White-tipped reef shark near Ant Atoll, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. Top predators, including sharks, are associated with healthy reefs and productive fisheries. Photo by John Brody, OneReef volunteer engineer.
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
OneReef is putting an entrepreneurial solution in place that fosters climate change adaptation in places where immediate coral reef stressors can be brought under control. OneReef works with Pacific Islanders who own coral reefs and are committed to protecting and adaptively managing them, but do not have the necessary financial, technical, and scientific resources. We provide those resources in a way that rewards good performance, leverages multiple financing sources, and verifies outcomes.
Palau reef showing complete food web - plankton-rich water, schools of reef fish and top predators. The recovery of Palau's reefs from overfishing & coral bleaching demonstrate that conservation measures proposed by One Reef can be effective.
Brett Howell joined OneReef as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) in late September 2013 thanks to funding provided by the Alex C. Walker Foundation and match support from the Anthropocene Institute (AI). In this role, Howell partnered with OneReef’s CEO, Christopher LaFranchi, to test market-based conservation in Micronesia where communities have property rights over coral reefs.
During the period of grant performance (September 2013 – December 2014), OneReef’s level of organizational development at a newly established office in the Republic of Palau (“OneReef Micronesia”) required that Howell divide his effort between supporting operations and fundraising, and developing the market-based conservation mechanisms originally envisioned as the primary focus of the COO role.
Nonetheless, during two project site trips to Micronesia (November 2013 & March 2014), Howell was able to visit several of OneReef’s MCA sites and determine that the Republic of Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) do have the basic enabling conditions (i.e. exclusivity and enforcement) needed to establish a market around coral reef conservation. Reefs are managed in Micronesia based on a mix of U.S. regulations (since the countries are Freely Associated States to the U.S. and therefore fall under some of our same laws) and historical tenure rights of communities that have traditionally managed reef and atoll areas for centuries. Coral reefs in Micronesia are generally very healthy with high-levels of coral cover (>50%) and significant biodiversity (e.g. functional trophic levels including sharks and major predator-prey relationships). This situation is in marked contrast to Florida and the Caribbean, the areas of Howell’s previous work with Walker Foundation, where coral reef cover is generally less than 5%, large predators are virtually gone, and water quality issues are pervasive (e.g. undertreated human waste killing corals because of disease transmission, water turbidity, etc.). In Micronesia the challenge broadly comes down to preventing poaching by large foreign commercial fishing vessels so massive biodiversity loss events do not occur, and finding the right balance between historical cultural traditions and ecological needs (e.g. allowing the capture of a certain number of sea turtles a year for community celebrations while maintaining a viable population of animals). Long-term efforts to educate communities and establish MCAs at locations that meet OneReef’s site criteria selection should establish “havens” of biodiversity that complement other conservation efforts in the region (e.g. Micronesia Challenge). However, given the often remote nature of MCA locations, and a lack of tourism at these sites, the opportunity for market-based conservation initiatives is often limited and is generally restricted to government-led fee collection (e.g. entrance fees to Palau’s parks or departure taxes from the airport), programs that Walker Foundation funding helped to establish about a decade ago.
Howell was able to significantly improve OneReef’s management capacity while still contributing to market-based conservation efforts.
Capacity development accomplishments include:
• Securing independent 501(c)(3) status for OneReef allowing the “fiscal sponsorship agreement” with the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment to end.
• Leading rebranding initiative by first identifying the need for message consistency, building a relationship with the UK-based firm “Within People” (thought leaders in how to “brand” biodiversity), and managing a 6+ month process culminating in the document “The Big Leap” which explains OneReef’s vision for success and scaling the organization’s strategy. Following the branding work, OneReef’s website was also updated with the new language and a PayPal donation mechanism was introduced allowing small funders to more easily make contributions. A new business card was also designed to match branding consistency.
• Establishing a risk management program for OneReef, including securing appropriate domestic and international insurance policies to protect the organization from liability while traveling with funders and volunteers overseas. OneReef also developed a “standardized” template for liability release forms for use with future overseas travel (e.g. volunteers, donor visits).
• Supervising financial reporting and tax returns, including development of OneReef’s first 990 tax filings and getting Micronesian bookkeeping records verified. Previously, there were few records from Micronesia so OneReef struggled to have transparency about how funds were being used.
• Developing consistency in OneReef systems, including: IRS filings, EIN and bank account setup, expense reporting, contracts for independent contractors, and foreign entity registration in Palau, among others.
Market-based conservation accomplishments include:
• Co-authored endowment operations plan for Helen Reef MCA site that is in the final stages of approval by Conservation International and the Micronesia Conservation Trust (MCT). Once approved, funds from Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation will be released to seed the community endowment based at MCT.
• Worked with the Ocean Foundation to pursue development of a “coral reef mutual fund.” Given limited capacity to assist OneReef, the relationship was not further pursued after December 2013.
• Co-authored MOU with the Republic of Palau’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism to collaborate on expanding use of OneReef’s MCA strategy at sites in Palau, including evaluating sustainable finance options. Given political barriers with the government of Palau and the board of the Protected Area Network (PAN), the MOU has still not been signed. Nonetheless, OneReef has agreed to host a finance “forum” with the Ministry and PAN to reach agreement on how to best align funding streams.
MCAs as the right strategy:
OneReef currently has four signed MCAs (Helen Reef, Palau; Ant Atoll, Pohnpei; Nimpal Channel, Yap; Ngulu Atoll, Yap) that took substantial time and effort to negotiate with the communities. However, all of the sites require substantial work and investment to ensure each site has adequate enforcement capacity, equipment, infrastructure, and predictable financing. Progress is limited by the small number of OneReef staff in Micronesia (two people, one full-time), the costs of moving staff around the large geographic region, capacity of local partners to manage their own projects, and the ability of OneReef to raise the substantial funds needed to implement enforcement capacity at sites including purchasing equipment, such as ranger stations, boats, and radar, and managing people, including hiring/training conservation officers at the police academy in Guam.
Status of MCAs
Ant Atoll, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia
• $29,000 grant from National Geographic for the site.
• MCA signed and in place with Rohsa (traditional leader of Ant Atoll).
• OneReef team site visit in Summer 2014 that included completion of a comprehensive baseline assessment of the marine resources and scoped out plans for a permanent surveillance station at Ant Atoll.
• Reverse osmosis unit shipping to Pohnpei December 2014 to provide fresh water for conservation officers based at the site.
• Some site enforcement by part-time conservation officers.
• Proposal for supporting funds from the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Program and Margaret A. Cargill Foundation under development.
o Issues being resolved
• Need to finalize draft site management plan and have it signed.
• Establish ranger station with full-time, trained conservation officers, and provide them the full suite of tools necessary to protect the area (e.g. boats for interception, radar, etc.). OneReef has launched a “crowdfunding” campaign (see http://digitalocean.net/projects/help-us-buy-radar-to-protect-the-reefs-of-ant-atoll/) to raise funds for the site. The host organization, DigitalOcean, has committed $10,000 to the campaign; however, the campaign has been slow to start and resources needed to make it succeed are limited (OneReef tends to focus limited fundraising resources on larger/proven prospects).
Helen Reef Atoll, Republic of Palau
• Conservation officers continue to provide 24/7 enforcement of the remote site.
• Endowment agreement signed with MCT. By year-end 2014, OneReef hopes to have funds released from Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation to seed Helen Reef’s endowment (currently the account has a $0 balance).
• Ongoing funding from PAN, effectively Palau’s version of national parks.
• Scientific assessments completed in 2013 and 2014 to compare biodiversity levels to data collected in early 2000s. The assessments show that Helen Reef is among the healthiest ecosystems in the Pacific. The best comparisons are the uninhabited and protected reefs in the remote Pacific, including those in the Line Islands and Phoenix Islands to the east of Palau. A distinctive set of characteristics of an uninhabited and putatively ‘intact’ coral reef, like those in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (U.S.) or those in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Republic of Kiribati), are high amounts of fish biomass (especially of the top predators), an abundance of reef-building corals and coralline algae, and a water column with few bacteria and hence limited amounts of disease of the marine organisms. The reefs at Helen Reef reveal all of these characteristics. A set of underwater panoramas from Helen Reef can be downloaded at https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/104238741040601115874/albums/6103721015995069201. The photos are thanks to the support of the people of Hatohobei State, Google, Anthropocene Institute, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
• No illegal fishing activities cited.
o Issues being resolved
• Inconsistent messaging about the functionality of radar. OneReef is working with SIO and AI to resolve issues and get close to “real time” reporting of ship movements and interventions (using digital tablets to compile spatial data on vessel traffic, and an Iridium satellite system to transmit data to California).
• Ranger station is almost totally dysfunctional due to sea level rise. On December 4th OneReef sent an expedition to Helen Reef to work on recapitalizing the site with some basic equipment needed to maintain enforcement capacity at the site (e.g. rebuilding ranger station to make it livable, installing reverse osmosis unit to provide fresh water).
• A reliable and affordable transportation solution for the project and Hatohobei community continues to be a work in progress. It currently costs ~$5K a day for transportation, and given the distance from Koror to Helen Reef, it is often ~$50K for a single trip to Helen Reef when research scientists or foundation support staff wish to visit the MCA.
• OneReef is working with the government of Palau to arm rangers at Helen Reef Atoll. Right now the only armed response is the patrol boat based in Palau. Given the cost of fuel and vessel maintenance, and limited budgets, the boat is either unable to respond, or takes so long to reach Helen Reef that illegal fishermen have time to secure their catch and depart. The plan to arm officers is in motion, but will likely take 3-6 months to complete since we have to work with the government on training and weapons procurement (e.g. training at the police academy in Guam). As an NGO, we cannot take on this task alone and it must be completed with government approval and assistance.
The need for arming officers at Helen Reef is based on following logic: 1. Helen Reef is extremely remote; approximately 360 nautical miles from the capital of Palau, Koror, and officers must be self-reliant. There has been a report of poachers throwing dynamite at rangers when officers attempted to stop illegal fishing by a Vietnamese fishing vessel. The vessel did eventually stop fishing due to threat of the vessel being impounded, but it is a clear safety issue for rangers. If officers are armed they should be able to protect themselves and stop illegal fishing activities, when they do occur, at a faster pace to reduce environmental damage. 2. Arming conservation officers will provide a measure of security for the thousands of dollars worth of equipment being installed at Helen Reef. Without armed and trained rangers, there is concern that the station could be robbed.
Ngulu Atoll, Yap, Federated States of Micronesia
• MCA signed and in place with community.
• Police action on November 7th to stop foreign fishing vessels poaching in or around Ngulu Atoll. The police action was triggered by Ngulu community project activities at the Atoll.
o Issues being resolved
• Still working on hiring a project coordinator at the local community level. Training will be needed for the individual (e.g. project management, grant writing, report writing, etc.).
• Need an assessment and design to recapitalize the site, put in place regular patrols to stop poaching.
Nimpal Channel, Yap, Federated States of Micronesia
• Surveillance and enforcement activities ongoing. Nightly watch by community surveillance teams. In January 2014, Nimpal processed its first violation of the zone at the community level. A $1,500 fine was imposed by the community to the three fishers involved in the incident, and they were given a timeline to remit the fine otherwise further penalties would be imposed. In May 2014, the community received the total fine imposed.
• Sturdy surveillance platform in use by community to watch over reef; ongoing maintenance completed to keep asset in use (e.g. replaced roofing material, rebuilt sections damaged by storm systems).
• Project site included as case study in recent social-ecological resilience in island systems.
• Ongoing biological monitoring.
o Issues being resolved
• Lack of regular communication from project manager about how OneReef funds are being put to use and how OneReef can more effectively work with the site to have more impact faster.
Major objectives for 2015 include:
• Build MCA portfolio:
o Service existing sites and develop new ones.
o Lead a funder site visit through collaboration with Conservation International (likely to Helen Reef).
• Develop sustainable finance platform:
o Revise MOU with Palau Ministry of Environment, add vessel surveillance, and show fit with National surveillance.
o Formal review of “eco finance mechanism.”
o Find commercial investment bank sponsor.
• Develop an independent vessel enterprise in Micronesia to provide more cost effective transportation between MCA sites.
• Build organizational infrastructure
• Science, monitoring
o Publicize findings from Ant Atoll (based on data collected Summer 2014)
o Complete work at Helen Reef, reports
o Schedule baseline work at Ngulu Atoll
o Create MOU or similar with SIO to support ongoing science support
(1) investigate the causes of economic imbalances, particularly in relation to ecosystem services, climate change, food production, and other environmental matters
-The project specifically works with communities to create contracts that protect marine resources while mitigating the effects of climate change on coral reef habitats.
(4) explore and develop market-based solutions
-If successful, OneReef will establish a market-based solution to funding coral reef preservation, creating a self-sustaining source of funds for our activities.
We are based in the Republic of Palau and the US. We connect reef communities with global supporters to ensure these special places remain healthy, beautiful, and beneficial to people for years to come.
Project Link http://onereef.org/
(Check sent: 7/10/2014)
One Reef group in Yap, in front of a large piece of stone money. Pictured L to R: Carl Page & Barbara Hibino, Surech Bells Hideyos, Brett Howell, John Dawson, (back row) Barrett Walker, Wayne Andrew, Chris LaFranchi, Russell Fuller, Peggy Walker.