Global Research and Conservation Management Strategy
The vast majority of science programmes that deliver key research outcomes are characterised by short-term funding with restricted aims and bio-geographical ranges. Long-term projects covering large bio-geographical scales and that incorporate more than one ecosystem are rare. The Operation Wallacea programme provides the opportunity to consider science and conservation of key ecosystems from a global perspective. Opwall is able to draw upon researchers from a wide range of different disciplines and academic institutions to address major issues related to the sustainable management and conservation of some of the world’s most diverse but threatened environments.
A global research and conservation strategy has been developed and is applied in 4 stages at each of the sites. This includes an initial assessment of the biological value of the site (stage 1). If the site is accepted into the Opwall programme, an ecosystem monitoring programme is established to determine the direction of change (stage 2). If this reveals a continuing decline, a programme for monitoring socio-economic change in adjacent communities is established to determine how these communities interact with the study site (stage 3). Once data from stage 2 and stage 3 are obtained, funding applications are submitted to establish a best practice example of conservation management and the success of these programmes are then monitored (stage 4). There is obviously considerable overlap between these stages and stage 1 projects can be running at the same time as a stage 4 programme in order to add data to understanding the ecosystem requirements of target species or adding to the overall species lists for previously un-worked taxa.
Stage 1: Assessing ecosystem diversity and function
The first stage at a new site is to determine the relative biodiversity value of the site to determine the protection requirements, or if it is already protected whether it will make a valuable long term study site for the Opwall research teams. In order to assess the importance of a site, taxonomic groups that have been studied in similar habitats elsewhere in the region are surveyed, so the relative value of the site can be assessed. Examples of this type of survey include the atlas distributional surveys in the St Katherine Protectorate in Egypt and the coral reef surveys in Cuba and Mozambique. However, even after determination of the relative value of a site, additional data on other taxonomic groups are added as different specialists join the programmes. Examples of this type of survey include the sponge surveys in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia, the continuing woody plant surveys of the Cusuco cloud forest National Park in Honduras, and bird surveys of the Pacaya Samiria National Park in Peru. These data add to the species diversity knowledge of the site, but understanding the ecosystem requirements of key species is an equally important element of study. Examples of this type of study are the habitat and behaviour studies of primates such as macaques in Indonesia, mantled howler monkeys in Honduras and red uakari monkeys in Peru, civet ecology studies in the Lambusango forests, Indonesia, various resource partitioning studies of coral reef fish and the causation of patch reef diversity in the Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia. Understanding the connectivity of various ecosystems is another part of this research theme and is best exemplified by the use of mangrove, seagrass and coral reef habitats by various fish species in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific.
Stage 2: Monitoring ecosystem change
Once a site has been identified as worthy of inclusion as a long term study area for the Operation Wallacea research teams, a monitoring programme for the study site is established so changes in the ecosystems can be assessed. Examples of these studies include the large scale forest structure and faunal studies in the Lambusango forest in Indonesia and the Cusuco National Park in Honduras and the annual surveys of coral, invertebrates and fish on a range of transects in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia, Utila and Cayos Cochinos Islands in Honduras. These surveys often lead to more detailed studies of aspects of the ecosystem where there appears to be an anthropogenic impact. Examples of these studies include monitoring of artisanal fisheries in the Wakatobi Marine National Park, Indonesia; stable isotope surveys to determine sources of water quality impacts on the reefs of Utila and Cayos Cochinos Islands in Honduras, levels of hunting pressure on large mammals, caiman and river turtles in the Lago Preto and Pacaya Samiria reserves in the Amazon, Peru. Monitoring population levels of keystone species in the ecosystems is also an important element of these monitoring programmes and examples of these studies include the anoa surveys in the Lambusango forests in Indonesia, Baird’s tapir surveys in Cusuco National Park in Honduras, and the primate, macaw and dolphin population studies in the Amazon, Peru.
Stage 3: Monitoring socio-economic change
Conservation of the sites included in the Operation Wallacea programme requires the co-operation of adjacent communities and data on how these communities interact with the study sites. Examples of this type of study include the surveys of household income, attitudes to the adjacent protected area and levels of compliance with the protected area’s rules in the Lambusango forest, Indonesia, the Cusuco National Park and the Cayos Cochinos Marine protected Area in Honduras. Stage 3 studies are launched once the decision has been made that there are sufficient biological data and knowledge about the ecosystems to complete a detailed funding application to support the establishment of a best practice example of conservation management in the study area.
Stage 4: Establishing and monitoring the effectiveness of conservation management programmes
The final stage is when international funding is received to establish a best practice conservation management programme. This is directed through the Operation Wallacea Trust, a UK registered charity, which oversees the disbursement of the funds to various in-country organisations to implement the management programme. The Opwall survey programme continues with the biodiversity and socio-economic performance monitoring programme established in Stages 2 and 3. Volunteers on this project then have the opportunity to work alongside staff from other international and national organisations involved in the management programme implementation. The Lambusango and Kaledupa survey programmes in Indonesia fall into this category, as does the monitoring programme in the rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon. These surveys also examine the effectiveness of existing conservation management programmes such as the studies being completed in the Kruger National Park and in the Pongola and Welgevonden Reserves in South Africa.
Throughout these four stages of development, an additional objective of the programme is to develop financial benefits to local communities as a result of protecting the studied areas. Wherever possible the expeditions are organised in close co-operation with the local communities and substantial benefits accrue to those communities through providing accommodation, food, transport, and manpower. In addition to the direct economic input from the expeditions emphasis is placed on the development of businesses that can provide alternative incomes to local communities e.g. coral growing for the aquarists market in Kaledupa, Wildlife Conservation Product prices for cashews, chocolate and coffee in Indonesia and Honduras.