We are excited to be involved in supporting conservation organisations in Somaliland towards establishing the first community-led Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Zeila district.

Our colleagues in Kenya and Tanzania shared our experiences of developing community-led initiatives at a partner workshop in Hargeisa in March organised by conservation organisation Secure Fisheries.

“The creation of MPAs in the Zeila district will help to protect marine habitats and biodiversity, thereby slowing the decline of fish stocks,” said Mohamed Mohamud Abdullahi, Senior Project Manager at Secure Fisheries.

We were invited to present our work to representatives from the newly established Zeila co-management association, government ministries, NGOs, UN agencies and the private sector following ongoing discussions with Secure Fisheries, whose Hargeisa staff joined a landmark learning visit to the Kenyan coast in December. The exchange, organised with our partners COMRED and Maliasili, included a series of presentations on fisheries management in different countries and areas, followed by visits to locally managed marine areas and other livelihood projects.

“The BV learning exchange and visiting community-managed conservation projects in Kenya aided us in facilitating MPA discussion at the Somaliland community level and sharing practical experiences,” said Abdullahi.

The communities in Zeila, a port district in Somaliland bordering Djibouti, fish from the Gulf of Aden and sell their catch locally and in Djibouti and Yemen. They want to rebuild and conserve their fisheries after seeing a decline in fish stocks, which they believe is due to overfishing.

“The fishers take longer to catch the same quantity of fish and people believe fishing grounds are no longer as rich. We need data to determine the reasons behind declining catches,” said Agatha Ogada, Blue Ventures’ Regional Partner Support Coordinator.

The Hargeisa workshop focused on what makes co-management work, and how fisher communities would manage and benefit from the protected area. Our team was pleased to see how heavily communities were involved in the planning process and to learn about the desire to include data collection, traditional knowledge and local expertise in the future establishment of the protected area.

“As we explore partnerships, we learn that communities are not the same, and that co-management styles must adapt to suit the contexts,” said Ogada.

Our team deepened their understanding of fisheries management in Somaliland structures, which unlike in Kenya and Tanzania, still takes a top-down approach. We were excited to see how willing and interested the government, the business sector, and conservation NGO representatives were in moving towards setting up community-led MPAs. “The community suggested Filfil island, which they believe is a critical site for species reproduction and growth, providing spill-over addition in adjacent areas,” said Abdullahi.

“Making this community-led protected area a success requires teamwork and strong partnerships. With the local community at the heart of this process, and with the added support of Secure Fisheries and Candlelight, we think the Zeila MPA is bound for success,” said Ogada.

We are now planning another learning exchange for Somali partners to visit Madagascar to see and hear from more communities living around established community-led MPAs.

“We are excited to learn more from the upcoming learning visit in Madagascar,” said Abdullahi.

Photo credits: Secure Fisheries.