The scorching sun beating down over Djibouti town meant that we were in for four days of sweat from 21st – 24th May 2017. It hardly rains in this part of the world and given summer was just a stone throw away, Joan Kawaka and myself from CORDIO, Houssein Rayaleh from IUCN, Abdillahi Loita from Ministry of Housing, Urban Affairs and Environment and Abdillahi Adaweh a community mobiliser from Djibouti were upbeat to conduct awareness, training in fisheries monitoring and plan for demarcating the first Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) in Djibouti.
The volcanic hilly landscape interspaced with granitic rocks was evident along the route to Arta Plage, a village located some 50 km from Djibouti town. The harsh environment is favoured for military training activities by forces from Djibouti and other countries. At the foot of the hills is a discordant coastline characterised by a beautiful rocky shoreline. CORDIO, IUCN and Cousteau Society, with funding support from the European Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), are undertaking a Biodiversity Management Programme on Enhancing biodiversity conservation in transboundary ecosystems and seascapes in the Lower Awash-Lake Abbé region.
There is a growing pressure on the marine environment, which if not checked will lead to resource degradation, loss of marine biodiversity and associated ecosystem functioning. CORDIO is working with a fishing community at Arta Plage to achieve sustainable nature-based and community-managed livelihood improvement initiatives; and strengthen capacity for biodiversity conservation and management of protected areas and key ecosystems. The Arta community has begun a slow but steady journey that will see them empowered to manage and conserve their marine and fisheries resources through establishing a LMMA. We have introduced them to the five phases of LMMA establishment: i) Conceptualisation, ii) Inception, iii) Implementation, iv) Monitoring and management; and v) Ongoing Adaptive Management. LMMAs are areas of ocean managed by coastal communities to help protect fisheries and safeguard marine biodiversity.
Though a new concept in Djibouti, the phases of establishment have taken off. With sustained capacity building, training, consultation and collaboration with all relevant stakeholders since November 2016, the conception and inception phases have laid a strong foundation for conservation and management of marine and fisheries resources for the benefit of the local community.
A group of 30 fishers at Arta Plage fish using handlines during summer (June-August) and shift to tourism activities in winter (October – December). They target pelagic species such as tuna, kingfish, dorado, baracuda, red mullet, groupers and trevally. This preference is related to the high market value and low bone content of pelagic species. Interestingly, coral associated fish such as parrotfish and rabbitfish are least preferred unlike in most western Indian Ocean countries. Local fishers consider fishing by migrant fishers from Djibouti city and Yemen a threat to whale shark aggregations, dolphins and sea turtles, which are a major source of tourist attraction in the area.
Exchange visits are a significant catalyst for community members to implement the management of a marine area. As such representatives from Arta community visited Kuruwitu LMMA in Kenya in March. A fresh breath of enthusiasm has since built up and as narrated by Abdourahman Ibrahim during one of the several consultation meetings, “The exchange visit to Kuruwitu in Kenya provided me with an opportunity to have a firsthand experience on how a community is involved in the management of coastal resources“. This sentiment was shared by Safia Abdourahman, “We went and saw how a community in Kenya are involved in protection of marine environment and we are now ready to implement a LMMA.” Abdillahi Adaweh, the Djibouti LMMA team leader noted that their visit has prepared them to mitigate emerging threats, particularly climate change. The experience catapulted community members to form and register the ‘Association de la pêche et du tourisme et de l’environnement d’Arta Plage’, that will champion a partnership between the government and resource users in fisheries management and biodiversity conservation under the framework of co-management. “Our coral reefs in Arta Plage are in better health compared to the ones we saw at Kuruwitu“, Abdourahman Ibrahim further added. Surveys in Arta Plage by CORDIO and Cousteau Society in 2014 indeed show that the coral cover is high and coral communities are composed of large table and massive corals suggesting a relatively undisturbed environment. Low fishing pressure and low development along much of the coast also plays a role in the health of the reef community. The high coral cover and the presence of charismatic endangered and vulnerable species makes Arta a good site for biodiversity conservation.
Next activities include finalisation of the co-management plan, monitoring of fisheries and demarcation of the proposed LMMA. To ensure long-term financial sustainability, implementing partners are developing sustainable financing options.
By Kennedy Osuka, Research Scientist