Lessons Learned from Coral Triangle Initiative - Final Report

A team of SMEA researchers, led by Prof. Patrick Christie, recently completed a major study of the Coral Triangle Initiative Support Program. This report, titled "Final Report: Lessons Learned from the US Coral Triangle Initiative Support Program. A report to WWF and USAID," is based on thousands of interviews and documents the extent that the six countries involved in the Coral Triangle Initiative benefited from and learned from the program, and provides guidelines for future marine conservation and governance projects. Prof. Christie called this report a "rewarding team effort," and acknowledged the hard work of his UW team including Affiliate Prof. Richard Pollnac, Research Associate Todd Stevenson, SMEA graduate Diana Pietri, and four current SMEA master's students, as well as the many assistants from Coral Triangle countries.

Prof. Christie has led various comparative, socio-ecological research projects in Puget Sound, Philippines, the Coral Triangle region, and Latin America to inform the practice of marine resource management. He is particularly interested in the human dimensions of marine conservation employing marine protected areas, ecosystem-based management, and marine spatial planning which resulted in a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation. In addition to his scholarship, he is actively engaged in marine protected area design and implementation in various locations. He draws from his three years of experience living in a Philippine fishing community implementing a community-based marine protected area as a Peace Corps Volunteer. To learn more about Prof. Christie, please visit his faculty page here.

Citation: Christie, P., RP Pollnac, T. Stevenson, D. Pietri. Final Report: Lessons from the US Coral Triangle Initiative Support Program. A report to WWF and USAID.

Below is the Final Report's Executive Summary. For the full report, please click here.

Executive summary:

The Learning Project (LP) examined the lessons learned, results and outcomes of the US Coral Triangle Initiative (US CTI) Support Program. USAID, through the USCTI Support Program Implementing Partners, provided funding to the University of Washington to capture lessons learned from the USAID-funded five-year program. The LP emphasized the contributions of each implementing partner from the US CTI, the symmetry and linkages between mechanisms, and the lessons learned from this ambitious initiative supporting regional ocean governance. Working in partnership with representatives from each of the US CTI implementing partners (the Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Program Integrator (PI)) and the US CTI’s funding agency (the US Agency for International Development (USAID)), the LP created a manageable and effective research effort that identified general patterns occurring within the US CTI that are conditioned by contextual considerations. Broader linkages and synergies between the activities of the US CTI implementing partners and the six-nation Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF) were examined to identify the major lessons learned from the US CTI effort.

The LP had multiple, interrelated goals that resulted in a careful documentation and assessment of the US CTI:

  1. Work with USAID and US CTI implementing partners to develop an assessment design and focus that meets the interests of the US CTI partners and USAID, and contributes specific recommendations for how further support should be structured.
  2. Use various assessment methods to develop a rigorous understanding of the evolution of the US CTI at local, national and regional levels that contributes to recommendations on future program design.
  3. Identify lessons learned from the US CTI to inform the CTI-CFF governments and implementing partners regarding possible follow-on programs.
  4. Identify lessons learned from implementation of the US CTI in the six CT countries.
  5. Disseminate assessment findings through the inclusion of results in the US CTI reports toUSAID, a comprehensive LP report, and peer reviewed publications.
  6. Increase the capacity for applied multi-disciplinary assessment in the region.

Three types of social surveys were used: 1) community-level survey in four countries, 2) a social network survey of Regional Exchange (REX) participants, and 3) a survey of US CTI and CTI-CFF leadership in all Coral Triangle (CT) countries. Semi-structured interviews were conducted at the national level in all CT countries and regional level including informants from national ministerial leadership, US CTI leadership, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), and scientific community.

This report highlights initial findings on the US CTI impacts on:

1) increased institutional capacity development and leadership formation;

2) improved governance through vertical and horizontal integration; and

3) establishing mechanisms to ensure policy implementation post-US CTI.

The CT region has a wide range of social ecological conditions, cultures, histories, and capacities. Findings of this project reveal:

  • There are modest indications that social ecological conditions are improving in project sites across the region.
  • Management activities intended to improve social ecological conditions are advancing and promising.
  • Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) planning and implementation are progressing, with the greatest tangible progress on MPAs at the local and regional levels.
  • The declaration of the Coral Triangle MPA System (CTMPAS) is a landmark accomplishment.
  • MPA awareness, monitoring, and implementation of MPAs are improving in project sites. The declaration of new MPAs in Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Malaysia are tangible steps forward.
  • EAFM and CCA concepts are diffusing among policy makers throughout the region. The development of tangible EAFM and CCA actions and policies are in relatively early, but promising, stages.

Other findings from the LP include:

  • The development of a broad range of well-designed educational materials and guidebooks is impressive and valued. Adoption of these normative and educational materials is at an early stage and represents an opportunity for the next stages of US government and international NGO support for the CTI-CFF in partnership with CT countries.
  • The ambitious integrated approach used by the US CTI is maturing and represents the leading edge of regional marine resource management. The US CTI has resulted in progress in both thematic integration (linking MPAs with EAFM with CCA) and institutional integration. There remain considerable challenges to improving vertical integration in the region—a process that is highly valued and will require ongoing attention. Many challenges and barriers exist, only some of which a program such as the CTI-CFF can address.
  • Investing in human and institutional capacity and fostering such linkages with guidelines, networks and practical exercises designed to solve pressing problems emerge as important processes to maintain. One of the most significant achievements of the US CTI is the creation of learning networks at various levels within the CT region. Social network analysis and key informant interviews clearly document the progress toward and value of the regional and in-country networks that have been fostered by REXs and other means.
  • There are also indications that leadership is developing. National policy makers and other REX participants are dedicated and interested in the continuation of national and regional learning networks.
  • The role of female leaders in these networks is apparent and is contributing to the ongoing empowerment of women who participate in the CTI-CFF.
  • The establishment of a strong and multi-national Regional Secretariat is highly valued. Considerable effort should be focused on ensuring that the Secretariat, once established, is highly skilled and effective.
  • A CT regional identity is also emerging. Communication between country leaders, leadership creation, and vertical integration through regional and national CTI-CFF plans has supported this regional identity.
  • Finally, the US CTI Support Program Implementing Partners (World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Conservation International (CI), NOAA, PI) have dramatically improved their collaboration during the last five years. Also notable is the improved collaborative relationships between the international NGOs and CT national government agencies. Additional analyses will more fully investigate these institutional changes.

This report concludes with recommendations to improve regional ocean governance. Most notably, the continued engagement of US governmental and non-governmental organizations is strongly recommended. Considerable progress in all US CTI thematic areas has been made and will require ongoing support to solidify commitment and ensure maximum return on investment. Continued investment in learning networks, establishment of educational programs organized around novel guidebooks and training materials, and strengthening of a Regional Secretariat are highlighted among other recommendations. The commitment to an integrated approach that balances conservation with food security goals is essential to the progress and institutional commitment to the CTI-CFF.