As part of the implementation of the Integrated Marine and Coastal Area Management (GIZMaC) project, the Beninese Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (MCVDD) hosted two workshops to finalize its Marine Spatial Planning strategic work plan.
From 14-17 October 2019, stakeholders from civil society, from the private sector, and from governmental bodies involved in the management of the marine and coastal area in Benin, gathered in Cotonou for a capacity development workshop on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), an essential component of Integrated Ocean Management. On the 17th, participants were joined by the Regional Network of Marine Protected Areas in West Africa (RAMPAO) to follow up on the MSP process and start working towards the creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The general purpose of the first workshop was to evaluate the work initiated by Benin, the adoption of the MSP work plan, and the identification of potential sites for application. The workshop hence continued the preliminary work on MSP that had begun earlier this year. It was specifically aimed at finalizing the strategic work plans delimiting the scope of MSP, and at expanding the national MSP teams by including other sectors represented in the targeted area. The second workshop focused on the MPA creation process and benefitted from the presence of the RAMPAO, which shared its expertise on the topic.
Both workshops were warmly welcomed by Mr. Martin Pépin Aina, Director General of Environment and Climate within the MCVDD, who considered them essential for enhancing the management of Benin’s environment. Mr. Aina noted: “Starting early to gather different actors around the same table is the best way to develop lasting synergies and a good cohesion, and Benin would strongly benefit from having well-trained MSP practitioners for the management of its coastal and marine resources in the near future”.
Ms. Dieynaba Seck, from the Ecological Monitoring Centre (CSE) in Senegal – Centre of Expertise in charge of developing capacity on Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs) in the three Mami Wata pilot projects countries – stressed the significance of MSP for Benin: “The approach is particularly relevant for Benin as the country wishes to boost its development by promoting the blue economy. This will indeed require a better regulatory framework for the multiple activities taking place in the marine space, not the least for ensuring the conservation of biodiversity”.
The role MSP can play towards more sustainable fisheries was also discussed. In this regard, Mr. Akuete Assevi, Avlo District Chief (Grand Popo municipality) reminded workshop participants that the exploitation of oceanic resources constitutes the main resource for Benin’s coastal population. “The depletion of marine resources increasingly leads Beninese fishermen to emigrate to other coastal countries in the West African subregion, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, or Mauritania, in order to sustain their livelihoods. Grand Popo is hence providing many fishermen to neighboring countries”, regretted Mr. Assevi. Sustainably managing the coastal and marine resources of the country would therefore greatly benefit the fisherfolk, including the communities in Grand Popo. On a different note, Mr. Eric Agbessi, from the Environment Directorate of Togo, noted the importance of thinking beyond the sole creation of MPAs – focus of the second workshop – and to envision the uses of, and the activities in the marine space in a holistic approach. Mr. Agbessi further stressed how conservation in West African countries should be planned while ensuring socioeconomic development.
The current development of integrated marine and coastal management measures by the GIZMaC project in Benin, is a logical continuation of the recent identification and description of two EBSAs and of last month’s State of the Marine Environment (SoME) reporting workshop. The creation of MPAs in Benin constitutes the next important step for the GIZMAC project. In that regards, Mr. Christian Adje, from the Halieutic and Oceanological Research Center of Benin, presented the five planned steps in Benin’s MPA development process: (i) a participatory identification and description of EBSAs; (ii) a study of the identified sites with the involvement of local communities; (iii) ecological and socioeconomic studies and an update of existing scientific information; (iv) a participatory development of a management plan and regulations; (v) the official establishment and designation of the technical management structure. In this MPA development process, Benin is currently working on the second step.
With the participation of the RAMPAO in the second workshop, specific sessions were dedicated to discussing the protection and conservation of marine and coastal resources, the processes of creation and site management, and the existing challenges and opportunities. The sessions with RAMPAO were also an opportunity to learn more about the network, its purpose, and ways to join it.
Ms. Marie Suzanne Traoré, RAMPAO Secretary General explained: “The general aim of the RAMPAO is to provide support to its members – West African MPAs from Mauritania to Sierra Leone. However, RAMPAO is currently considering an extension of its network to the other West African countries”. Ms. Traore added: “We are here to support the Beninese authorities and share our experience as an MPA network, and for managers in Benin to benefit from our expertise. (…) As the MPA development process advances, we also hope that the Abidjan Convention’s technical role could progressively be handed over to the RAMPAO”.
Another essential aspect discussed around the creation of MPAs, was the importance of cultural or touristic sites. Mr. Pierre Yaï Chabi, Research Associate at the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Arts of Benin, and UNESCO focal point, participated in the workshop in order to support the GIZMaC coordination team in the identification of such potential sites, where traditional knowledge often plays a key role for the sustainable management of resources at stake. Mr. Yaï Chabi reminded participants of the need for taking into consideration all the actors’ (often conflicting) rationales – conservation for some, consumption for others – before elaborating on the Ministry’s knowledge-transmission mission by focusing on Benin’s underwater heritage. Indeed, several shipwrecks are lying in the Beninese coastal waters, notably in Donaten and Bouche du Roy. The latter site lies close to Ouidah, which used to be a boarding dock for slaves being sent from Africa to America – also known as the “Door of No Return”. Hence, mapped by divers and local fishermen, many shipwrecks in the area date back to that era and directly relate to the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Benin’s marine biodiversity is also subject to ecotourism practices. Mr. Yaï Chabi for example referred to the NGO Nature Tropicale (closely collaborating with the GIZMaC project on conservation actions, particularly targeting sea turtles) and its ecotourism programme, which provides tourists opportunities for whale watching and for discovering Benin’s wetlands. Mr. Yaï Chabi further stressed how vital it is for future MPAs to encompass these different ecological, cultural, and economic factors.
Mr. Maxime F. Ahoyo, Maritime Prefect of Benin bounced back on this last aspect by noting the importance for all actors to be able to carry out their activities without negatively affecting nor being affected by other activities in the coastal and marine zone. Increased awareness, better communication, and concerted zone allocation should reduce conflicts of use and make the ocean along the Beninese coastline a safer space.
Pictures: Alison Amoussou (Abidjan Convention)