What are the costs and benefits of having a protected coastal area in your backyard? That’s what a research team at Duke University’s Nicholas School for the Environment aims to find out for communities in Tanzania.
-By Amanda Solliday
Only a small fraction – about eight percent – of the world’s oceans are considered “protected” by parks and marine reserves. Conservationists worldwide hope to increase this number up to 30 percent by 2030.
In these protected areas, certain activities, such as fishing and tourism, are limited to keep the ecosystems healthy and minimize the long-term negative impact of human activity. Yet restrictions might also cause some more immediate concerns for people living along the coast.
Environmental protections in certain marine areas may limit access to food, resources, and ways to make a living, which are already issues in regions with high poverty.
“Protected areas are part of the toolkit for conservation,” says Grant Murray, an associate professor of marine policy at Duke University’s Nicholas School for the Environment. “But they can create negative impacts, so communities may resist them.”
For a decade, Murray has studied how communities manage natural resources in Tanzania, where residents near the ocean often rely on the local marine environment for food and other resources.
There are many questions about how poverty in these areas may be linked or not linked with marine protected areas, says Dana Baker, a doctoral student in marine science at Duke who works with Murray.
“There’s a need to understand the interactions between humans and these marine protected areas,” Baker says. “Many of these protected spaces are going into areas where local people can and should play a role in the decision-making.”
Baker and Murray want to better understand how people make decisions about the environment, and they’re focusing on the costs and benefits of having a protected area in your backyard.
In January, they traveled to Tanzania with a grant provided by the Global Enhancement Fund from Duke’s Office of Global Affairs. The early work on the project included several meetings with local universities and government organizations, as well as visits to three protected areas in Tanzania.
“This scoping work is important because you don’t always see effects from afar,” Murray says. “For this project, we needed to ask a lot of questions, listen to local perspectives, and learn cultural norms and local protocols.”
One of the local experts they worked with, Enock Makupa, a professor in the University of Dodoma’s geography department, says that the Duke team’s approach stood out to him.
“In many cases, we experience outside researchers defining our problem and giving their solution without full engagement of the people where the study is being conducted,” Makupa says.
He adds that marine conservation in Tanzania, in particular, suffers from insufficient information. The popular game reserves and national parks on land tend to draw more attention from the scientific community.
During their three-week trip to Tanzania, the Duke researchers invited local experts to join them in round-table discussions. There, the groups worked together to describe research needs based on current management issues in coastal areas.
One local practice, dynamite fishing, shows the complexity of finding environmental solutions. Fishers will make homemade bombs to stun and kill fish, in an effort to gather as much fish as quickly as possible. But the bombs also destroy the coral reefs where the fish live.
“It’s more or less total ecosystem destruction,” Baker says. “They get fish, which is a good thing that time. But the fish aren’t going to come back.”
During the January trip, the team realized they needed better spatial information, such as maps of the coastal ecosystems that show where people fish or where resources have been degraded or destroyed.
The collaboration will work with the Tanzania Marine Parks and Reserves Unit and the University of Dodoma, as well as Tanzanian drone experts (with support from Duke’s Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab) to fill in these gaps. They recently received an additional grant from the World Wildlife Fund to hold a series of workshops next year with drone experts in Tanzania to begin the mapping.
These early steps, says Baker, help build the long-term relationships needed for robust international research programs.
“We’re learning across an entire network of collaborators and actually building our research agenda together,” Baker says.
To foster interdisciplinary collaboration and establish strategic partnerships, Duke’s Office of Global Affairs awards grants to faculty members for projects in East Africa, Brazil, and India. Priority will be given to projects that forge or strengthen connections with in-country collaborators and extend original areas of research. Read more about the Global Enhancement Fund.