By Charlie Endsor
As the end of the first quarter of 2017 started to draw to a close, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to take stock and thank our Ocean Ambassadors and Tofo community for their continued hard work in protecting our ocean resource. We also wanted to engage with all stakeholders on a deeper level about what it means to manage a body of water for the good of the whole community.
What materialized was a three-day Sustainable Seas Conference that focused on stakeholder engagement and education, and concluded with an Ocean Festival to celebrate the community’s success.
Day one was a relaxed affair during which Alex Watts, one of our whale shark gurus, and myself (the stand-in manta person) presented our usual Monday and Wednesday night manta and whale shark talks to our Ocean Ambassadors. This was very much an open forum and the ambassadors engaged immediately, asking questions and discussing issues among themselves. Our local field officer Herculano Cumbi encouraged the ambassadors to get involved, and really increased their energy and drive to learn.
We focused on the decline in sightings and the loss of revenue for the Tofo area should the population of these gentle giants continue to decrease. The feedback was amazing! The Ocean Ambassadors were incredibly grateful that we took the time to share in-depth information about the species and their economic impacts. They were so inspired that they all agreed to do some homework and wowed us with their ability to describe specific differences between reef and giant mantas, among other statistics.
On day two, we organized a community workshop for the Ocean Ambassadors, dive shops, Community Fisheries Council (CCP) members and the coastal police. The focus was on Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) management plans – to give our stakeholders ideas about how they can specifically run these areas and also to get them thinking about challenges, successes and the best way to move forward. This was an immensely successful day and one of my resounding memories is of seeing community members from all backgrounds and professions huddled together in small groups discussing everything that was being presented. After many discussions and a hearty dinner, they returned home to prepare for the Ocean Festival the following day.
The Ocean Festival started off with the coastal police giving a 20-minute presentation on their roles and responsibilities and more importantly for us, what items they needed more of for monitoring and enforcement. To have this open dialogue with the coastal police and for them to approach us to give this presentation is almost unheard of and is a huge step forward for the closure zones.
The festival continued with presentations from our Ocean Ambassadors about what they have learned and we also hosted representatives of the Mayor’s office. After that, everyone’s favourite local band Skem Kem kicked into gear and people danced the evening away in front of a screen projecting an Ocean Revolution and WWF documentary on shark finning (called Shiver). It was amazing to see local children stopping and staring in awe at images of every shark imaginable.
All in all, our Sustainable Seas conference was a great success. A healthy dose of education, discussion, thought and dancing ended up bringing the Tofo community that little bit closer together for the common goal of saving Our Ocean, Our Future.
Quote from Armando Cumbi, Ocean Ambassador:
“We, the Ocean Ambassadors, will continue to use all knowledge gained in the workshop promoted by the Marine Megafauna Foundation, our greatest partner, to influence and teach children and adults in our neighborhoods about the importance of conserving the sea by using sustainable methods of fishing. We will do our utmost to continue to raise awareness among our colleagues who use gillnets to help them adhere to the most sustainable line fishing method. We hope that reopening the protected area will be a very special moment of great celebration and that the next reef closure will last for a longer time, because even before the opening, it is already possible to see greater production in the protected zones!”