Article | 30 jan, 2020

Schools part of the solution to managing French Polynesia's vast marine protected areas

Effectively managing French Polynesia's vast distances of marine protected areas is a massive challenge, but there have been creative solutions to help with the scale of the work to be done.

Since 1971, French Polynesia, according to its local jurisdiction, has been setting up marine protected areas. Some are internationally recognized and awarded by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere program (Fakarava atolls) and by the RAMSAR convention on the international importance of wetlands (Moorea lagoon).

The task at hand

The management of these areas involves ecological, cultural and socio-economical territory issues. This is understandable, considering some of the challenges:

  • Extends over more than five million square kilometres
  • 118 islands scattered into five archipelagos
  • 84 listed atolls, comprising 20% of the world’s atolls
  • 15,050 km2 of coral reef ecosystem
  • Belongs to the world’s biodiversity hotspot of Micronesia-Polynesia

Educational Managed Marine Areas - young people learning about and protecting the matine environment

An "Educational Managed Marine Area" (EMMA) is a small coastal area a few km2 wide, managed in a participatory way by primary school pupils, in accordance with principles defined in a charter.

It is an educational and eco-friendly project to help young people better understand and protect the marine environment. The children become part of a local project that draws on the expertise of the school and local municipality, along with user associations and environmental protection groups.

The concept was born in the Marquesas Islands in 2012 after pupils from a school in Vaitahu spoke of their desire to look after a marine area near their school.

French Polynesia and the founding partners have since structured the concept to create an EMMA label for schools adhering to the requirements of the programme. To take the strategy further, the Pukatai (coral in Marquesan) pilot network of six EMMAs was launched in 2014.

During Cop 21 in Paris, a partnership was signed between the French Minister for Environment, Energy and Oceans, Ségolène Royal, and Edouard Fritch, President of the French Polynesian government, to continue the success of the Polynesian network of EMMAs and to begin promoting this approach across France.

At the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, new schools started to create their EMMAs in other archipelagos of French Polynesia. At the same time a national pilot programme was launched to establish eight new EMMA in mainland France and french overseas territories.

These schools rolled out their activities in 2016-2017 and were awarded their EMMA labels.

An eco-friendly project

This educational approach is based on voluntary involvement and participatory management by students across a small stretch of sea. The schools are at the heart of the management and decision-making mechanisms, and coordinate the actions to protect the marine environment.

The project also seeks to share scientific knowledge about the marine environment and to promote the proper use and culture of the sea with professionals.

The concept of EMMA is based on three pillars, Understanding, Sharing and Managing.

Each school needs to implement a programme of actions to prepare correct management of the area, in particular : 

  • Conducting an ecological survey in the chosen area involving the children alongside scientific teams ;
  • Establishing a children’s sea council to discuss the actions to be implemented, which can include sea stakeholders and elected officials, as required ;
  • Investing in educational activities within the areas so that the children can think for themselves by drawing on and developing new understanding in a real-life situation ;
  • Developing relationships with elected officials, professionals and academics in order to link up different generations.

The children from the various EMMAs communicate with one another and with other young managers in order to share their experiences. They develop close links with the managers of existing marine protected areas, cementing the next generation of conservationists.

The organisation

This programme is coordinated in French Polynesia by the Polynesian Ministry of Education and in mainland France by the national Ministries of the Environment, Overseas Territories and Education. The French Marine Protected area agency is responsible for operational implementation of these projects. In French overseas territories, it is supported by the French coral reef initiative (IFRECOR).

French Polynesian marine protected areas supported by BEST

The BEST program does its part to support marine protected areas of French Polynesia by:

  • Raising awareness of Europe overseas' biodiversity and climate change issues with the EU and the international community to facilitate their integration into policies and programmes,
  • Actively promoting collaboration in those regions where Europe overseas are located
  • Supporting the capacity-building of Europe overseas in biodiversity conservation and adaptation to climate change.