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Untangling international agreements in the Coral Triangle

Deutsch: Lagekarte des Korallendreiecks

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A new article on international governance arrangements relating to the Coral Triangle has just been published in Marine Policy. Using a network approach, P Fidelman, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, and J Ekstrom, University of California Berkeley, examine whether and how institutional complexity can be conducive to large-scale marine management.  They show that regional marine governance is marked by jurisdiction and functional overlaps, and suggest inter-institutional learning and institutional synergy as processes to cope with complexity and fragmentation. The abstract reads:

The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI), adopted recently in response to the degradation of coastal and marine environments in the Southeast Asia-Pacific’s Coral Triangle, emphasises the need for using existing international and regional fora to promote implementation. Large-scale marine initiatives, including the CTI, very often must contend with a remarkably complex institutional system. This raises the question of whether and how such complexity can be conducive to marine resources management. To answer this question, this paper aims to better understand the governance context in which the CTI was established (i.e., map governance fragmentation/complexity), and explore how such a context may support the implementation of the CTI goals (i.e., examine normative interplay). To conduct this examination, it uses an objective method that allows users to view and explore institutional arrangements through a network approach. By documenting the system of existing institutions in the Coral Triangle, the study shows that the Coral Triangle governance system is illustrative of those of international environmental governance. It involves multiple policy domains, and features different institutional arrangements and variability in terms of geographical scope and main subject matter. Such a system is complex and fragmented, marked by jurisdiction and functional overlaps. The paper suggests interplay management, such as inter-institutional learning and enhancing institutional synergy, as a promising process to promote inter-institutional coordination.

Source: FIDELMAN, P.; EKSTROM, J. 2012. Mapping Seascapes of International Environmental Arrangements in the Coral Triangle. Marine Policy, 36(5): 993-1004; doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2012.02.006 or download manuscript version.

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March 15, 2012   No Comments

Trouble in the Triangle

Source: modified from  Stockholm Resilience Centre

Protection of the Coral Triangle is complicated by a spectrum of differing interests and actors

Solenostomus paradoxus Harlequin ghost pipefish

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So-called common-pool resources are notoriously difficult to govern and the Coral Triangle region is not an exception. This archipelagic region, which consists of of Indonesia, Malaysia (Sabah), the Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, contains 76 percent of the world’s reef fishes and is regarded as the global epicentre of marine biodiversity and abundance.

Differing perspectives
In a paper recently published in Marine Policy, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and Stockholm Resilience Centre analyse the diversity of factors that affect new governance initiatives of large-scale marine commons such as the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), an intergovernmental agreement between the countries in the Coral Triangle.

The agreement is a legally non-binding document setting out core goals, targets and actions for the protection of the Coral Triangle region over the next ten years. That all sounds good, but common to most of the countries involved is the failure to coordinate developmental and environmental policies. The reality across the region is that political, economic and cultural perspectives are extremely diverse.

“Political and ethnic conflict as well as conflict over resources themselves has often defined relations in the Coral Triangle region. Poor understanding or narrow perspectives can lead to simplified judgements about resource systems. This in turn can lead to failures in conservation efforts,” the researchers say.

Confront competing objectives
Marine and coastal ecosystem services provide essential contributions to the national economies in the Coral Triangle countries, but there has been increasing tension between different stakeholders due to competition over declining and overexploited fish stocks, and different perceptions among actors on the benefits and costs of conservation and tourism.

The paper highlights the need to confront competing objectives such as biodiversity conservation and development goals, or regional governance and community-based management.

“The CTI will need to demonstrate how regional coordination and financing of governance can contend with a multitude of pressures, perspectives and existing activities. It needs to be inclusive of the many fisheries, tourist groups, scientists, sub-national governments and community groups that are all involved in the region,” the authors say.

A healthy dose of experimentation and inclusiveness, please
Being successful in this endevour might prove a tricky one. The CTI as a whole focuses on the centralisation of coastal and marine governance, whereas most of the countries involved apply a more decentralised approach with community-based and co-management as the primary model for coastal resource management.

To cope with this complexity, CTI will need to be innovative in finding new ways to include the many perspectives and actors, and enable effective connections between different institutional arrangements and stakeholders.

“Large-scale governance initiatives such as CTI will need to allow for a great deal of experimentation and regular adjustments to governance arrangements to account for the dynamic nature of this region,” the researchers conclude.

Source: Fidelman P., et al. Governing large-scale marine commons: Contextual challenges in the Coral Triangle. Marine Policy (2011), doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2011.03.007 or download manuscript version

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June 14, 2011   No Comments

Multilateral Governance in Large-scale Marine Systems

Purple anemone (Heteractis magnifica) and resi...

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The Reefs at Risk Revisited, a report by the World Resources Institute released late last month, warns of a “global coral crisis” with 75% of coral reefs currently in danger from overfishing, pollution and climate change. If these threats persist, it is estimated that more than 90% of reefs will be at risk by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.

At the centre of this “global coral crisis” is the Coral Triangle, a region regarded as the epicentre of marine life diversity – with 76% of all known coral species and 53% of the world’s coral reefs, where more than 100 million people depend directly on marine and coastal resources for income, livelihood and food security.

In 2009, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands adopted the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI) as an attempt to reverse the decline in the marine environment and pursue a more sustainable use of marine resources in the region. The governance of large-scale marine systems, such as the Coral Triangle can be remarkably complex and fragmented. At the regional level, it is critical to consider the governance “seascape” in which large-scale action is designed and implemented.

Dr Julia Ekstrom presented this morning at the Resilience 2011 Conference, Arizona State University, the paper “Navigating Multilateral Governance in the Coral Triangle”, which examines the extant governance for the CTI region and how multilateral arrangements relate to the priorities of the CTI (seascapes, ecosystem approach, marine protected areas, climate change adaptation and threatened species). In the paper, it was undertaken a multidimensional exploration of 190 documents (conventions, treaties, agreements, action plans, memoranda of understanding etc.) by using text analysis and network diagrams.

Several multilateral arrangements apply to the priorities of the CTI; for example, fisheries is a topic covered in 69% of the arrangements. The Coral Triangle appears to suffer from “Treaty Congestion” that can generate tensions between environmental regimes, characteristic of ineffective responses to environmental degradation. The paper suggests that the CTI should seek to coordinate its actions with those of related efforts to maximise implementation and reduce overlaps and conflicts.


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March 16, 2011   No Comments

Economic Incentives for Marine Conservation

The Economic Incentives for Marine Conservation guidebook, produced by Conservation International in collaboration with the Integration & Application Network of the University of Maryland, has just been released.

Incentives guidebook

The challenge of making conservation economically attractive is a critical hurdle for the creation and effective management of marine managed areas. This document describes three approaches to shaping incentives, project design and tool selection, and provides 27 case studies worldwide where incentives were employed in changing behaviour.

The guidebook can be downloaded at

January 20, 2011   No Comments