Marine species conservation: Need to bring stakeholders to the same page

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Posted in: Press Release

A new study reveals how effective implementation of law to protect important marine species begins with awareness building among stakeholders.

Bangalore, June 24, 2019: Awareness campaigns, involving local stakeholders in decision making and empowering the authorities, can go a long way in protecting marine species, as revealed by a new study. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, WLPA amended in 2002 and 2006 has brought several marine species under its ambit, but awareness about the WLPA for marine species is still very low in some coastal communities.

The study based on an extensive survey conducted by Vardhan Patankar from Wildlife Conservation Society-India, published in the Ocean and Coastal Management, reveals the importance of stakeholder’s level of awareness, while also throwing light on the socio-demographic characteristics that drive the attitudes and perceptions.

Conducted in the Andaman Islands, the first-of-its-kind study involved stakeholders like the wildlife enforcement authorities, traders/middlemen and fishermen groups. It found that overall awareness of protected marine species was highest amongst the authorities, followed by traders/middlemen and finally the fishermen.

However, while knowledge on charismatic species (dugongs, dolphins, giant clams) was high, it also revealed that even the authorities were ignorant of the protected status of a few groups like sea cucumber, seahorses, gorgonians and sea fans, elasmobranches, giant groupers, etc. Many of these species are in high demand in the international illegal trade market. Hence there is an urgent need to raise awareness on these to stem the trade.

“While a total ban on harvesting these species may seem to be the solution, given the demand from south east Asia, a better approach will be to adopt multiple approaches. Besides spreading awareness and taking up incentivised community-based policing for conservation, active engagement with the stakeholders is important,” said Vardhan, the author of the study. For instance, the survey found that no consultation meetings were conducted with fishermen/middlemen groups before listing marine species under the WLPA. “Such consultation meets with stakeholder groups is a must before amending the WLPA for listing or delisting species.”

Under the WLPA, 41 key species (dugong, turtles, giant clams, soft and hard corals, saltwater crocodile, gorgonians, elephants or king shell, whale shark, sawfish, spotted guitar shark, cowrie shell, giant grouper) and all holothurians, sponges, gorgonians, sclera Tinian, sea horse and pipefishes are protected species.

Awareness about the protected marine species was highest among authorities while less than a quarter of the fishermen and middlemen had limited knowledge about the WLPA for marine species. This lack of awareness also extended to who or which department/authority is responsible for implementing WLPA, with all stakeholders confused between fisheries department, Navy, Coast Guard or forest department! Middlemen fared better than the authorities in this regard and most were aware it was the onus of the forest department to uphold the WLPA for marine species.

On the harvesting of protected species, while most fishermen and middlemen believed that it had reduced since the inception of WLPA in 2001, the authorities thought otherwise. Most agreed on the need for awareness on protected species. Where middlemen sought a special task force to deal with poaching, the other stakeholders did not feel the need for it. None of them were for a strict enforcement of the law.

The survey was conducted over the course of two years. All the 159 respondents were males, earning from Rs 1 lakh to more than 10 lakhs annually. To determine if the interviewees were aware of protected groups or species, author showed them unlabelled images of protected species and commonly harvested marine resources and asked whether they are aware of the protected status of the species. The 21 protected species were chosen based on their trade and global conservation importance.

During the course of the survey, the stakeholders gave important suggestions such as strict enforcement of WLPA, awareness drives, species identification workshops/programs, delisting some species, special task force to handle issues of marine trade, and strict action against foreign poachers.

“The idea that stakeholders are supportive of the WLPA is encouraging and their suggestions should be taken seriously by the law enforcing authorities,” noted Vardhan, adding that these awareness measures along with continuous long-term monitoring of stocks can help strengthen the WLPA for marine species.

Various other studies over the years have demonstrated that patrolling and monitoring positively influences the stock and helps in the recovery of threatened species, but a lack of clarity amongst stakeholders about the implementing agency could be responsible for poor implementation of WLPA for marine species, concludes the study.

It is also possible that many of the stakeholders are aware of the illegal marine trade, though denying any knowledge, said Vardhan, adding that WCS-India which has a strong combatting wildlife trafficking team, could work to address the issue of trade in protected marine species.

Article link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2019.104830

Media contact: Vardhan Patankar
Email: vardhan@wcsindia.org

 

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