SPAMI Twinning program: Showcasing cooperation for biodiversity conservation

By Khalil Attia, SPA/RAC Director

After SPAMI Day Monaco in May 2022, SPA/RAC is participating in the United Nations Oceans Conference 2022 in Lisbon to affirm its contribution to the global discussions on best science-based conservation initiatives and actions, including management of marine protected areas.

Because we are a regional organization and we can recognize the virtues of multilateral cooperation, we truly believe that multi-stakeholder partnerships and regional ocean governance are cornerstones for the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean.

Today, nobody can deny the intense and growing pressure on ocean ecosystems and the urgency to set-up multi-level ocean action through regional cooperation, both locally and globally.

The SPAMI Twinning programme, financed within the framework of bilateral cooperation between UNEP/MAP and the Italian Ministry for Ecological Transition (MiTE) was launched in 2018 as a showcase action to face such urgency.

The title of the kick-off meeting of the programme February 2019 in Torre del Cerrano in Italy was a manifesto: “Developing and strengthening an effective Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI) management”. The new programme represented a major component of the Bilateral Cooperation Agreement signed between the Italian Ministry of Environment Land Use and Sea (IMELS) and the UN Environment Programme - Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) – Barcelona Convention Secretariat, in support of MAP programme of work activities.

The originality and strength of the twinning programme is in the sharing management and monitoring knowledge, building capacities of SPAMI managers and supporting involvement of civil society. At the time, four SPAMI twinning agreements were signed between Italian and other Mediterranean SPAMIs and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The combination between SPAMIs and MPAs led since to models of good governance and good management practices.

After many years of practice within the different SPAMIs, the challenges are clearly about the same and the proposed solutions can easily be transversal.

As early as October 2019, exchange visits between SPAMI managers on the Kneiss Islands in Tunisia and the Egadi Islands in Italy have made it possible to adapt Italian management protocols to the Tunisian context.

Beyond the exchanges activities and trainings on the monitoring and centralized planning of MPAs, the project also promoted small blue economy projects involving Civil Society Organizations and supported co-management initiatives within SPAMIs and MPAs.

Today, the twinning programme continues for the same eight SPAMIs and five beneficiary countries (Albania, Algeria, Italy, Slovenia and Tunisia) within the framework of the bilateral cooperation. It is sustained thanks to funding from the European project ENSERES, also involving Spain and France.

Needless to say that in 2022, SPAMIs have a demonstrative effect that can be harnessed to scale up solutions and best practices. Most of these solutions and best practices came in Monaco last May from SPAMI managers themselves, on SPAMI Day special event. They met and identified the themes and priority actions on which SPAMIs should focus their exchanges.

They developed a bucket list of actions that became a true roadmap. The powerful recommendations insisted on cooperation opportunities and perspectives to enhance effective management within SPAMIs. They put forward the need to measure management effectiveness on ecosystems but also on the socio-economic activities (federate and constraint). They decided that new areas of enhanced/strong protection should be integrated within SPAMIs and that the development, collaboration and cooperation between SPAMIs were necessary to ensure connectivity. SPAMIs should be hotspot areas to increase, certify and transfer best practices for management effectiveness, combining management with continuous scientific monitoring. Last, but not least, everybody agreed that it was necessary to ensure a financial support for the management through national and external funds and opportunities.

Future successes necessitate the involvement of all stakeholders in an integrated manner including decision-makers, managers, local communities, civil society organizations but also private sectors, etc., to reach effective and sustainable management.

One keyword that came back among participants in Monaco was GOVERNANCE.

All managers agreed that a well-developed management plan in a participatory and integrated manner constitutes a first step for good governance. Relationship with the local communities should be strengthened by involving them with new co-management models. Enforcement and adequate surveillance should be established and strengthened; MPA managers should be provided with legal competencies and permanent human and financial capacities should be guaranteed.

But governance is closely linked to effective management which is dependent on sustainable funding (i.e., the MedFund and similar initiatives).

One thing leading to another, the exchange of experience became an exercise in capacity building and the conclusion was that SPAMI Twinning Programmes should be continued, strengthened and promoted in all directions, North/South and South/South, putting forward critical and emerging topics such as marine litters, climate change, etc.

As we are about to meet in Lisbon, let’s recognize that the global agreement between SPAMI/MPA managers is an effective way forward and a role model in sustainable joint actions.

In a context of global political tensions, we must be grateful for our work in progress on SPAMIs. It is the fruit of our discussions and active collaboration.