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Key policy tool can advance equitable and effective conservation

Jul 2021

Posted By

Georgina Gurney

Leading up to the meeting of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), conservation and sustainability scientists, practitioners and policy experts are urging member governments to study and use a newer conservation policy tool known as Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs).

“Protected areas are generally defined as having a primary objective of biodiversity conservation. This can alienate people who manage areas that sustain biodiversity for different objectives, such as sustainable resource use or cultural practices. If done well, OECMs can be an essential tool to ensure equitable conservation,” said Dr Georgina Gurney, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. She is the lead author of a new conservation study in Nature.

“OECMs can forge new alliances with people that conserve biodiversity, including with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, or other private initiatives,” said Ravaka Ranaivoson, Marine Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Madagascar.

“These alliances will be critical to sustaining biodiversity, the ultimate aim of a proposed global goal to conserve at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030.”

More than 25 experts representing 26 institutions and hailing from 14 countries were part of the Nature publication. It is a world first for exploring the opportunities and challenges of OECMS to address the biodiversity crisis.

OECMs are different from protected areas because they recognise managed areas that sustain biodiversity—even if conservation is not a primary objective for that area. This kind of recognition can accommodate the various ways that people use landscapes and seascapes. For example, areas managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities such as historic shipwreck reserves, sacred groves and low-intensity farmland based upon traditional agricultural management systems.

“Biodiversity is in freefall across the globe—both protected areas and OECMs have an important and complementary role in achieving global conservation outcomes,” said Dr Gabby Ahmadia, study coauthor and Director of Marine Conservation Science at World Wildlife Fund.

However, OECMs have key challenges to overcome. This includes misuse by governments or perceptions that they are a ‘land grab’ or ‘sea grab’ by national governments, foreigners or international organisations.

To overcome these challenges, the study identifies five next steps for OECMs, which are to:

1. show that they work
2. strengthen local governance
3. secure funding
4. agree on targets based on biodiversity outcomes, and
5. include OECMs in other prominent agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

“If done right, OECMs are a potentially powerful mechanism to advocate for outcomes-based conservation, since a key criteria of OECMs is demonstrating their effectiveness,” said Dr Emily Darling, study coauthor and Director of Coral Reef Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

OECMs were devised by the Parties to the CBD in 2010 and fully defined in 2018. Yet, less than one percent of the world’s land and freshwater environments and less than 0.1 percent of marine areas are currently covered under the OECM designation.

This work was co-produced through the Science for People Partnership (SNAPP) ‘Coastal Outcomes’ working group.


Gurney G, Darling E, Ahmadia G, Agostini V, Ban N, Blythe J, Claudet J, Epstein G, Estradivari, Himes-Cornell A, Jonas H, Armitage D, Campbell S, Cox C, Friedman W, Gill D, Lestari P, Mangubhai S, McLeod E, Muthiga N, Naggea J, Ranaivoson R, Wenger A, Yulianto I, Jupiter S. (2021). ‘Biodiversity needs every tool in the box: use OECMs’. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/d41586-021-02041-4


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