Our Changing Climate: Coral reefs, coastal communities and climate change

November 5, 2021

Caribbean Islands such as Anguilla and Montserrat are no strangers to beach erosion and stronger, more frequent hurricanes as a result of climate change. In the final blog of the series we hear from a CANARI led project working to save coral reefs, local livelihoods and fisheries from climate change.

The first post from the series featuring Project Oratsimba led by SEED Madagascar, highlighting their work with the fishing communities of Anosy, Madagascar to improve resilience of the local lobster fisheries, can be found here. The second post features a Charles Sturt University led project and their journey to bring awareness to the importance of biodiversity for communities in Timor Leste.

We hope you have enjoyed the series on “Our Changing Climate”!

Adapting and building resilience to climate change in Anguilla’s and Montserrat’s fisheries

Fisherfolk and their livelihoods are increasingly at risk from climate change and related disasters in Caribbean islands like Anguilla and Montserrat. The erosion of beaches, loss of coral reefs and mangroves due to rising sea levels, coral bleaching and shifts in fish populations due to rising ocean temperatures, sargassum influxes, and more intense storms and hurricanes pose a significant challenge. As one Anguillan fisherman, Aristo, lamented, “We have to go out further and deeper now, the gas [for our boats] is so expensive and fish production is lower in the reefs. So it’s really tough.”

Recognising these challenges, the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) worked from 2017 to 2020 to support adaptation to climate change in the fisheries sector in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources – Anguilla, the Fisheries and Ocean Governance Unit – Montserrat and the University of the West Indies – Centre for Resource Management and Environment Studies (CERMES). An innovative ecosystem approach to fisheries was used to address the multiple risks from climate change, and to conserve key coastal and marine ecosystems and ensure sustainable fisheries and local livelihoods.

Participatory three-dimensional (3D) modelling was used to assess climate change impacts and vulnerabilities from ‘ridge to reef’ as part of an ecosystem approach. Through a facilitated process, fisherfolk, other coastal and marine resource users and local authorities built physical 3D models of the islands of Anguilla and Montserrat and the surrounding marine areas to document local knowledge on resource use, livelihoods and areas critical to fisheries, including fishing communities, landing sites and fish habitats. The 3D models were used to identify priorities, such as: strengthening fisherfolk’s adaptive capacity through safety at sea training, accessing insurance and developing alternative livelihoods; improving systems for monitoring changes; and protecting and restoring coral reefs that support fisheries to address identified threats from coastal erosion, more intense storms and storm surge and sargassum influxes. The data was also digitised to produce geographic information systems (GIS) databases and maps, which can be integrated with scientific data to support land use and marine planning.

An institutional assessment to determine the community’s readiness to adapt, which included interviews and focus groups with various government authorities and fisherfolk leaders, was also undertaken. It revealed a lack of relevant data to inform decisions, weak coordination mechanisms and gaps in the policy and legal framework to support adaptation in the fisheries sector. The fisheries authorities, fisherfolk leaders and other coastal and resource managers were then trained by CANARI and CERMES in applying an ecosystem approach to fisheries and supported to integrate adaptation and disaster management considerations into fisheries management plans. This included updating Anguilla’s Small Coastal Pelagics Management Plan and Montserrat’s National Fisheries Plan.

Participants posing with Montserrat 3D model, Credit – Government of Montserrat

Based on these assessments, fisherfolk organisations were provided with small grants to adapt and promote stewardship of coastal and marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves. In Anguilla, the Anguilla Fisherfolk Association in collaboration with the Anguilla National Trust and fisheries authority helped restore coastal and marine habitats in the Prickly Pear Marine Protected Area by constructing lobster casitas to create a habitat for the Caribbean spiny lobster and create an artificial reef. In Montserrat, the Montserrat Fishers and Boaters Association conducted climate smarting of fish aggregating devices (FADs) and fish traps to make them more resilient and environmentally friendly. Additionally, fisherfolk were trained and supported to create videos to showcase their own perspectives on the local impacts of climate change and their vulnerabilities, and advocate for changes in policy and practice for improved fisheries management.

CANARI and CERMES will be building on this work in a new Darwin Plus project from 2021 to 2024 to address the increasing risks of sargassum influxes to the fisheries and tourism sectors and build coastal resilience in Anguilla, Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands.

Written by Dr. Ainka Granderson and Melanie Andrews. Further information on project DPLUS066, led by CANARI can be found here and at This article and others featured in our latest newsletter on “Our Changing Climate” are available here.


Our Changing Climate: Crucial carbon capture

November 1, 2021

In the second instalment of the “Our Changing Climate” series, we share the story of project manager Alex Sarmento and his journey to raise awareness on the importance of local trees and the role they play in carbon sequestration and mitigating against climate change in his home country of Timor Leste.

We hope that you have enjoyed this series so far, if you would like to read the first blog of the series featuring a project led by SEED Madagascar, please click here.

Timorese farmers benefit from reforestation and carbon accreditation

Growing up in the central highlands of Timor Leste, Alex Sarmento loves his community and the beautiful environment around his family villages of Laclubar and Soibada. After returning home from University studies in the Philippines in 2007 he was saddened to see the hills becoming more and more degraded with heavy monsoon rains and droughts. His community were suffering from crop losses, lack of shade and soil erosion. Alex became inspired to plant trees with local farmers using financial support from Australians in the regional town of Bathurst, New South Wales. Thousands of trees were planted in 2011 and 2012 but with poor survival rates. Paying farmers to plant the trees was unsustainable. A long-term solution was needed to tackle climate change impacts and ensure long-term income for communities to improve their livelihoods and continue to climate action. The ambitious idea of achieving carbon accreditation for smallholder farmers was hatched even though there was only one successful example in another part of Timor Leste.

In 2017, a Darwin Initiative project came to the rescue! A partnership was formed between Charles Sturt University and Group Training Northern Territory, Australia to provide technical expertise in forest carbon modelling and social research. As project manager, Alex hosted visits by the technical team, supervised field staff and liaised with the community. During the project’s lifetime, farmers grew 200,000 trees in nurseries and reforested 120ha of degraded land. The forests were measured for carbon uptake and qualified for carbon accreditation. It is the first scheme in Timor Leste to be registered with the Plan Vivo Foundation. The project developed a stakeholder management structure for equitable carbon income distribution, and ensured poor, landless households also benefited from growing trees and women’s microbusinesses.

Field staff measuring trees for carbon modelling, Timor Leste, Credit – Joanne Millar

One of the beneficiaries, Fernanda Soares du Terre of Soibada is 54 years old with seven adult children. They own their land, which they inherited through her husband’s father, and on their land they grow mahogany, coffee, and teak. In 2018, they received around $1,600 in payments from the project for their trees. Fernanda feels positively towards the project due to the financial incentives and believes that the value of her land will increase with the trees. In 30 years, once the trees have matured they will be able to be used for tables, chairs and for building materials.

She says that “The most important thing at the moment is to find money to pay for the children’s education. When we look after the trees, we can get money from the trees”

Local communities are now more aware than before of the benefits of growing trees for household income and biodiversity. This source of income has proved essential for food, clothes, household items and school expenses. The project was a catalyst for further investment in upland reforestation and climate change mitigation policies. Local Timorese partner, Foundation for Carbon Offsets Timor Leste, will continue to scale out community reforestation, provide carbon income for households, facilitate community development including women’s enterprises and participate in climate change policy implementation in Timor Leste. The project demonstrated that smallholder farmers in developing countries can engage with the international carbon market for long-term poverty alleviation.

Written by Joanne Millar and Alex Sarmento. Further information on project 24-025, led by Charles Sturt University can be found here or at The article from this project and others are featured in the “Our Changing Climate” Darwin newsletter, which is available here.


Our Changing Climate: Lobsters and livelihoods secured by local law

October 29, 2021

In celebration of this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, our latest blog series around “Our Changing Climate” aims to celebrate how Darwin Initiative and Darwin Plus projects are tackling climate change by improving resilience of biodiverse rich areas whilst empowering those that need them the most.

Featured in the first blog of the series is a SEED Madagascar led project which is working with fishing communities in the Anosy region of Madagascar, to build the resilience of their heavily relied upon lobster fisheries.

Building resilience through community-based fisheries management in Anosy, Madagascar

In the Anosy region of southeast Madagascar, a string of rural fishing villages runs along the coast. Often isolated from larger villages and towns inland, these communities are heavily reliant on marine resources for their livelihoods. Many partake in the small-scale lobster fishery – as a high-value commodity, lobster provides a critical income to impoverished households with few other viable livelihood options. However, this dependence on the sea leaves fishing households especially vulnerable to climate change, in an area where local knowledge already points to significantly declining lobster stocks. Project Oratsimba, run by SEED Madagascar and funded by the Darwin Initiative, sought to address these declines and build resilience within two such rural fishing communities – Elodrato and Sainte Luce. Over the course of three years, Project Oratsimba worked in collaboration with these communities to promote sustainable, community-based management of the lobster fishery.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt acutely in Madagascar. The Anosy region is currently experiencing its worst drought in over 40 years, resulting in famine conditions – the first famine in modern history driven entirely by climate change. Fishers in Elodrato and Sainte Luce are all too familiar with the impacts of climate change already, with stories of rougher and more unpredictable seas impacting how often they are able to fish, and the income they can bring home to their families. A changing climate also means that migrants throughout Madagascar are flocking to the coast, with the high price fetched by lobster a promising prospect after failed harvests inland or scant fishing grounds elsewhere.

A woman helps weigh in lobster catch from the day, Madagascar, Credit – SEED Madagascar

With community wellbeing closely tied to the health of the environment, fishers in Elodrato and Sainte Luce were motivated to take management of the lobster fishery into their own hands, ensuring the fishery would remain a viable livelihood throughout their lifetimes and those of future generations. With the support and facilitation of SEED, the journey towards sustainable fisheries management, and greater resilience to a changing environment, began.

SEED connected the communities with crucial contacts and partners, garnering state support from the regional fisheries ministry, and national support from MIHARI, Madagascar’s Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA) Network which specialises in sharing resources and knowledge between fishing communities throughout the country. Training, cross-visits, and outreach sessions helped build the capacity of local fishers and those throughout the supply chain, giving fishers from Elodrato and Sainte Luce a glimpse into how similar communities managed their own fisheries. This collaborative knowledge-building ultimately led to the strengthening of the Sainte Luce LMMA and the establishment of an LMMA in Elodrato, which combined now protects 310 km² of marine habitat in southeast Madagascar.

Both communities also ratified a “dina”, or local law, outlining the responsibilities of the fishers in the area, and setting management measures aimed at securing the lobster fishery. With regulations such as a ban on environmentally damaging fine-mesh nets and reiterating national fisheries policy such as a Minimum Landing Size, these dina lay the groundwork for effective community-based fishery management. Critically, both communities also elected to create periodic no-take zones (NTZs), areas that remain closed to lobster fishing for part of the year to promote stock recovery and ease overfishing. Protecting lobsters, a keystone species in rocky reef ecosystems, and securing the lobster fishery allow both social and ecological resilience to be built.

A key focus of Project Oratsimba was also the inclusion and empowerment of women. Though women play a valuable role in the lobster supply chain – often gathering bait, weaving lobster pots, acting as intermediaries, and managing daily finances – their role in fisheries management was often undervalued and overlooked, because they were not directly involved in fishing. The team therefore implemented multiple gender-based initiatives, including the recruitment and training of six women as Marine Ambassadors, who then went on to promote gender inclusivity, leading education sessions and engaging fellow women in decision-making. The first election of a woman to a Fisheries Management Committee in Sainte Luce highlighted the communities’ positive reception of gender inclusivity, with such initiatives promoting equity and empowering a greater portion of the population to work towards sustainability.

Though climate change will continue to be a threat to communities throughout Anosy, Project Oratsimba has helped build the capacity, agency, and adaptability of stakeholders to effectively and equitably manage the natural resources on which they depend. This strengthened governance, management, and stewardship of the lobster fishery by local communities has contributed both to the socioeconomic resilience of Sainte Luce and Elodrato, and to the long-term sustainability of the lobster fishery, supporting poverty alleviation and biodiversity protection across the region.

Written by Quinn Parker. For more information on project 25-016, led by SEED Madagascar, please click here. The article from this project and others are features in the “Our Changing Climate” newsletter is available here.



Conserving Falklands’ whale populations: addressing data deficiencies for informed management

May 12, 2021

Welcome to the guest blog featuring Darwin Plus project DPLUS082, led by Falklands Conservation working to achieve greater protection for all baleen whale species found around the Falkland Islands. The project aims to improve the information available to decision-makers, and engage stakeholders regarding conservation and management considerations.

In this blog, find out just how the project has been able to protect these gentle giants and join us in celebrating the extraordinary achievement of the first ever Key Biodiversity Area in the Falklands for whales and the only one in the world for sei whales!

Keystone species receive Key Biodiversity Area protection

Every summer and autumn, sei whale blows are a common sight from the shores of the Falkland Islands, and residents and visitors alike will spend huge amounts of time watching these fantastic animals. Some whales are alone, and moving fast, whereas others are spotted in larger groups, staying in the area from anywhere between a couple of hours to a few days. However, this whale-watching experience is unusual as sei whales are more commonly found in deep, offshore waters, making these regular nearshore sightings at the Falkland Islands virtually unique.

Now, in a global first, the Falkland Islands have been listed as an incredibly important location for the enigmatic and endangered sei whale! This recognition comes in the form of a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), which is something that has been an area of interest for Falklands Conservation since systematic whale surveys began in 2017.

A sei whale spotted near the Falkland Islands coast, Credit – Caroline Weir

KBA status is awarded to regions which are supporting global biodiversity, with this status being awarded to many areas that are particularly important for threatened species. The recognition for the nearshore waters of the Falkland Islands to be a KBA for sei whales was driven by robust and extensive data collected from thousands of hours of Falklands Conservation surveys and data analysis. Excitingly, it is not only the first KBA for whales in the Falkland Islands, but the very first KBA for sei whales anywhere in the world! The new Inner Shelf Waters Key Biodiversity Area covers the whole of the Falkland Islands nearshore waters to 100m depth.

This acknowledgement is an important step in terms of marine conservation and management in this UK Overseas Territory. Whilst human marine activities in the Falkland Islands are relatively low compared to other regions in the world, who knows what the future might bring? Both oil exploration and industrial coastal salmon farming have been proposed for the Falkland Islands in recent years, and other already-present sectors may continue to grow. The recognition of these waters as a KBA will provide valuable information to ensure that Government and Industry are able to make the most environmentally-sound and sustainable decisions regarding the uses of these waters; for the long-term benefit of wildlife and also the important industries that rely on the natural environment.

Falklands Conservation’s whale work is run by Dr Caroline Weir, with the primary tool at her disposal being photo identification. From small boat surveys, photos can be taken of the fins and flanks of sei whales as they’re encountered on surveys, and the patterns of nicks, scars and colouration can be used to identify individual whales. In the five years of surveys, tens of thousands of photographs have been taken and now the photo ID catalogue of mature sei whales is now well over 500 individuals. This achievement is even more special when considering the inherent difficulties of studying sei whales; animals with distinct marks are very few and far between, with most whales showing very few markings. Additionally, sei whales are not as showy and flamboyant as some of their more famous cousins – they will often surface with a very shallow movement, showing almost none of their back, flanks, or flukes (tails) which could be used in the identification process. Finally, these whales are fairly uninterested in vessels, they can travel quickly through the water, turn sharply, and disappear on dives for long periods.

Falklands Conservation Whale project lead Caroline Weir photographing elusive sei whale for photo identification, Credit – Maria Taylor

Despite this, successful photographic “recaptures” have proven that individuals use different regions of the Falkland Islands throughout the summer and autumn months, and that some return year-on-year. A particular highlight was a distinctly marked whale, nicknamed Wonky by the team in the Falklands, being matched to a Brazilian ID catalogue. Wonky had been sighted off Rio de Janeiro six months before being seen in the Falklands Islands; one of the first clear-cut insights into global sei whale migration movements.

Darwin Plus have been supporting these surveys since 2019. Since the very first surveys, a number of new research tools have been added to the work. Audio recording devices were deployed underwater in Berkeley Sound and Falkland Sound to listen into the whales’ conversations, and to determine what they were up to even when they couldn’t be sighted by the survey boat. Biopsy sampling has also been introduced in the hopes of revealing how Falklands’ whales fit in with global populations and to give insight into the health and wellbeing of the individuals and populations.

Wonky, the sei whale identified in both the Falkland Islands six months after being spotted in the waters off Rio de Janeiro, Credit – Falklands Conservation

Importantly, the ongoing whale research has been heavily supported by the local community. It is fantastic for local people to share their waters with such captivating neighbours, and over 40 volunteers have taken part on surveys, with many more reporting their whale sightings or signing up for an integrated Citizen Science Shore-Watch project. The Facebook Page for Falklands Conservation’s whale project has over 2,400 followers – not bad, considering the entire population of the Falkland Islands is only a little over 3,000! During the process of applying for KBA status, local stakeholders including Government and Industry representatives were also engaged and supported the KBA application. With public support, this new KBA and the data behind it offer the Falkland Islands an incredible opportunity to manage our waters for the long-term benefits of these fantastic animals, their key habitats, and to support sustainable human activities for future generations.

Dr Caroline Weir, Sei Whale Project lead for Falklands Conservation commented, “We are incredibly proud of achieving this Key Biodiversity Area for endangered sei whales, which is the culmination of five years of pioneering and challenging field research that has really highlighted the importance of the Falkland Islands for this poorly-known species. It’s a privilege to work in an area where whale populations appear to be thriving, and fantastic to now see that work translating into global recognition and contributing to the future conservation of these amazing animals.”

Written by Michelle Winnard. For more information on project DPLUS082 led by Falklands Conservation working in the Falkland Islands please click here.


Alien Invasions: Invasive invertebrates

April 22, 2021

In the final post of the series we share the story of a new project based in St Helena led by the St Helena National Trust which aims to protect some of the endemic species found on the island from the growing threat of invasive invertebrates such as the common wasp and springbok mantis.

We hope that you have enjoyed this series so far, if you would like to read the entire series please follow these links for the first and second blog posts.

Conserving St Helena’s endemic invertebrates through invasive invertebrate control

St Helena is a small (47 square miles) UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, with a population of around 4,500 people. In addition to its human population, the island is home to over 420 endemic terrestrial invertebrate species, making it a location of immense global importance. Unfortunately, many of these endemic species are under threat from invasive alien invertebrate species. An innovative new project led by the St Helena National Trust will facilitate endemic invertebrate recovery and re-establish their associated ecosystem functions by testing and establishing invasive invertebrate control methods. The focus will be on three of St Helena’s most invasive species, the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris), big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala) and the springbok mantis (Miomantis caffra).

St Helena team member deploying wasp beer traps and surveying ants, Credit – Liza Fowler

Ants are a particular problem species for the island because they feed on endemic invertebrates and can damage native habitats. Ants rear other pest species such as aphids which threaten native plants and reduce abundance of beneficial invertebrates such as ladybirds. The big-headed ant also poses a threat to vertebrates and has been known to attack globally threatened St Helena plover chicks in their nests (known locally as the wirebird). We aim to begin trialling the control methods for the common wasp and big-headed ant in 2021. Insecticides will be used to target these species as they have shown positive success in other islands; the results will be carefully monitored to ensure that there are no unwanted impacts to local biodiversity. Control methods for the springbok mantis are currently under development and with the current lack of available resources the project will be one of the first to create and test methods specifically designed for the mantis.

To date, public engagement activities have included information stalls, workshops and citizen science programmes. The local team of four, with support from international experts in the UK, New Zealand and South Africa, hope to increase local capacity and knowledge in the battle against these invasive invertebrate species.

For more information on project DPLUS104 led by St Helena National Trust working in St Helena please click here. To read the full article from this project and others that were featured in the March 2021 edition of the newsletter, please click here.


Alien Invasions: Islands of change

April 20, 2021

Small island states are home to some of the rarest species on the planet. Unfortunately, they are also amongst the most vulnerable to invasive non-native species. In this blog post we share the remarkable story of Redonda, an island that was once overrun with invasive rats and goats returning to its former glory.

If you would like to read the first post of the series highlighting the work of RSPB and Nature Kenya on tackling the takeover of invasive Prosopis in Tana River Delta, the link can be found here.

Removing aliens triggers rapid recovery on the Caribbean’s “highest priority island”

When we began the project we expected improvements, but we never imagined the changes would happen so quickly! Since the removal of feral goats and rats in 2017, the remote Caribbean island of Redonda (part of Antigua and Barbuda) has been transformed from bare rock to a green haven, where native plants and animals are flourishing once more. The Redonda ground dragon (Pholidoscelis atratus) – one of several endemic Critically Endangered lizards – has increased by more than six-fold and the Redonda tree lizard (Anolis nubilus) by eight-fold. Hundreds of new trees have sprung up, invertebrate abundance has increased significantly, and at least 13 species of land birds have recolonised the island.

Nobody knows when the alien mammals first appeared on Redonda, but their impact was catastrophic. Thousands of black rats (Rattus rattus) hunted and dispatched the native reptiles and seabird chicks while the feral goats (Capra hircus) demolished the island’s vegetation until more than half of the herd died from starvation. A regional priority-setting exercise pinpointed Redonda as the island in direst need of restoration.

Redonda before the restoration project, devastated by rats and goats, Credit – Jenny Daltry, FFI

The Redonda Restoration Programme set out to ‘rehabilitate a healthy island ecosystem that is sustainably managed for the conservation of indigenous biodiversity, and to preserve Redonda’s important historical values and facilitate the sustainable use and enjoyment of Redonda by present and future generations’. Surveys and consultations began in 2009, and the Darwin project was officially launched in 2016 by the Government of Antigua & Barbuda, the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) and Fauna & Flora International (FFI).

It took seven months of carefully orchestrated teamwork to catch the remaining goats and remove every rat. FFI has successfully removed alien mammals from over 25 islands since 1995 but this rugged island posed new challenges. Severe erosion, caused by deforestation, had left many parts of Redonda dangerously unstable, with crumbling cliffs, scree (small loose stones) and frequent rock falls.

Shanna Challenger, Project Coordinator for the EAG and FFI, said “This has been the opportunity of a lifetime – witnessing the rebirth of an island. Changes forecasted to happen in five years occurred within months.” Together with FFI Project Leader Dr Jenny Daltry, Shanna documented the new shrubs and trees that appeared in 2018; the first to germinate on Redonda for more than a century. As its habitats recover, the project team is making plans to reintroduce some missing keystone species, such as the black iguana (Iguana melanoderma). Speaking for the Department of the Environment, Dr Helena Jeffery Brown adds “The Government of Antigua & Barbuda considers the return to life of Redonda as a shining beacon in our collective efforts towards ecosystem restoration and biodiversity conservation that will bring us another step closer to attaining some of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.”

A lush carpet of native plants on Redonda in 2020, Credit – Sophia Steele, FFI

The high-profile restoration effort caused great excitement on Antigua and Barbuda, and prompted the Government’s decision in 2019 to create the Redonda Ecosystem Reserve. The new protected area encompasses not only the island but its surrounding coral reefs, extending nearly 30,000 hectares.

For more information on project 23-003 led by Fauna and Flora International working in Antigua and Barbuda can be found here. The full article for this project and others featured in our latest newsletter on ‘Alien Invasions’ is available here.