Owing to the peculiar nature of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) academics have wracked their brains to beef up the management of such unique and rare ecosystems. Nature Seychelles has not been left out on this endeavour, if anything it has been one the forefront of it all.
[Cousin Island. 17/03/2008] The coastal zone is a lifejacket for millions of people. Coastal resources provide vital food, livelihoods, and recreation to both the rich and poor all over the world. In Small Island States, like Seychelles, the coastal zone may include the whole island and therefore it is the very heart of the country’s economy.
It is also the coastal zone which bears the brunt of increasing degradation—and in some cases even permanent loss—of natural resources. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) like our very own Marine Parks are one approach for maintaining the long-term physical and economic health of the marine resources upon which so people rely for both food and income.
However, the effectiveness of most MPAs to deliver that mission leaves much to be desired. Many of these are indeed only “paper parks”. The need to “fix” MPAs has been expressed as a priority action item in many conferences, reports and assessments. And it has been said that one of the first lines of action must be aimed at improving the capacity of managers and other staff to run these important areas.
Indeed, protected areas including MPAs in the Indian Ocean region are suffering from a lack of professional staff. A survey conducted less than a decade ago found that many MPA managers believed that they had not advanced in their careers and were not properly recognized as professionals.
But not anymore. Help is just around the corner.
Since January 2007, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) and the Coastal Resources Centre (CRC) of the University of Rhode Island in the United States have been developing an intensive program that intends to change the career situation of MPA managers.
“It started out as training to increase the knowledge base of MPA managers. But it was quickly realized that lack of skills was not the issue. People are being trained until they are blue in the face.” Dr Nirmal Jivan Shah, the CEO of Nature Seychelles, who is also a Board member of WIOMSA, reveals and hastens to add: “The problem lies elsewhere. As a result, a program to certify the prior knowledge of MPA professionals and to try to benchmark their competencies has now been designed.”
Being one of the key architects of the original design for this program Dr. Shah is conversant with this issue. At a workshop in Zanzibar early this year, he and a group of leading experts drawn from the region and across the globe worked on the framework of a professional development program which will assess the competencies of MPA professionals. Their scope specifically covers the western Indian Ocean region with a view of helping in the mobilization of mentors and assessors to upgrade prevailing competencies and seal existing weaknesses and gaps. Envisaged in this hands-on program is a “practicum”, in the field where the selected professionals will work on a practical exercise in their MPA. At the end of the program successful candidates will be certified as “MPA Professionals”
In its first phase the program will be able to take a first group of professionals through to certification by 2009, once accepted by its key stakeholders. Meanwhile other donors and partners are already being engaged to fund the program beyond 2009.
According to Dr. Shah: “This program will greatly benefit the Seychelles where there are many MPAs which are important not only in natural resource management but also in the tourism sector.”
Shah says that in his subsequent discussions with various like-minded organizations there is much interest in seeing the program come to fruition. He also hints that the certification program can be used as a model for other sectors in the environmental fields such as forestry.
At a staff management meeting on Cousin Island Dr Shah, highlighted this new exciting development to the staff. Their reaction has been swift at the good news and what such an opportunity portends for them and Nature Seychelles in general.
“This new development means alot to us here on the island and it would go along way in making us better professionals.” Ian Valmont, Chief Warden of Cousin Island Reserve says.
This novel development has not only generated interest but has also increased morale for the staff at the Nature Seychelles run world famous marine reserve. (ENDS)