This year, Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project Annual Symposium is taking place virtually through a series of monthly webinars. In one of these seminars held in April, different members of the Smart Coasts project participated as panelists in a presentation called “Climate-Smart Coastal Planning and Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
Katie Arkema, Principal Scientist of the Natural Capital Project at Stanford University participated as moderator, and as panelists, Manishka De Mel, Senior Associate of The Earth Institute, Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University, Fabio Cresto Aleina, president of the Smart Coast’s Regional Working Group, Sayda Rodríguez Gómez, Secretary of Development of the Government of Yucatán, Arlene Young, Director of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI) and Luis Chevez, Sustainable Tourism Technical Officer for WWF Mesoamerica.
The objective of the session was to bring together professionals and scientists working on issues related to climate change and coastal resilience, sustainable development and protected area management facing communities and ecosystems in the coastal regions of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Mexico, the Smart Coasts project finalized the design of its ecosystem-based adaptation measures portfolio. This consists of six adaptation measures that seek to protect and recover ecosystem services that coastal habitats offer to the local communities. The included measures are: mangrove conservation, mangrove restoration, coral reef conservation, coastal dune restoration, integral fire management, and seagrass conservation.
The portfolio includes specific sites where the implementation of measures is recommended to maximize the provision of ecosystem services (specifically coastal protection and benefits to local tourism). For each measure, a numerical surface goal was defined where it is considered feasible to carry out the actions, taking into consideration limitations, for example, the amount of available financial resources. These goals were identified through consultations with local partners, including academia, government, and civil society actors.
In the following months, the project will work on prioritizing the measures identified to be implemented in the field, in addition to identifying opportunities to collaborate with public sector actors to promote their integration into various public policy instruments to achieve their implementation in the long term.
Based on the results from the Smart Coasts Project, WWF, in collaboration with Stanford University’s Natural Capital Project, the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MARFUND), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Healthy Reefs Initiative ( HRI) with the support of the Government of Germany through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and The Pew Charitable Trusts carried out a project to assess the resilience of selected marine protected areas (MPAs) in Belize, Honduras and Mexico .
The initiative included the analysis of a matrix of indicators of ecological, physical, socioeconomic, and adaptive capacity to better understand the resilience potential of the selected marine protected areas (MPAs).
Indicators analyzed within the matrix (together) included: 1) the ecology of reef systems within MPAs to understand the coverage / density of benthic and fish communities, species redundancy, and spatial heterogeneity; 2) in situ and satellite sea surface temperatures to understand reef exposure to climate change; and 3) threats such as land-based impact sources. Coral reefs are naturally resilient; however, the combined disturbances of natural and human factors are affecting their innate ability to be resilient.
In March 2021, the sessions of the Training of Trainers program continued in Guatemala, focused on the climate scenarios recreation model. After the session, the 10 participants developed individual tasks that allowed them to apply what they had learned during the session. To date, there have been two feedback sessions for participants to solve doubts about the models addressed and prepare for a final test, which will be developed in the next period of project activities.
Within the project, the Restoration Opportunity Optimization (ROOT) tool of the Natural Capital Project is being used to evaluate the trade-offs between the different ecosystem services and visualize where investments in restoration could be made to optimize the benefits of the multiple adaptation options identified.
To present restrictions to the ROOT analysis that will be aligned with national goals and policies in Guatemala, on April 28 and May 19 virtual consultation workshops were held with national entities to define such restrictions. These virtual workshops had the participation of 20 representative from the government sector: National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) National Institute of Forests (INAB) Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and from the academic sector: University of San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC) and the non-governmental sector Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI).
In these workshops, the participants provided technical inputs, general guidelines and institutional goals that allowed the identification of restrictions for the six adaptation strategies that have been identified for Guatemala.
On May 12, the results and progress of the Smart Coasts project were presented to the new authorities of the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP), an institution that appointed a new focal point to follow up on the project and the incorporation of its results within the corresponding management tools.
During this same period, WWF participated in workshops that seek to update the National Determined Contributions (NDC) of Guatemala within the framework of the Paris Agreement. As a result of this participation, the results of the adaptation strategy “mangrove restoration” will feed goal 1 of the marine-coastal zone.
The project has continued supporting the development of management plans for the Cuyamel and Tela Bay Wildlife Refuges. In the process, the conservation objectives of the areas have been defined (ecosystems or species that must be protected because they are threatened or provide important services to people). The health status of these ecosystems and species has also been analyzed and protected areas have been zoned to safeguard and guarantee the sustainable use of resources.
Through one of its subcontractors: the Center for Marine Studies (CEM), the project has participated in the preparation of the Management Plan for the Bahía de Tela Wildlife Refuge (RVSBT). In addition, it has provided inputs for updating the management plans of the Blanca Jeanette Kawas National Park (PNBJK) and the Punta Izopo National Park (PNPI), promoting that the results of the ecosystem service models generated by the project for this area to be incorporated into management plans.
As next steps, work will be done on the development of regulations for each area and on the creation of strategies for the management of protected areas. For this stage, the Smart Coasts project will provide contributions to coral and mangrove protection strategies, as well as mangrove restoration. The project will provide science-based information to identify where these strategies generate a greater return on services such as protection of the coasts, increased visits from tourism or increased fish stocks.
To date, the Smart Coasts project has developed different communication actions conducted by WWF, its partners, and subcontractors. For example, through one of the subcontractors: The Sarteneja Alliance for Conservation and Development (SACD), a live video was disseminated on social networks to talk about the project and its objectives, which reached an audience equivalent to 1% of the total population of Belize. This organization and other subcontractors in each country have also carried out in person awareness activities, keeping restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
To continue with the communication actions previously carried out by the project, a regional communications plan was developed to implement activities from May 2021 to March 2022. These activities include addressing different audiences, including communities, local authorities, national authorities, journalists, and project ambassadors in each country.
The purpose of this plan is to continue providing information and education on the importance of climate change adaptation directed to communities in coastal protected areas covered by the project, as well as to share science-based information, generated by the project, with technical staff and decision makers in government entities of each one of the Mesoamerican Reef System countries.