leaders in the field to take part in political and decision-making processes at local, national, regional and international levels. The team’s work will certainly help the national governments in Asia to bring sustainability in the development process, also achieve many targets of the Sustainable Development Goals in the process and reconnecting the people with nature.

Strength

DSC_9783.JPGIn these times of growth-hungry economy devastating the people and the planet, being a conservationist means you are engaged in really down-to-earth activities to reverse the process. The Convention of Biological Diversity’s stated role is to ‘prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity at source’, you know it. And it’s not easy, rather daunting, oftentimes exhaustive too. But this workshop was a forum where we met the people face to face who are building their lives around this daunting task, it was really comforting.

Even in places like Singapore, where the economic violence affected the social-ecological systems severely, things have started to change, we’ve met several groups of people who are working for reconnecting people with nature. Even within such an extremely modified landscape, as a result of orchestrated efforts by government authorities and citizen-science groups like Otter-Watch and NUS Toddycats, the Singapore River is now hosting at least two large families of the smooth-coated otter. We’re aware that, there is no final victory in conservation, there will not be, but this sort of conservation-optimism story once again shows us the way.

And, it’s not just that, you listen to others’ stories, experience, and observation or go visit successful conservation initiative, which in some ways, or in many ways may be reasons to you, inform you about how people around the continent is bringing positive change for the conservation of biodiversity. One of the most important parts, for me, at the workshop was, I’ve learned a lot while articulating mine to others. Also, can sense that other participants were also re-discovering themselves by explaining their experience and ideas to others.

So, it is about self-motivation, as one of my fellow participants, Xu Waiting from Singapore was saying during their group presentation; ‘It’s the self-motivation what keeps you running to achieve what you believe in.’

We the people

image1 copy.jpgThe most important aspect of the forum was, I should say, together, we can now think of ourselves as a people, the people for advancing conservation in Asia. By taking parts in a number of self-organizing tasks (System Thinking, Project Concept Developing for example), through the process of feedback and evaluation, we’ve already started to work collaboratively.

As a team, now we know about our internal resources, strength, expertise we can offer to each other; and we have already come up with concepts about how to get easier access to this team and keep collaborating.

 

(The blog was originally published on the Global Youth Biodiversity Network’s website)

 

Photo courtesy: GYBN

Saving Saint Martin’s Island is not a lost cause, yet

It is true that what is left of the coral colonies in the Bay of Bengal around Saint Martin’s Island is almost a ruin. But it is not lost yet. Still, we’ve time to salvage the almost collapsed social-ecological systems of St. Martin’s Island.

Peoples say the local population is growing rapidly, tourists are coming in droves, in thousands and the island is losing its natural beauty; more than that, the local people are not cooperating with any efforts of environmental protection, so on and so on. In short, the island does not stand any chance when it comes to protecting its biodiversity and touristic attractions.

Such has been the narrative since we’ve started working in St. Martins. At least, I am getting these speeches from the people and institutions that are responsible for environmental protection of Bangladesh’s only island with coral associations.

In addition, this narrative is being repeated once again in the wake of the government’s recent initiative to promote more tourism in the area, among other seemingly horrific things, which also include making it a destination for a regional Ocean cruise.

Indeed, the scenario is not something which can be described as ‘promising’. Even the government has acknowledged the scenario by declaring the terrestrial area of the SMI as an ‘Ecologically Critical Area’ long ago in 1999. And the irony is, the degradation of coral habitat finally started with introducing irresponsible tourism back in 2013 under a Ministry of Environment and Forest run project titled ‘Promoting eco-tourism in Saint Martin’s Island’.

You just can’t allow ships coming into a very shallow coral habitat carrying thousands of tourists daily and host minimum three-thousand strong entourage on the island overnight. Only responsible ‘marine’ tourism (such as Diving, Snorkeling, Sailing, Angling and harmless watching from the onboard boat without big propeller) is counted as ‘Eco-tourism’ in a coral habitat. But the ministry did the opposite thing under the eco-label of ‘eco-tourism’ with expected consequences.

And now, about 67% of the coral is bleached to death, according to a survey. So, it would, of course, be foolhardy to say that, everything is fine in the SMI. But it would be equally hard to argue that, the island with its coral colonies is beyond saving, which I’ve heard from almost every government officials, conservation practitioners, and researchers I’ve ever met. Because what do we need is just reverse the process; shutting down irresponsible tourism. It works.  A closer look deep into the coral colonies around SMI, in fact, will assure you about this.

Saint Martin's Island

I took this photo last year after two consecutive tourist seasons were largely disrupted by the nation-wide violence erupted in the wake of last general election. Healthy coral colonies; It was an unusual sight in the island during last decade and after tourism fully revived last year. If we can have a planned retreat from the island for more years, say we keep the tourism shut for ten years, help it to regenerate, we will able the salvage the coral habitat.

So chances are good. Besides, the corals here in SMI are more tolerant than purely marine populations, it seems.

Saint Martin's Island

The photo says it all. It seems that species in St. Martin’s Island are too tolerant to be easily defeated by siltation. Like other coral colonies under the influence of estuarine sedimentation, they fight longer with the adverse environmental attribute.

And about the narrative that, the extent of degradation of the ecosystem is so high that, taking any small effort now (like what Save Our Sea is now trying to do by engaging tourism businesses and community) will be like bailing out a barge with a bucket. I do agree about the bucket. And this is what we need.

 

Team Turtle

The ‘Team Turtle’; in nesting season of 2015-16, 38 of the volunteers patrolled the beach at night to protect the nesting sea turtles. Coordinated by Save Our Sea, they were on their own, and thanks to the Department of Environment to house them at the Island. While the government and NGO-run turtle conservation efforts largely produced dubious success stories, the turtle volunteer activity continues to document the real scenarios and engaging local youth in conservation without any monetary incentives.

‘Project-based approach’ did not work in the coastal region (such as Saint Martin’s Eco-tourism Project, Coastal, and Wetland Biodiversity Management Project). Because these sorts of big projects run by desk-based managers and experts are designed to be doomed. Without any understanding of the community and ecosystem, these projects actually accelerated and covered-up the degradation of SMI. They did more harm than good by alienating the local community. So, instead of big fat bideshi or deshi projects, we need to start small.

 

Team Turtle

This photo is something, which testifies to people’s power to protect nature’s magnificent creatures. The turtle nest was saved by the volunteers from disastrous nest-relocation, which saw at least 600 unsuccessful hatchlings in the island in last season only. On the night of nesting, after almost months of intensive activity on the island, the Save Our Sea team was out the money. The price of the fencing materials was bKash-ed by one of our colleague from Dhaka, the fence was made-installed and maintained by local youth. Later we have conserved (in-situ) two more nests in the last season.

Rather than siphoning off foreign or domestic taxpayer’s money on designed-to-be-doomed projects, we need to start to remove the legal restriction on the community (who was the protector of the island before irresponsible tourism started) so that they can simultaneously rehabilitate the ecosystem and revive the marine fisheries, which is their most sustainable option for livelihoods.

 

Save Our Sea Team

Dr. Kazi Ahsan Habib (left) and Alifa Bintha Haque (right); two of the researchers with Save Our Sea, who joined the team voluntarily to delineate ecosystem boundary of the Island. Without any financial consideration, they took conservation as their responsibility to discharge with own capacity. We do hope, the conservationists will get it that, being ‘hired’ by some agencies or projects does not make one a conservationist. Conservation is not something we can wait to be ‘funded’ by some other external forces; rather as part of nature, it is our job to take part and fund conservation efforts with our own capabilities. I am optimistic; I can see many of the young professionals are thinking this way.

The efforts needed to be rooted in the community in a true sense. If we can make it happen, passionate conservationists, other individuals, and institutions will certainly join the efforts with their own capacity, as they are doing right now with Save Our Sea.

 

Save Our Sea

The smile of volunteers. Heroes from our local Turtle Team and cleanup volunteers with Enamul Mazid Khan Siddique (fourth from the left). Despite having a full-time job in a I-NGO, Siddique personally helped the students and other young professionals in Bangladesh with training, guidance, and inspiration to build their lives around coastal and marine conservation. The list of such conservationists by passion we know is much longer in Bangladesh and other Bay of Bengal countries. This brings me the hope that once more organized, these people are going to bring some real change for Saint Martin’s Island and other coastal and marine ecosystems.

This post I guess explains why I’m optimistic, why I’m supporting hope over fear. The photos, I hope, explain that we’ll be able to see a locally-led marine protected area in Saint Martin’s Island very soon.

 

Photos: © Mohammad Arju

 

(This post was first published on Save Our Sea’s blog)

Environmental management of shipping and navigation in the world’s largest mangrove forest

After the 2014 Oil Spill in Sundarban, we volunteered for an initiative to assess the nature and extents of shipping and navigation throughout the tidal forest. The study was supported by the Mangroves for the Future.  And recently, we shared the findings in a follow-up event.

From observations throughout the year,  one of the important findings was that, not only the ‘approved’ routes, domestic and trans-boundary vessels are using almost all navigable waterways in the forest.

The multi-stakeholder follow-up event was held on December 8, 2015. Below is the web story by MFF.

Conservationists and experts urge for environmental management of navigation and reduction of pollution in the Sundarban waters

Mangroves for the Future’s National Coordinating Body gathers government, civil society and academia to review progress made after the Sundarban oil spill 2014

Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh. 8th Dec 2015

Regular spillage of oils, release of ballast and bilge water from vessels navigating through the Sundarban and increasing industrial development requires sincere attention to be brought under environmental management, in addition to a contingency plan and preparedness for accidents. Speakers emphasized these views in a follow-up event on ‘Sundarban oil spill 2014’ arranged by Mangroves for the Future’s National Coordinating Body and Bangladesh Forest Department on 8 December 2015, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

 

The Sundarban oil spill in 9 December 2014, brought attention of national and international community due to the potential risks posed by it to the world’s largest mangrove forest, which is also a world heritage site and a wetland of international significance as designated under the Ramsar convention. It was the concerted efforts from the Government of Bangladesh, the United Nations, International Development Partners, NGOs, private sector and people living near the oil spill site in Joymoni village of Mongla that enabled removal of a large portion of the debris and the oil immediately after the accident.

Mangroves for the Future Bangladesh supported a small group of conservationist and biologists to observe the status of the oil spill affected areas in the navigation routes within the Sundarban. Observations from those trips were shared in this event.

Dr. Niamul Naser, Professor of Zoology in the University of Dhaka, indicated that, in some spots, microorganisms are coming back in a limited scale, which is a sign of natural healing, but a proper baseline of all life forms in the Sundarban needs to be set to be able to do a proper monitoring of the changes caused duet to anthropogenic stressors like navigation or industrial pollution in the waters, especially to understand the long term impacts on the ecosystem.

Mr. Mohammad Arju, the CEO of Save Our Sea, showed the trends of increased traffic and spatial extent of de-facto and de jure navigation routes  of in country and international shipping through the Sundarban and recommended initiating monitoring of vessels by promoting Automatic Identification System (AIS), ensuring ship safety rules and establishing ballast water management system in collaboration with India.

Mr. Md Amir Hossain Chowdhury shared his experience as the officer in charge of the particular portion of the Sundarban which was affected by last year’s oil spill, especially the ways in which the Forest Department with help from the community people improvised local techniques to soak and remove the oil from the river to avoid mass spread. He also contended that there is a need for capacity development of the officials to manage such accidents and a permanent response mechanism needs to be established.

IUCN Bangladesh Country Representative Mr. Ishtiaq Uddin Ahmed called for setting up permanent ecological plots and do complete biodiversity auditing in regular interval to ensure safety and sustainability of the Sundarban ecosystem.

Md. Yunus Ali, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Bangladesh Forest Department while chairing the event, opined that ‘to keep the economic growth sustainable, knowledge based management is necessary and to environmentally manage navigation and other developments in the Sundarban region, a strong baseline needs to be set’.

UNDP Assistant Country Director Mr. Khurshid Alam echoed that the balance between economic growth and nature’s integrity is the key to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. USAID Bangladesh’s Environmental Team Leader Mr Karl Wurster expressed the commitment to collaborate with the government of Bangladesh to keep safe Sundarban, a valued treasure of the nature, in light of the long history of cooperation between Bangladesh and the United States of America.

Lead personnel from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Forest Department, members of the Mangroves for the Future’s National Coordinating Body and many of the volunteers and experts who worked during the cleanup work in 2014 and worked in the joint GoB-UN mission in response to the oil spill, also participated in the event.

The statistics from the Mongla Port Authority shows that navigation in the Sundarban waterways has increased 236 percent in last 7 years. Which means, vessel based regular pollutions may continue to add risks to the world’s largest mangrove habitat’s health even if accidents like Shella Oil Spill can be prevented. Increasing pattern of shipping and navigation volume necessarily indicates growing industrialization in the Sundarban Impact Zone and the Sundarban Ecologically Critical Area, which in turn will increase the land based source of pollution if not managed.

Participants stressed on finalizing the contingency plan for oil spill response and the standard operational guidelines, and declaring Ecologically Critical Area Rules to control pollution from industrialization near the Sundarban.

Photo: © Save Our Sea / Mohammad Arju

Five ideas for Blue start-ups

Problems we face in the Bay of Bengal and the coastal region are unique and each of these problems has a business solution. I believe, challenges to the marine environment and local livelihoods can be turned into potential economic opportunities, and sustainably addressed at the same time.

But the capacity of our infrastructure is insufficient to sustain and manage marine resources. So we need to do more with the less; and this is what a start-up can and does better than a traditional business organization. Startups with a social-business approach can do a good job to take their share in Blue Economy.

From fighting ocean pollution to seafood, from developing coastal communities to marine electronics; the Bay of Bengal is waiting with the potential of sea-change for Bangladeshi startups.

Earlier this year, I’ve contributed a blog post to FutureStartUp about such ideas. Please read the full post on FutureStartup.com

Photo: Mohammad Arju