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Coastal governance in the SEA: Linking local practices to global sustainability

This article was originally published on IW:LEARN on June 6, 2021. 


GEF IW:LEARN World Oceans Day 2021 Special Issue

In celebration of the 2021 World Ocean Day with the theme, “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods”, the experiences, learnings and lessons from the concluding phase of a long running project in the Seas of East Asia (SEA) that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported for 27 years, and considered the first of its kind in the Region, has never been more relevant. 

The Seas of East Asia

The SEA, comprising of six large marine ecosystems, i.e., Yellow, East China, South China, Sulu-Sulawesi and Indonesian seas and the Gulf of Thailand, and bordered by Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, PR China, DPR Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, RO Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam are vital to the lives of more than 2.1 billion people, 60 percent of whom are living within 100 km of the region’s coasts. 

The SEA is a center of economic growth accounting for 80 percent of global aquaculture; around 60 percent of the world’s capture fisheries; attracts 26 percent of the world’s tourists and serves as an important conduit of 90 percent of the world trade through shipping. Moreover, the SEA is widely known as the global center of marine biodiversity. It is home to 31 percent of the world’s mangroves and a third of the world’s coral reefs and seagrass beds which provide ecosystem goods and services that support economic development and livelihood of the people in the region. Growing populations and their migration to coastal areas, dynamic economic growth, unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, and rapidly increasing shipping traffic collectively exerted tremendous pressure on the SEA’s marine environment and coastal resources.

A simplified map that gives a general idea of the geographic and oceanographic features of the region. Image credit: PEMSEA

GEF’s support

Since the start of GEF’s support in 1993 when the first International Waters project was launched in the SEA, substantial efforts have been directed to addressing the many pressures to environmental and economic sustainability of the marine and coastal ecosystems. GEF’s intervention to transform the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) into a self-sustaining regional coordinating mechanism has been recognized as a suitable model of coastal governance. The regional mechanism is anchored on strategic partnership of national and local governments, international development organizations, academe, local communities, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders working together to achieve a shared vision of a sustainable resource system through the implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Seas of East Asia (SDS-SEA) with integrated coastal management (ICM) as the delivery mechanism. 

Over its 27 years of existence, PEMSEA has generated practical experiences in the application of ICM in the SEA which led to the development of a common framework that covers a system of governance as well as several issue-specific management systems critical to achieving the overall goals of sustainable development. The ICM framework has become a very useful guide and operating modality for national and local governments to promote sustainable development initiatives and programs that could pave the way to achieving the key targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 17 (Partnerships) and relevant international conventions and agreements that the partner countries are party to. GEF’s support has made it possible for PEMSEA to scale up and replicate ICM practices along the national and regional coastlines with the help of its network of local governments and academic institutions, thus contributing in realizing the global sustainable agenda. 

Sustainable development for coastal areas framework. Image credit: PEMSEA

Infographic on the PEMSEA timeline since the first GEF support in 1993. Image credit: PEMSEA

Upscaling and replicating good practices

On December 2020, the GEF/UNDP/PEMSEA Project on Scaling Up the Implementation of the SDS-SEA reached its productive conclusion. The project represented the concluding phase of GEF’s intervention since 1993, which aimed to reduce pollution and rebuild degraded marine resources in Cambodia, PR China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam that share six LMEs, and related catchment areas, including the sustainability of PEMSEA as the regional coordinating mechanism for the implementation of the SDS-SEA. The project also made a stronger linkage between sustainable development of river basins, coastal and marine areas and local, national and regional investment processes to promote blue economy in the SEA.

The overall project target was to extend ICM programs to cover 20 percent of the regional coastline. In 2020, ICM programs across the SEA have covered an estimated 40 percent of the regional coastline, which included the scaled-up national and local ICM programs in 12 countries (i.e., Cambodia, China, DPR Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, RO Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam), including the ICM sites that were directly supported by the SDS-SEA Project.

The 40 percent coastline covered by the ICM program is home to important habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses and wetlands that provide critical ecosystem goods and services that fuel sustainable growth and development of the countries in the SEA. Through the project, technical interventions using the ICM core and specialized tools, methods and approaches along with the necessary enabling policies, institutional and legal reforms, strategies and plans, and initiatives at national and local levels combined with strategic partnerships and networking have increased the coverage of healthy and resilient coastal habitats with effective and sustainable management systems.

Local is global

Evidence of the project’s positive socio-economic impacts was clearly exemplified by the good practices in the following selected ICM sites. These local actions directly contribute to the achievement of SDG 14 and SDG 13. 

Koh Rong, Cambodia

In Koh Rong, the establishment and implementation of the Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) as part of the ICM program of Sihanoukville, has attracted more tourists and has contributed to the improvement of local livelihood. Koh Rong was officially declared in June 2016 as the first large-scale MFMA or marine protected area in Cambodia. Baseline socioeconomic and biological assessments were conducted in the area in 2010. Results of the coral reef monitoring, the application of Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool and socioeconomic assessment which started in 2015 with technical support from Song Saa Foundation and as reported by the Flora and Fauna International in 2019, showed that the implementation of the Koh Rong MFMA Management Plan has resulted in improved protection and conservation of resources. This is manifested in increased reef fish biomass and increased coral cover and seagrass beds cover. Decreased incidences of illegal fishing activities were also noted based on the patrolling data.

To ensure continuing protection of the resources and promote sustainable fisheries and tourism, a recreational and research area has been designated as part of the MFMA zoning scheme, where low impact activities such as diving, snorkeling and kayaking are allowed while all kinds of fishing activities are prohibited. A user’s fee of 8,000 Riel per tourist visiting the island has been implemented to sustainably finance the implementation of the MFMA Management Plan and the overall protection and management of the Koh Rong Archipelago (KRA). A rapid growth of tourists visiting KRA has created a major shift in income sources for the local communities, i.e., from fishing to tourism-related livelihood, especially in Koh Rong Sanloem and Koh Touch villages. In 2005, 90 percent of the 139 families in Koh Rong Sanloem were fishers while in 2018, only 5 families were involved in fishing as one of their sources of income but not as their main livelihood. The SDS-SEA Project supported a livelihood assessment study and found that a family could earn around USD 1,380 to USD 1,980 annually from tourism-related jobs while tourism service providers could earn from USD 6,000 to USD 12,000 annually. In comparison, income from fishing ranged from USD 1,690 to USD 3,825 annually. 

There has been a positive impact of tourism activities in the livelihood and income of the communities in the KRA over the short term. The assessment recommended the continuing support of the government, non-government organizations and other partners in building the capacity of the community for a safer, responsible and sustainable tourism-related activities and income sources, improving the infrastructures for easier access, and to carefully evaluate the potential long-term environmental impacts of tourism (e.g., threats of pollution and increased demand for freshwater supply) for consideration in the review and updating of the management plan for the Koh Rong MFMA.

Koh Rong, Cambodia. Photo Credit: Daisy Padayao

Batangas, Philippines

In Batangas Province, a Comprehensive Mangrove Development Plan (2015-2030) was developed in support of the Habitat Restoration and Protection Component of the Strategic Environmental Management Plan (2005-2020) of the province, which serves as the overall framework plan for the ICM program. Mangrove rehabilitation and establishment of mangrove protected areas were identified as key strategies to conserve and protect mangrove biodiversity in the province. Currently, the province has 54 marine protected areas, 12 of which are mangrove protected areas covering 624 hectares. The establishment of Mangrove Protected Areas is necessary to address the human-induced threats emanating from the conversion of mangrove areas into fishponds, residential or industrial areas and development for other uses resulting to the decline in mangrove cover. Mangroves have provided significant livelihood opportunities (i.e., ecotourism, recreation) to the coastal communities of the province. They serve as source of food and other marketable products, particularly wood, fish, crabs, clams, bangus (milkfish), and oysters. Coastal residents from the Municipalities of Lobo, Lian and Calatagan have benefited from the mangrove protected areas in terms of ecotourism activities such as educational tours, kayaking or boating, snorkeling, bird watching, and sunset viewing. Other livelihoods derived from the effective management of the mangrove protected areas are catering services, making souvenirs, and selling of mangrove seedlings.

Batangas, Philippines. Photo credit: Batangas Provincial Government-Environment and Natural Resources Office

Semarang City, Indonesia

Results from the socio-economic identification of coastal communities in Semarang City showed that sources of alternative livelihood income vary. Besides usage of raw material like fish or other sea products, some people have engaged livelihood activities using coastal raw materials. In the village of Tugurejo, there are people engaged in the sewing business, catering and selling of snacks, aside from processing fish. In Mangkang Kulon village, the community has been doing business through the production of nata de coco, various shrimp and fish-based products, tempeh chips, souvenirs, and batik (made from mangrove waste). The business group also has a good relationship with garbage bank activities in the neighborhood. They process the garbage in the environment, which is then converted into a number of useful items, or sold to several collectors.

The operation of the various garbage bank groups and other livelihoods, however, were not yet optimal, and the ICM planning process identified aspects that needed improvement which were prioritized, included in their ICM implementation plans, and implemented with support from the project, local government, Diponegoro University (UNDIP), and various partners. This included trainings on organizational strengthening of the women-led garbage bank groups and trainings on inorganic waste management including various ways to recycle plastic wastes. The Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences of UNDIP also provided grants to improve the operation of the garbage banks including motorized transport and weighing scales. A revolving fund was also established with a reward scheme that included training and facilities for alternative livelihoods for people who actively play a role in domestic waste management. Selected women were engaged in trainings by skilled practitioners on production of high-quality batik using natural dyes and sustainable urban farming, and improvement of nata de coco small scale business through enhanced product packaging. Grants in terms of tools, materials and funds were provided to ensure the application and sustainability of the skills learned. Mentoring and technical support were also provided by UNDIP and the Semarang City Environmental Office, with periodic monitoring and evaluation. Visible improvements were observed in the communities with regard to the cleaner environment, community gardens and incomes of the training and livelihood beneficiaries. The approach of linking waste management and alternative livelihood development will be replicated in other areas in Semarang through integration into the existing resilient village program. 

Semarang_waste transport. Photo credit: Diponegoro University, PEMSEA ICM Learning Center

Tangerang Regency, Indonesia

Mangrove rehabilitation in Tangerang Regency through its “Gerbang Mapan Program” provides direct value benefits for fishery resources and coastal communities in improving their welfare. From 2015 to 2019, Tangerang Regency has implemented a mangrove rehabilitation program that has planted some 700,000 trees in a 65-hectare area along its coast. This has added value potential in the increase of public income through activities such as mangrove tourism, mangrove nurseries, fishing, cultural tourism, and educational activities.

Mangrove nursery at Patramanggala (Tangerang). Photo credit: Hari Mahardika, Tangerang PMO

Liquiça Municipality, Timor-Leste

In Liquiça Municipality, ICM implementation and alternative livelihood development considered the varying character, resources and issues of suco (village) level pilot sites and the needs, interests and capacities of the local communities. Strategically located adjacent to Dili, with nearby beaches and mangrove areas and historical/cultural sites, and traversed by the north coast road linking Dili to the western side of the country, responsible fishing and coastal conservation activities, eco-tourism and income diversification are recognized as key to improving the livelihood and quality of life in coastal communities.

In Suco Vatuvou, which is visited for scuba diving, snorkeling and dolphin watching, the project worked with a local youth group in developing a mini-resort for short-term tourists, and facilitated trainings on integrated farming to support the resort and visitors which was implemented by the PEMSEA ICM Learning Center at the Oriental University of Timor- Leste (UNITAL) with funding support from the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs. In Suco Ulmera, the community was trained and engaged in seaweed farming and processing and mangrove rehabilitation, and a ‘Green School’ was established in collaboration with the Secretariat of State for Environment, to promote waste recycling, vegetable gardening, aquaphonics, and tree planting among primary school students and their families. While in Suco Vaviquinia, the project supported the establishment of a roadside food park to serve travelers going to the western municipalities with the well-known local fish delicacy called ‘ikan saboko’ (fish wrapped with palm leaves) and other food products from the area. 

Working with the local community and 20 members of a group called ‘Grupo Ikan Saboko’, 4 small temporary food stalls were expanded into 8 improved stalls with sanitary facilities, and trainings on food preparation and processing, food hygiene and enterprise development were conducted. These were accompanied with trainings on waste management and boat engine repair, coastal tree planting to improve the environment in the food park and protect the area from strong waves and coastal erosion, and discussions on marine and coastal issues and conservation, sustainable fisheries and climate change adaptation. In addition to reported increase in weekly incomes, improved knowledge and concern about environmental protection and marine conservation has been noted among the communities. 

Liquica TL livelihood training certificate ceremony. Photo credit: Mario Cabral, SDS-SEA Coordinator

Da Nang, Viet Nam

In Da Nang City, one innovation that the city government introduced through the ICM program to better engage the fisher communities in coastal resource management was to establish a Model Club of Coastal Community for Sustainable Development. The idea behind the Club was to build awareness, capacity, and ownership among the local communities in coastal resource management while serving as a forum for developing and promoting alternative livelihood options to generate higher incomes and better living conditions among the members. The city government provided support in skills development, financial aid, and technical advice. This has enticed the fishers to consider switching vocations (e.g., fishing to ecotourism) or other livelihoods that lessened the pressure on the natural coastal environment. This has allowed the recovery of some key aquatic species such as corals, algae and seaweed, which the ecotourism activities rely. According to Nguyen Dinh, Club Chairman of Tho Quang Ward, club members who are into inshore fishing have an average monthly income of about VND 2.5 million. Shifting to tourist services raised their monthly earnings to about 3 million, with less occupational risks. The Tho Quang Commune model has been replicated in North and South Hoa Hiep Communes in Da Nang. 

Da Nang Vietnam. Photo credit: Da Nang Agency for Seas and Islands

Inspiring local stories that contribute to global goals abound in the region. Among the many lessons learned from the SDS-SEA project is the need to document, share, mainstream, replicate and upscale actions undertaken by the front liners of ocean governance. It is only by doing so that we can ensure sustainable, resilient and inclusive blue economy solutions

Roadmap to 2030

As we enter the new decade, ICM as PEMSEA’s flagship program, will remain relevant as the delivery mechanism to promote sustainable development of the SEA and to facilitate the implementation of blue economy solutions. The Covid-19 pandemic, the most disruptive event in 2020, offers valuable lessons on how project implementation can still be effectively undertaken by instituting adaptive measures that are proven to be working in the current crisis. The pandemic has required PEMSEA to recalibrate its priorities by focusing on activities with high impact while aligning these with the national and local governments post-pandemic recovery plans and the global plans of action until 2030 such as the UN Decade of Ocean Science, Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework and UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. For the SEA, this means charting a Roadmap to 2030 that calls for a more responsible stewardship to build back better coastal economies and communities, and healthier oceans.


Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) is an intergovernmental organization operating in East Asia to foster and sustain healthy and resilient oceans, coasts, communities and economies across the region.

For more information kindly contact Nancy Bermas (nbermas@pemsea.org) and consult the website.