UNDP is supporting the government of Comoros to establish an expanded and functional system of protected areas in three of the country’s islands: Grand Comoro, Moheli and Anjouan. All efforts go to creating national capacity to manage a system that both representative of the country’s biodiversity endowment and which has good prospects for a sustainable future. Comoros is a jewel in the Indian Ocean, when it comes to biodiversity, natural beauty and the uniqueness of its cultural expression. The country’s insular nature and the fact that it is located in the tropical zone of the Southern Indian Ocean should place it high in the global conservation agenda. However, it is yet to receive due international attention for developing programmes that would support this agenda. Presently, the protected area estate of Comoros includes a single gazetted site, the Moheli Marine National Park, which had been established in 2001. There are no formal terrestrial protected sites, even though terrestrial ecosystems are under a considerable degree of pressure. The government made a bold commitment to change this picture with the support from UNDP and finance from the GEF. In the next 5-6 years, Comoros will establish an expanded and functional system of protected areas in three of the country’s islands – Grand Comoro, Moheli and Anjouan – bound to cover approximately 27% of their land surface. In addition, the system will provide protection to 47,695 hectares of seascapes as marine protected areas. As Comoros is struggling with high demographic pressure and low levels of human development, the boldness of the national pledge to create and maintain a protected area system should not be understated. It should be supported, as the needs related to the development of national capacity for protected area management and for carving sustainable funding to the system are many. At the core of the solution is the need to involve with local village communities in co-managing sites. Protected areas are also part and parcel of broad national policies that deal with sustainable development. Finally, a pragmatic approach to management of sites on the ground is the strategic choice made by Comoros for ensuring the sustainability of the new protected area system.
The remaining forested areas in Comoros have clearly approached the limits to agricultural expansion through new clearings. On the one hand, this means that agricultural intensification is an imperative, as are efforts to stem land degradation in terrestrial ecosystems. On the other, there is an urgent need to address direct threats to these highly threatened ecosystems by providing protection to them through a protected area approach. However, there various barriers faced by Comoros in the pursuit of this approach. Currently, there is only one established protected area in Comoros -- the Moheli Marine Park. Although its marine area is large, the Park covers only 2% of the country’s land surface. In order for Comoros’ protected area system to become more effective in conserving the country’s biodiversity endowment, the estate must be expanded and it must include terrestrial areas, in particular in forested areas. There is competition for land and there is very little primary forest left. Another key constraint in the establishment of new PAs is the fact that the legal framework governing protected areas is underdeveloped. Also, national capacity for protected area management needs to be visible strengthened. Finally, the tasks necessary for achieving the full gazettal and operationalization of the areas will require field expertise which will need to be fostered in Comoros. In this respect, a number of technical and organizational challenges will need to be overcome.
In order to tackle the degradation of habitats and provide protection to Comoros’ unique natural heritage, the solution implies the establishment of an effectively managed protected area system in the country, composed of both terrestrial and marine sites, a system that is representative of the country’s biodiversity and that provides a much more significant coverage to unprotected ecosystems and safeheaven to threatened species. The sustainability of this system also needs to be secured. Two elements stand out and are being engineered through the current UNDP-GEF project focusing on the protected area system. ( ) First, the system will be strengthened through its expansion and through capacity building. The former will be achieved through the addition of varied terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems, reaching a coverage of 22% of the land surface, plus a marine area of at least 42,000 ha. The latter, by addressing the issue of capacity in various fronts. The system is expected to be both more sustainably financed and more effectively managed by a capacitated national protected are institution and subsidiary protected area agencies on each of the islands. A consistent, but step-wise approach to building national capacity for protected area management will be adopted. (2) Secondly, with respect to the operationalization of protected sites, the approach will need to go beyond the basic management and also deal with the ‘park edge’ effect and the need to have the buy-in of resident communities. Resource use governance is key. Clarity on land tenure for terrestrial sites and on seascape use-rights for the marine ones will ensure the ecological integrity of Comoros’ new protected areas. The project will also support effective mechanisms for mediation and conflict resolution in target sites. Comoros will focus on the potential benefits from tourism, but with the much needed realism. Also the need to provide livelihoods benefits to affected communities will be catered for.
The approach to national capacity building for protected area expansion and management needs to step-wise and realistic. Comoros is developing an entire protected system, which covers a significant portion of its territory from a low ‘baseline’. Yet, this has not discouraged the government. Protected areas are key element in the sustainable development agenda. At the same time, it is important to be pragmatic and to proceed in a manner in which the large majority of those affected by the protected area expansion can have their say in key decisions to be made.
This is a new programme and there are high hopes of gathering support to further develop it. Comoros is part of the Indian Ocean biodiversity hotspot. However, it has not yet received the same attention as its “neighbours”, e.g. Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius. The main expected outcome is to gather the needed support for establishing an expanded and functional system of protected areas in Comoros, representative of the country’s biodiversity endowment and with good prospects for a sustainable future.
[Photo Credit: John Mauremootoo]