From 9-12 September 2019, an SoME workshop was organized in Cotonou, as part of the Integrated Management of the Marine and Coastal Zone (GIZMaC) project.
The GIZMaC project, collaboratively implemented in Benin by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MCVDD), the Abidjan Convention, and GRID-Arendal since September 2018, is making steady progress towards achieving its objectives. The project is developing an holistic and integrated approach aimed at strengthening the country’s governance framework for a more sustainable management of marine and coastal resources, by bringing together the wide range of actors and sectors operating along the 125km-long Beninese coast.
In June 2019 during a three-day workshop in Cotonou, the descriptive report of the Ecologically or Biologically Significant marine Areas (EBSAs) was approved by representatives from several national institutions and non-governmental organizations from Benin and West Africa. The sites selected by the different thematic working groups, Bouche du Roi – Togbin Daho, and Donaten, are both rich in wildlife that needs to be protected. On this occasion, Ms. Faustine Sinzogan, Abidjan Convention focal point and coordinator of the GIZMaC project declared: “The long-term goal for the identified EBSAs is to later be characterized as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in order to officially be managed as such”. Emphasis will therefore be put on actions leading to this objective during the coming months, and the EBSA report will soon be presented to the focal point of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) secretariat for review, approval and publication.
In parallel, another key milestone for the GIZMaC project is the production of a State of the Marine Environment (SoME) report for Benin. The SoME report is a knowledge-production document aimed at supporting the Beninese government with the necessary information to define an integrated management strategy for its coastal and marine areas. The preparation of the SoME report will require an holistic approach to understand the marine ecosystem, its resources, as well as the increasing usage conflicts around these. The process involves data acquisition and interpretation, as well as successful communication among and across the different stakeholder groups engaged in the process.
In this context, a capacity development workshop on SoME reporting was organized by the national coordination team in Cotonou form 9-12 September 2019. The workshop was facilitated by Jacques-André Ndione, Integrated Environmental Assessment (IEA) expert, in charge of supporting the francophone Mami Wata pilot countries – Benin and Côte d’Ivoire – in developing their SoME report. The session was organized around seven modules: Introduction to SoME Reporting; Formulation of the SoME report – steps and processes; Methodological approach; Introduction to the Expert elicitation method; Data, parameters and indicators; Structure of the report; and Calendar of activities. Particular emphasis was put on the DPSIR (Drivers, Pressures, State, Impact and Response) framework, a methodological approach used to assess and manage environmental problems by describing underlying causal interactions between society and the environment as interdependent components.
As part of the workshop, participants took part in a field trip to Donaten, one of the recently identified EBSAs near Cotonou. Here, participants discussed key recommendations that followed last June’s workshop, namely the need for a better integration of community knowledge, such as that of local fishermen, in order to develop a participatory mapping of Benin’s EBSAs. On that note, fruitful interactions with the local population confirmed the existence of species and resources to be protected, such as green turtles, carps and shrimps. In addition, fishermen pointed out to several factors leading to the depletion of fish stocks: mainly unsustainable fishing and the use of inappropriate gear, as well as plastic pollution coming from the Nokoué lake nearby through the channel, but also directly dumped in the ocean by the local population.
The depletion of fish stocks in the area is also the direct result of the poor fisheries management system currently in place, and of the lack of clear space allocation for the different activities in the marine and coastal zone. Indeed, due to a lack of available resources, fishermen who used to catch shrimps in the surrounding Ahémé and Nokoué lakes, are now forced to shift their activity to the sea. Yet, shrimps are an important element in the marine food web, as they constitute an important feed for fish. The increasing exploitation of these marine shrimps by freshwater fishermen directly affects the fish stocks, and therefore the other fishermen who directly depend on them for their livelihoods. This situation has recently become an important source of conflict between fishermen communities.
On the positive side, the workshop participants also engaged with ‘ecoguards’, volunteers form the NGO Nature Tropicale, whom they had previously met in April 2019. In Donaten, the NGO focuses on the protection of the four marine turtle species (green, olive ridley, leatherback and hawksbill) living along the coasts of Benin. Following good discussions, Mr. Ndione underlined the importance of understanding the strategies already implemented by local populations for the preservation of the ecosystems they rely on, as a key part of the SoME reporting process.
In the coming months, the SoME core team will proceed with data collection and with the definition of ecosystem health indicators, before starting the report writing process. The first draft will then be reviewed by the scientific committee. Several iterations are expected between the writing and the reviewing committees. Indeed, “the peer-review step is key in the production of a scientifically credible SoME report” stressed Mr. Ndione.
Just like for the descriptive report of the EBSAs last June, a national workshop will be organized in due time to approve the SoME report of Benin. In the meantime, preliminary results will be communicated to foster engagement across sectors and in order to increase awareness around the coastal and marine environment.