The IOSEA Conservation and Management Plan, in its Objective 6.4, calls upon Signatory States to “improve coordination among government and non-government sectors in the conservation of marine turtles and their habitat” and, in particular, to “encourage cooperation within and among government and non-government sectors, including through the development and/or strengthening of national networks”.
The rationale for improving communication and coordination among different sectors is self-evident. Government agencies need to be aware of each other’s policies and actions on the ground, especially if they may inadvertently be at cross-purposes. In many countries, non-governmental organisations are also carrying out important field activities to conserve marine turtles which counterparts in government ought to be aware of. One way of facilitating a more coordinated approach within a country is to establish a national committee that periodically brings together the relevant actors.
The reporting template designed for the IOSEA Online Reporting Facility requests Signatory States to report on their efforts to develop or strengthen such networks. Under Activity 4.3.2, Signatories are requested to “describe initiatives already undertaken or planned to involve and encourage the cooperation of Government institutions, NGOs and the private sector in marine turtle conservation programmes … [including] development of national networks, formation of steering committees, involvement in workshops, sponsorship of events etc.”
Recognising the importance of this issue, the Advisory Committee and Secretariat developed a short questionnaire to encourage Signatory States to report in more depth on the initiatives undertaken to date. The questionnaire was circulated in 2008, 2011and 2014.
About two-thirds of those reporting appear to have some form of coordination mechanism in place, ranging from formally constituted groups that have met periodically (e.g. Australia, Kenya, Mauritius, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, United Republic of Tanzania) to ad hoc assemblages that serve a similar purpose even if a more formal status is still awaited (e.g. Indonesia, Madagascar, Thailand). The United States, though without a formal committee per se, nonetheless regularly undertakes wide-reaching consultations with concerned stakeholders. Comoros’ national committee appears to have a much wider remit than marine turtle conservation, which may or may not be disadvantageous in terms of its capacity to focus on pressing turtle issues.
Some positive conclusions and other observations arise from this cursory survey:
- Where committees have been set up, either formally or as ad hoc arrangements, they seem to have done a good job at identifying the relevant actors within and outside traditional government structures. Initiatives to involve non-governmental organisations and indigenous/local community representatives are noteworthy.
- Such committees/networks have served as important vehicles for progressing the development and further implementation of national action plans; and in some cases stimulating discussion of data sharing and critical conservation issues, such as bycatch mitigation. However tangible outcomes of these efforts are not readily apparent from the information provided to date.
- Financial constraints – limiting both the frequency of meetings and potential for concrete follow-up actions – appear to have impeded the effectiveness of some national committees.
- Active engagement of members which may have only a peripheral interest in the subject matter may be a challenge in some countries.
In general, while one can point to a number of positive attributes in many countries, it is difficult to cite any particular IOSEA Signatory State as having an exemplary, fully functional national committee or network that others might look to as a ‘model’ arrangement. It is hoped that this brief survey will encourage Signatory States to examine their own situation, with a view to establishing some form of representative committee where none exists thus far, or trying to improve upon or formalise existing arrangements.