Collaboration at Its Best

The following is a guest post from Helen Fox (World Wildlife Fund), Leah Bunce Karrer (Conservation International) and Alan White (The Nature Conservancy). Their organizations collaborate in conservation and science around the world.

With the approach of the 6th Annual Kathryn Fuller Science for Nature Symposium at the National Geographic Society’s Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC this week, the three of us sat down to reflect on the world of marine conservation. One question gets posed to us often is how do you work with the other big conservation organizations? A great example of how the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) collaborate is in the western Pacific. One of the most amazing places we’ve been in the world is Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape — famous for walking sharks, pygmy seahorses and birds of paradise! One of the few undiscovered treasures in the world, diving in this region, among lush coral, sponges, abundant and big fish, sea turtles, is like swimming through a 360-degree underwater paradise.

What may be even more amazing is how our three organizations, along with many partners, are working together to protect this tropical ocean heaven. By working at regional and local scales we have been able to promote the implementation of marine protected areas (MPAs), which are areas designed to ensure sustainable use and benefits for local communities while ensuring the long-term survival of these incredible resources.

Success depends on the people whose very lives depend on the long-term sustainability of the resources. To foster that connection, our organizations are working toward conservation of both biodiversity and the benefits they provide to the surrounding communities — jobs and income from fisheries and tourism, food, storm protection or any other benefit humans can get from nature.

Since MPAs are a core strategy to all our organizations’ work, it’s important to understand what works, what doesn’t and why. To understand the current state of the science and research frontiers, WWF hosted the Kathryn S. Fuller Science for Nature Symposium last November, gathering established luminaries and rising stars to discuss lessons learned from MPAs. The next day, 15 of us — scientists from universities and NGOs from as far away as Indonesia and Mozambique — met to distill these insights into a paper, which is now in press in Conservation Letters.

The paper, which came from findings as a result of the 2010 Fuller Science for Nature Symposium, highlights the growing evidence of the potential for MPAs to benefit biodiversity and human well-being. By working to understand their impacts and encourage science-based policy and policy-relevant science, rules of thumb can guide us to address current marine conservation challenges and to lay the foundation for more effective marine management in the future.

A key aspect of making this possible is the continued and enhanced collaboration of organizations like WWF, CI, TNC and others that, while powerful on their own, can collectively make an even bigger impact on valuable marine areas such as the Bird’s Head.

Follow along on an Expedition to Raja Ampat in Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Seascape with scientists Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai (Get live updates from Sangeeta at @smangubhai) and Dr. Joanne Wilson.

Image: Divers monitoring coral reefs in ocean waters off Kofiau island. Kofiau is part of the Raja Ampat Islands of Indonesia. Image credit: ©Jeff Yonover

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