Our research into marine biodiversity and ocean resource users has successfully helped to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Ascension Island, Gabon and the Ivory Coast.
Our researchers used a range of cutting-edge technologies and innovative methods to fill data gaps and characterise the spatial ecology, distribution, population status and threats to marine vertebrates. These included large-scale coastal and aerial surveys, satellite tracking, at-sea surveys and species distribution modelling. Crucially, we also engage directly with local fishing communities around the world to benefit from their first-hand knowledge and expertise.
Our work has highlighted the inadequate scope of existing Marine Protected Areas to protect populations such as the world’s largest nesting colonies of the leatherback and olive ridley sea turtles – highly migratory species that are threatened by small-scale and industrial fisheries.
The team also explored the social and economic interests of those who are often poorly represented because of a lack of data, including local fishing fleets and shipping companies. Identifying that ocean user-groups are highly dependent on shallow coastal and nearshore waters enabled the creation of community and industrial fishing zones, so helping to protect local livelihoods and secure access to resources.
Our team have been working in Gabon since 2008, enabled by multiple grants from the UK Darwin Initiative to build the evidence needed to underpin transformational changes in environmental policy. Embedding researchers in national agencies also offered the opportunity to provide valuable training and ensure both scientific evidence and international best practice inform new legislation to protect the natural environment.
Our support of and work with Gabon Bleu, a national Gabonese initiative established to address the issue of poorly protected marine biodiversity and ecosystems, has played a significant role in creating 9 new national parks and 11 aquatic reserves covering 56,000km².
Gabon is the first African country to protect its marine resources in this way and its comprehensive network of marine protected areas is Africa’s largest, safeguarding globally significant populations of marine vertebrates and fisheries resources.
In fact, by formally protecting 26% of its waters, Gabon is now a global exemplar in marine protection.
Our research at Ascension Island has highlighted the importance of this mid-Atlantic island for marine megafuana, and in particular the seamounts as critical habitat for migrating and resident species, and has contributed to the designation of the second largest fully protected no-take MPA in the Atlantic Ocean.
Our comprehensive research is also being used to address other key conservation challenges and led to an invitation to Ivory Coast to support creation of an MPA that covers 2,600km² of pristine ocean off the coast of Grand-Béréby, protecting marine biodiversity including threatened shark and turtle species, and supporting the livelihoods of local communities who depend on fisheries resources.