Helvetas supports the efforts of coastal inhabitants in the Gulf of Mottama to reconcile the conservation and sustainable use of their tidal flats with an improvement of their livelihoods.
Conservation and sustainable utilization
With its long coastline, Myanmar is a country of fishermen. It exports game fish, mainly to China. The other fish are a vital component of the local diet and the only source of animal proteins for many families. But fish stocks are in jeopardy. In 2013 a Norwegian team examined the coastal waters and came to the conclusion that certain fish populations (measured in biomass) may have plummeted by more than 90% since 1979, from 1.2 million tons to a mere 110,000 tons.
These coastal waters include the Gulf of Mottama, one of the largest mudflat areas in the world and winter habitat for up to 150,000 of migratory waterbirds, including the endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, only a few hundred specimens of which are left in the world. Here, some 100 km east of Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, Helvetas is carrying out a project to protect the unique ecosystem of the gulf and its fish stocks by improving the livelihood of the local communities. The project prioritizes fishing and farming families, the landless, and other community members who have organized to form village development committees. But it also involves the regional authorities and the private sector, such as merchants and exporters.
As in other Helvetas conservation projects, such as those to protect forests, our strategy in the Gulf of Mottama rests on three pillars:
- The fishermen are to develop more clout and influence, and work with the authorities to take responsibility for the conservation of fishing grounds.
- Alternative employment options in crafts and trade as well as agricultural improvements are to provide supplementary income for coastal communities. This income will make it possible for fishermen to curtail or suspend harmful activities in spawning grounds.
- Coastal communities and the authorities are capable of sustainably managing the tidal flats and the rivers feeding into the gulf while conserving them at the same time.
Helvetas has an excellent rapport with the regional authorities. On local, regional and union level the authorities are glad to be able to benefit from the know-how Helvetas and its partners have acquired from other nature projects.
Coastal management along the Gulf of Mottama is a project of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) carried out by Helvetas and its partners.
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Thein Myant, middleman and spokesman for the fishermen, Saik Ka Ye village, Myanmar