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How do MEBM Initiatives Manage Conflict?

Avoided Ambiguity about Purpose and Roles

Articulated Clear Purpose and Goals – Most initiatives ensured that their objectives were readily apparent and understood by those involved. Many identified issues or activities not under their purview. Doing so avoided the conflicts that arise when participants argue at cross-purposes or focus on issues and strategies beyond the scope of an initiative.

Articulated Clear Purpose and Goals

  • The charter of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council emphasizes that in formulating advice for the Sanctuary Superintendent, “Council members shall recall that the primary objective of the sanctuary and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act is resource protection, and how that objective can be achieved within the context of American Samoa.”
  • The Compact Agreement between the State of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Humpback National Marine Sanctuary identifies the six primary purposes of the Initiative, in particular to “protect humpback whales and their habitat,” “identify research needs and establish a long-term monitoring program,” and “sensitize users…to the needs for protecting marine ecosystems and the principles of sustainable use.” The compact clearly states that “the Governor of Hawai’i has not conveyed title to nor relinquished authority over” State-owned resources, and “the Sanctuary’s Management Plan, Designation Document and its implementing regulations do not list commercial or recreational fishing as activities subject to regulation.”
Made Roles and Responsibilities Explicit – Several initiatives established MOUs or charters that explained the different roles and responsibilities of participants, thereby avoiding conflicts rooted in misunderstandings about these relationships.

Made Roles and Responsibilities Explicit

  • The charter of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council lists the seven overarching goals of the National Marine Sanctuary Program and the six roles and objectives of the council. It explicitly states that the council is solely advisory, noting that “Nothing in this charter constitutes authority to perform operational or management functions, or to represent or make decisions on behalf of the Sanctuary, NOAA, or the Department of Commerce.”
  • Similarly, New Zealand’s Fiordland Marine Conservation Strategy draws from the Fiordland Marine Management Act of 2005 to specify the roles and responsibilities of its advisory body, the Fiordland Marine Guardians. It describes meeting procedures, functions, and the relationship between management agencies and the Guardians.
Established Co-Management Agreements – Some initiatives responded to opposition rooted in jurisdictional conflicts by addressing roles and responsibilities through co-management arrangements.

Established Co-Management Agreements

  • The Caleta El Quisco, Chile initiative benefited from the legal framework outlined by the 1991 Chilean Fishing and Aquaculture Law, which established a co-management regime between the government and local fishermens’ unions. The unions received property rights and enforcement responsibilities related to Management Exploitation Areas. The unions established decision-making and regulatory schemes. They also were required to hire biological consultants and receive state approval of their management plans.
  • At the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agreed to co-manage the sanctuary with the State of Florida to address state sovereignty concerns and help diminish local opposition to establishment of the sanctuary. A Co-Trustees Agreement formalized the terms of cooperation. State officials have clearly-defined roles and responsibilities in day-to-day management and long-term policy and regulatory decisions.

Inclusive Processes

Included Diverse Perspectives and Expertise While perhaps counterintuitive, including diverse perspectives and expertise helped to manage conflict by ensuring that all views had a place at the table. Doing so enhanced understanding of the issues and encouraged participants to reconcile differences before becoming entrenched.

Included Diverse Perspectives and Expertise

  • When the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park realized it lacked public support to expand marine zoning, it responded by expanding its outreach strategy to engage the public and user groups in classifying marine bioregions and assessing their value. The process enlisted the public in developing conservation goals in a less confrontational manner.
  • At the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the creation of the Dry Tortugas ecological reserve was not marked by the intensity of conflict that greeted earlier efforts to manage fishing. This time, the marine sanctuary involved local fishermen at the start, before any boundaries of the ecological reserve had been proposed. Their local knowledge of the spawning grounds helped delineate the boundaries of the reserve.
  • In exploring creation of a marine reserve, the Port Orford Ocean Resource Team conducted focus groups with fishermen to identify potential locations, providing large maps that fishermen used to identify important fishing grounds.
Instilled Local Ownership – By working closely with local communities dependent on marine resources, initiatives were better able to understand and be responsive to local concerns. Doing so enabled the initiatives to benefit from local knowledge and instill a sense of ownership in the initiative.

Instilled Local Ownership

  • At Tanzania’s Mafia Island Marine Park, local fishing communities had obstructed implementation of some aspects of the MEBM initiative. In response, World Wildlife Fund staff supported the development of alternative livelihoods, such as mariculture and ecotourism, to address local community needs. They established a community bank, which provided seed money to local residents to start or expand businesses. Local communities also received a share of the park’s revenues. These provisions resulted in a more comprehensive initiative that incorporated both ecological and social objectives, and thereby built local support for it.
  • While communities around Washington State’s Northwest Straits were opposed to establishment of a National Marine Sanctuary, they were nonetheless very concerned about conservation of the region’s marine resources. Establishment of the “home-grown” Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative enabled communities to develop local Marine Resource Committees, which provided a forum for local restoration activities.
  • International NGOs promoting MEBM in Madagascar’s Velondriake Community Protected Area realized that no marine conservation activity would ever occur without the support of local community leaders. UK-based Blue Ventures began education and outreach strategies that engaged the local community in learning about the reef ecosystem and threats to it. Blue Ventures assisted the community in selecting no-take zones which the community monitored and enforced through local law and customs.

Started Small and Avoided Sure Conflicts

Started Small – Achieving small victories served as a springboard for some MEBM initiatives to demonstrate their potential and generate momentum to tackle larger projects.  In doing so, they tended to encourage greater participation from resistant parties. 

Started Small

  • At its outset, the Gulf of Mexico Alliance embarked on a series of small, tangible steps that allowed it to demonstrate its value to states and other participants without getting bogged down in lengthy deliberative processes. The approach gave its leaders, the governors of the Gulf states, a low threshold to meet to define success and generate momentum, which offset conflict and encouraged other groups to participate.
  • The Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative built on a prior collaborative planning effort involving a Marine Protected Area at the smaller Sable Gully site in the Canadian Atlantic. The Sable Gully process provided a learning experience for federal agency officials and facilitated the decision to protect the larger eastern Scotian Shelf.
Avoided Sure Conflicts – Several initiatives framed their purpose and bounded their scope in a manner that avoided certain controversy.

Avoided Sure Conflicts

  • The Port Orford Ocean Resource Team communicated its proposals in ways that built on the local fishermen’s feelings of ownership over the resource and reflected their economic concerns. Rather than frame the initiative in ecosystem-based management terms, leaders described land-sea connections and the need for community stewardship of the environment and economy. In so doing, the initiative successfully avoided ideological arguments that might have derailed their efforts.
  • At their outset, both the Gulf of Maine Council and the Eastern Scotian Shelf Integrated Management Initiative decided against including fisheries management in their discussions. While certainly relevant to marine ecosystem management, fisheries were nonetheless a source of considerable conflict and were already being regulated through established institutions in both regions.

Opportunities to Discuss and Resolve Differences

Decision Making Protocols for Dealing with Conflict – Clear decision rules help to proactively avoid conflict.  The charters of many initiatives defined the process by which decisions would be made and what would be done in the case of disagreements. Several MEBM initiatives recognized that some conflicts are irresolvable. Their decision protocols indicated that dissenting opinions were to be conveyed to decision makers along with majority decisions.

Decision Making Protocols for Dealing with Conflict

  • The Galapagos Marine Reserve was governed through a structure that had a community and stakeholder body – the Participatory Management Board (PMB) – and a governmental body – the Inter-Institutional Management Authority (IMA). To resolve conflict between the two bodies, the marine reserve used a process that incentivized consensus among stakeholders. If the PMB did not reach a consensus-based decision, the IMA could make the decision on its own. The protocol has been effective at encouraging durable agreements and a participatory process.
  • Following a particularly contentious period, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council scheduled a retreat to discuss ways in which to better manage future conflicts. They developed new “Decision-making and Operational Protocols” that outline seven sets of procedures, including their preference for a consensus approach and the importance of providing room for minority views.
Multi-Party Advisory Councils and Working Groups – Most initiatives included advisory committees and working groups with participants from multiple agencies and organizations. These groups provided a forum for exploring issues from varied perspectives, identifying sources of disagreement and strategies that might narrow or resolve differences before they escalated into conflict.

Multi-Party Advisory Councils and Working Groups

  • Like other National Marine Sanctuaries, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council charter notes that the council serves as “a forum for consultation and deliberation,” and that their advice to the Sanctuary Superintendent “shall fairly represent the collective and individual views of the council members.” The charter encourages council members to “serve as liaisons between their constituents and/or communities and the sanctuary, keeping sanctuary staff informed of issues and concerns, as well as providing information to their respective communities on the sanctuary’s behalf.”

This material should be cited as: "Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, Marine Ecosystem-Based Management in Practice (Ann Arbor MI: School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, June 2012),"