Gabon, a country located in Central Africa, has made significant strides in protecting its oceans and can serve as a blueprint for other countries to follow. The country has designated over 26% of its territorial waters as marine protected areas (MPAs), making it one of the most ambitious marine conservation efforts in the world.
Experts say Gabon’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) provides a model that could be replicated in many other countries. Gabon has created 20 protected areas since announcing a new MPA network in 2014, increasing protection of Gabonese waters from less than 1% to 26%. The new paper, written by Gabonese policymakers, NGOs, and researchers from the University of Exeter, emphasizes the work’s lessons and their applicability elsewhere.
“A combination of factors made this MPA network possible, but a critical first step was the creation in 2013 by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of a government-led initiative called ‘Gabon Bleu,'” said Dr. Kristian Metcalfe of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
“This sent out a clear signal that the Gabonese government wanted to develop an MPA network. That ensured all sectors – from government agencies to ocean resource users – were engaged in the planning process, and it gave confidence to external funders and the private sector to support the research that underpins the MPAs.
A combination of factors made this MPA network possible, but a critical first step was the creation in 2013 by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of a government-led initiative called ‘Gabon Bleu.Dr. Kristian Metcalfe
Dr. Emma Stokes, Regional Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society for Central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, added: “This political will and long-term engagement were critical in establishing a “tipping point” for effective change. Collective action has accelerated progress, and the country has now pledged to protect 30% of its oceans by 2030, as part of the 30×30 pledge.”
Global MPA coverage remains below the 10% target set in 2010, owing in part to slow progress in many low- and middle-income countries. However, a few of these countries, including Gabon, have met or exceeded international land and sea commitments.
The MPAs are based on detailed evidence, resulting in an inter-connected network tailored to protect important habitats, as well as globally important populations of sea turtles and marine mammals, with protected zones extending from north to south, and from coastal waters to 200 nautical miles offshore.
The new paper argues that lessons from Gabon can be used to inform Post-2020 global biodiversity commitments and implementation. It suggests a four-step approach for countries and donors:
- Governments must strengthen and sustain their research and implementation capacities, ensuring that scientific evidence underpins policy decisions.
- Countries should make public pledges on marine conservation goals in order to demonstrate their commitment to the international community and potential donors.
- The conservation community should respond by assisting in the establishment or strengthening of the country’s environmental agencies, either directly or through international organizations if financial safeguards are inadequate.
- Each implementation agency should take the lead in developing national marine conservation frameworks, collaborating with stakeholders and donors to create plans that are ambitious but politically feasible, combining top-down initiatives as much as possible with bottom-up approaches.
The national parks agency, ANPN, led critical implementation work in Gabon. “We learned from the process that resulted in the creation of Gabon’s terrestrial national parks by Omar Bongo in 2007 and were able to provide the scientific and legal framework to make President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s vision for a sustainable blue economy a reality,” said Professor Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Forests, Oceans, Environment, and Climate Change and former Executive Secretary (head) of ANPN.
“By scaling conservation and fisheries management measures across the entirety of its EEZ, Gabon has made significant steps to ensure the long-term persistence of its marine biodiversity and fisheries resources, and should be celebrated as a global exemplar,” said Professor Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter.
Other countries can learn from Gabon’s success by prioritizing marine conservation efforts and working in partnership with conservation organizations and local communities to create MPAs and combat illegal fishing. By taking these steps, countries can help protect their oceans and the critical habitats and species that depend on them.