The Republic of Mauritius claims a vast Exclusive Economic Zone with an area of 2.3 million km2. In recognition of the functional importance of the associated ecosystems and of the rich biodiversity hosted by the EEZ, 18 marine protected areas (MPAs) were proclaimed in Mauritius and Rodrigues. In recent years, significant progress was made towards increasing the total coverage of MPAs with respect to Target 5 of Sustainable Development Goal 14. At present 11.9% of the total coastal areas of the Republic of Mauritius are protected.
Significant livelihood shocks
Globally, MPAs have been based on the protection of marine habitats and maintaining biodiversity. While there has been some success; there has also been disruption to the livelihoods within the coastal village communities causing significant economic shocks and engendering localised conflicts. Mauritius was not spared. The proclamation of the Blue Bay Marine Park was undertaken only after lengthy negotiations with fishing communities in the region who had to be compensated for the loss of their livelihoods. Some of the members of the coastal community were able to use the marine park as a base for ecotourism activities with sightseeing on glass-bottom boats; while others were less successful due, in part, to inadequate support and capital.
Co-Management through Community Participation
UNDP’s South East Marine Protected Area project, SEMPA, aims at helping the local communities of Rodrigues affected by climate adaptation and mitigation measures. Since 2009, the project has been supporting a co-management approach of the MPA through community participation, and this participatory approach remains ongoing.
With the aid of the UNDP-GEF Partnerships for MPAs project, several small to medium enterprises (SMEs) were set up through the SEMPA community. Some of them were oriented towards relieving pressures on the lagoon; while others focused on livestock, agro-based products, processed fish and octopus, and ecotourism. With the implementation of new regulations concerning octopus fishing, women fishers were helped to establish alternative livelihoods, and some of them came together as a cooperative to cultivate seaweed for processing.
In addition, the UNDP Small Grants Programme has supported a range of activities with NGOs to promote organic agriculture and contribute to the development of sustainable fisheries. The Alternative Livelihoods and Support for Sustainable Marine Resource Management programme 2013-2014 resulted in the training of local community representatives in the co-management of marine resources, the demarcation of marine reserves, and the implementation of community-based monitoring, control and surveillance measures.
To complement these actions, which aim to conserve the unique marine biodiversity while supporting the livelihoods of the coastal communities, UNDP has proposed the Mainstreaming Biodiversity Project. This project is intended to help coastal communities to reduce the impact of their economic activities on the MPA while deriving benefits from other opportunities coming with the MPA. Working with NGOs, communities are supported to implement sustainable alternative livelihood activities which had not been targeted by the solutions previously rolled-out in Mauritius and Rodrigues. Protecting the biodiversity while ensuring that community voices and livelihoods remain at the centre, is a delicate task for which UNDP must continually refine its approaches and methodology.
COVID-19 and the risk of disruptive effects on Marine Protected Areas
The Covid-19 pandemic brought almost all nautical activities in Mauritius and Rodrigues to a standstill for around 70 days during the period of confinement. The lockdown period to stem the spread of the coronavirus benefited the marine biodiversity, while at the same time had a significant negative impact on the livelihoods of coastal communities who rely on tourism and other ocean-based activities. Without concerted efforts to promote new forms of livelihoods, it will be difficult to prevent the populations from going back to sea, with all the threats this represents for the marine biodiversity. It is thus, more than ever vital to promote mitigating solutions to maintain the fragile relationship that MPAs have helped to create between the local populations and the ocean.