MPA4Change at the Ocean Decade Conference 2024, Barcelona.

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From April 5th to 12th 2024, the UNESCO Ocean Decade Conference 2024 was hosted in Barcelona as part of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021- 2030).

Coordinated by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC/UNESCO), the Ocean Decade seeks to stimulate ocean science and transform this knowledge into action to reverse the decline of the ocean ecosystem and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development.

This international event provided a convening framework for a wide range of stakeholders across the world to generate data, information and knowledge needed that will contribute to a well- functioning, productive, resilient, sustainable and inspiring ocean.

The Ocean Decade MPA Forum, a satellite event.

Due to the vast number of initiatives that requested a slot in the Conference, which reflects how relevant marine conservation currently is, the Ocean Decade Conference counted with a vast array of satellite events organised in its framework.

Among them, the Ocean Decade MPA Forum – Marine Protected Areas: Progress, Obstacles and Solutions was independently organised by several international organisations – among which the EUROPARC Federation, and provided an opportunity to exchange on the current status of Protected Areas worldwide. Counting with a strong representation from both Latin America and the Mediterranean region, the Forum allowed participants to explore four key themes that are driving the contribution of MPAs to the Ocean Decade goals: Challenges, Best Practices, Solutions, Maintaining Momentum and Scaling Up.

A clear message came out from the presentations: biodiversity conservation goes beyond legal protection; to really achieve it, an effective management of the MPA is urgently needed. However, the sad reality is that the vast majority of MPAs worldwide still lack management plans.

Management plans should be built on two pillars: science and early participation of relevant stakeholders. People need to be part of the process, not just be informed at the very end. The implementation of management plans should entail monitoring and surveillance. Technology brings new opportunities to achieving this. Several presentations focused on the use of electronic and aero-maritime (drones, or remote control mini-boats) monitoring systems for surveillance of both coastal and large remote MPAs.

Joaquim Garrabou speaking, Ocean Decade MPA Forum – Photo by EUROPARC Federation.

International cooperation is also key to achieve biodiversity conservation. When we look at the movement of water particles, we realise how connected everything is; there is permanent movement from one site to another. Likewise, MPAs from a same region, share the same migrant species and face the same issues – the spread of non-indigenous species, pollutants, and heat waves. Cooperation allows for early alert of emergencies, fast track solutions and accelerate legislation changes. It also allows for a stronger voice.

In this sense, a recent alliance created between Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador to boost the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Conservation Corridor – CMAR was presented. Equally, the MedPAN network and MedFund, a new environmental trust fund based in Monaco, specifically dedicated to the financing of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean, were introduced.

Climate Change Adaptation and Restoration in Marine Protected areas

Among the initiatives presented for “Keeping the momentum and Scaling Up”, both Joaquim Garrabou from the Marine Science Institute of Barcelona (ICM), as part of the Spanish Research Council (CSIC), and Teresa Pastor from the EUROPARC Federation, had the opportunity to introduce the work underway in order to foster the adaptation of Marine Protected Areas to Climate Change in the Mediterranean region and the rest of Europe.

Joaquim Garrabou focused on explaining the current situation and threats that Marine Protected Areas are facing in the Mediterranean and how climate change effects are equally jeopardizing the marine ecosystem services which the Mediterranean area strongly relies on, as well as the ability of Marine Protected Areas itself to protect the habitats and species they shelter.

100 MPAs adapted to climate change by 2030

Joaquim also highlighted that we are strongly behind schedule to achieve the conservation goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Biodiversity Strategy, and that we urgently need to improve the effectiveness of MPAs at all levels. In order to move forward and deliver time-bound and specific results, he set as a target to support 100 MPAs to set climate change adaptation strategies in place by 2030 the Mediterranean region.

By 2030, we expect that 100 MPAs in the Mediterranean basin will count with climate change adaptation strategies in place – Joaquim Garrabou, CSIC.

This target will be reached through the implementation of MPA4Change project, which offers a set of toolkits developed in previous Interreg Euro-Med initiatives, addressing different factors underpinning the effectiveness of MPAs in achieving their conservation goals.

The solutions offered by MPA4Change

Teresa Pastor giving a presentation

Teresa Pastor in the panel discussion, Ocean Decade MPA Forum – Photo by EUROPARC Federation.

Furthermore, a more in detail revision of the solutions that MPA4Change project bring to the table was presented by Teresa Pastor, Policy and Project Manager – Sustainable Tourism Manager from the EUROPARC Federation. These solutions focus on areas such as participation, climate change vulnerability assessment and monitoring, citizen science activities, adaptation strategies and communication. They form the key components that experienced MPAs will transfer to other areas willing to improve their capacities to increase their resilience to Climate Change. Additionally, and also as a result of MPA4Change, a group of experts will be created to support MPAs in the process of adaptation to climate change.

In her presentation, Teresa also explained how these toolkits will be integrated, in the form of recommendations, into regional and European policies in order to set alliances with relevant institutions such as SPA/RAC, and regional networks such as MedPan and the Union for the Mediterranean, which were strongly represented during the Forum. Finally, Teresa called to MPA representatives present among the participants to join MPA4Change and incorporate the solutions offered to adapt to climate change.

A Call to all European Parks and Trails | World Trails Conference

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Our executive director Carol Ritchie will speak at the #WorldTrailsConference in Ottawa!
Taking place from September 30 to October 3, 2024, the Conference will bring together trail leaders, experts and fellow enthusiasts.

With a long history of ancient pilgrimages, herding routes, long-distance hikes and transnational Grande routes criss-crossing the continent, the European experience of managing trails is somewhat unique. As an important means of managing multi-use visitors and of seeking to mitigate wildlife disturbance whilst enabling people to get into nature, trails are the most obvious and fundamental part of any park’s infrastructure.

Trails too are a way of attracting and serving tourists visiting our parks and are often an economic driver of an area. Great trails often come through our parks and they connect to areas outwith our Protected Areas.

Understanding their importance in the landscape is vital in linking people to place but too as a valuable line of communication to interpret the culture, wildlife and indeed climate change impacts around us.

EUROPARC is recommending all European parks and trail managers to consider attending the World Trails Congress in Ottawa, Canada from September 30 to October 3 2024, to bring this wealth of European experience to the world stage but also to find new approaches and management practices from across the world.

Hosted by the Trans Canada Trail, the 2024 World Trails Conference will focus on connection – to people, places and the planet. Explore the profound bonds that link humanity to the natural world and develop a new understanding of how our trails impact the environment, communities and each other.

EUROPARC will be represented at the congress, but are seeking to encourage a large European delegation to join, to discuss the benefits and challenges trails bring to our Protected Areas.

Early bird fees close soon… so make sure to register online at: worldtrailsconference.org

Do you have interesting case studies or news to share with us on this topic? Then please do reach out to us! We want to amplify the work happening in Europe!

Submit your case study

State of play of Protected Areas in Spain

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The commitment to Protected Areas in Spain is strong, with more than 36% of the land surface area protected and, shortly, 21% of the marine surface area.

Yearbook 2023 on the state of Protected Areas in Spain

The Yearbook of Protected Areas in Spain 2023, – published by EUROPARC Spain on the 18th of March 2024 and available in Spanish language – showcases the state of the art of Protected Areas in this country and includes an analysis of several aspects of concern.

Spain has 36.7% of the protected land area and 12.3% of the marine area, a figure that will soon rise to 21%. It stands out as the country with higher contribution of Protected Areas to the European Natura 2000 network, and the one with the highest number of biosphere reserves in the world, with 53 designated territories. These figures provide a solid basis for tackling many of the commitments related to the European Union’s Biodiversity Strategy.

Partnerships for conservation and socio-economic revitalisation

Protected Areas are essential tools within environmental, social and economic policies. Furthermore, in an increasingly urbanised society, they provide access to nature and to its enjoyment – Spanish National Parks alone receive almost 14 million visitors.

Protected Areas are also areas of opportunity for green activity and employment, especially in rural areas.

says Juana Barber, President of EUROPARC Spain.

Additionally, initiatives such as the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas (ECST) – promoted by the EUROPARC Federation – are an example scheme that allows quality recognition for products and services from Protected Areas. The ECST has involved 30 protected natural areas in Spain, 526 tourism companies and 10 travel agencies that voluntarily participate in the initiative.

Active management, experiences and field practices

Protected Areas play an essential role not solely in the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and their biodiversity.  There is growing evidence and experiences of the role that Protected Areas play in tackling the challenges of climate change, articulating the necessary cooperation between sectoral policies and stressing the socio-economic benefits of nature conservation.

Among other experiences, the Yearbook of Protected Areas in Spain 2023 portrays examples on  the contribution of Protected Areas to the different future challenges we, as a society, face. Such is the case of an European project for adaptation to climate change in a Natural Park in Galicia and an initiative for climate change mitigation in the Natural Parks of the Chartered Community of Valencia. Likewise, we can find examples like the commitment to conservation and revitalisation of rural areas in a recently created Natural Park in La Rioja and the experience of a decade of collaborative work to promote sustainable tourism in La Gomera island, driven by Garajonay National Park.

The report is available online at EUROPARC Spain website in Spanish language – take a closer look to this significant report by clicking the button below.

To the Yearbook 2023 page

Part one of the 4 Pillars 4 Youth+ Erasmus+ Project

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Alberto Madrassi, Youth representative for the Youth Advisory Board of the Julian Prealps Nature Park and EUROPARC Youth Council member shares his experience in Müritz National Park for the Project 4 Pillars 4 Youth+.

Four Days in Müritz National Park

Between the 11th and the 16th of March 2024, the educational centre Steinmühle of Müritz National Park (DE) hosted a four-day seminar that gathered 23 people from seven European Countries. The seminar was the first phase of a project called “4 Pillars 4 Youth+”, aimed at creating a digital interactive toolkit that will help the Youth+ mentors. The toolkit will cover each pillar of the Youth+ Programme (Nature Conservation, Leadership, Advocacy and Communication) with clear steps on how to set up activities and examples of activities that develop skills and competencies.

Arriving at a place in darkness always increases the curiosity of discovering what it looks like in daylight. Müritz National Park didn’t disappoint. The quiet lake, the majestic beech forest, and the noise of the many birds living in the area created a soothing atmosphere. I am convinced that this helped all the participants be in the perfect mindset to approach four days of workshops.

In general, this kind of schedule is associated with things one doesn’t particularly look forward to: a lot of presentations, sitting and stale air. This time, it wasn’t the case. The secret? Peer-to-peer learning, co-creation and cake breaks! Also, the weather played an important role because we were able to have a good balance of inside and outside sessions.

Then, all the participants were involved in the running of the seminar. Some ran a session due to their specific experience or knowledge, while others organised energisers. Each of the four days, the focus was on one of the pillars of the Youth+ programme. Not all Youth+ programmes are active in all four pillars; therefore, it was an opportunity to grow together and learn from each other. It was also beneficial for the project because it allowed us to harvest many good practices that will come in handy for creating the toolkit.

I liked witnessing that, during the breaks, people kept talking about what they do in their respective Protected Areas or organisations. There was a true desire to learn new things and hear about different projects. The Youth+ community is growing fast, and networking is a driving force.

The environment at the seminar was highly supportive, and I felt self-confident to the extent of being positively surprised by it. Until not so long ago, co-leading a workshop or speaking in front of an audience would have been unthinkable for me. The Youth+ programme is also this; it allows all of us to improve and shine.

This positive atmosphere helped to satisfactorily conclude the seminar. The work will continue through online meetings, and it will lead to the creation of the above-mentioned online toolkit later this year. Keep an eye out for future updates!

View the photo album here!

Alberto Madrassi running a role-playing session in Müritz National Park, photo credit: Anna Di Cecco