11 Dec 2015

A breakthrough in marine conservation within the BirdLife Africa Partnership: the first steps

Shearwaters feeding off Senegal ©Sylla
Shearwaters feeding off the shore of Senegal ©Sylla
By Justine Dossa & Ross Wanless

The BirdLife International Marine Programme (BIMP) and Africa Partnership secretariat share a goal to achieve conservation objectives for seabirds and marine resources. To achieve this they have developed a strategic plan, with a focus on West and North African regions. BIMP is identifying marine IBAs off the coast of West Africa through the Alcyon Project, funded by the MAVA Foundation. This will link with the strategic action plan to inform the development of a second phase of the Alycon project, anticipated to commence in 2017.

Alcyon project poster

Significant data gaps in our understanding of possible threats to seabirds in the region are already apparent: fishery data, bycatch risks to seabirds; emerging threats of oil and gas extraction, marine mining, weak and fragmented ocean governance. The strategy seeks to protect seabirds and marine biodiversity, and address the underlying causes of theses threats at national, regional and international levels.

The first step is to identify marine IBAs, and the threats to seabirds in the African waters of the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and in the Mediterranean Sea; then to find, fund and implement solutions to those challenges. The 2015 BirdLife Council for Africa Partnership (CAP) meeting offered a great opportunity to inform the African Partnership.

The 2015 CAP meeting was held at The Royal Senchi, Akosombo, Ghana on 9 -14 October 2015. This meeting was attended by representatives from 23 of the 24 BirdLife Partners in Africa including representatives from five others countries, four supporting Partners.

A marine session, ‘Giving wings to marine conservation in Africa's Atlantic and Mediterranean Coasts’, was organized with the aim to explain why a separate  regional marine strategy is needed to address marine issues in West Africa, to raise the profile of the marine programme in Africa Partnership and share information on how BirdLife International intends to use the Alcyon Project (seabird & marine IBAs project) as a case study for raising its profile in marine sectors in the region. Significant capacity-building opportunities exist in future marine conservation activities. An initial zero draft of the broad outline of the strategy was shared with all Partners for input before the meeting. This draft was discussed during the CAP marine session, and capacity-building needs and opportunities in marine conservation were presented to the Africa Partnership.

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All the BirdLife Africa Partners present which have a coastline, four supporting partners (RSPB, VBN, NABU and SEO) and PRCM (a Partner collaborating on marine and coastal issues in West Africa) identified and prioritized the threats and challenges for seabirds and marine work in their regions. Brainstorming during the session allowed partners to be aware of global priorities and an assessment of strengths and opportunities conducted by Partners during the session showed priorities by country and site.

The next steps agreed at the meeting urged Partners to identify and reach out to research institutions and other organizations working on seabirds and marine issues in their countries in order to initiate and explore potential for collaboration. All the partners were encouraged to communicate with the BirdLife Africa Secretariat through the Alcyon Project Manager and BIMP Africa Coordinator about any opportunities so as to provide strategic guidance, support, and find synergies with other opportunities, work programmers and projects.