Helvetas supports the efforts of coastal inhabitants in the Gulf of Mottama to achieve the conservation and sustainable use of their tidal flats at the same time as improving their livelihoods.
Conservation and sustainable utilization
With its long coastline, Myanmar is a country with many fisher families. Fish are a vital component of the local diet and the only source of animal protein for many local people. The sale of fish is also an important source of income – although heavily impacted by political events in 2021 and the Covid pandemic. 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.
Myanmar’s 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. Designated a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, one of the project’s successes has been to achieve, in 2020, an extension of this designation from an original 42,565 hectares to 161,041 hectares - an increase of 380%.
The project prioritizes fishing and farming families, the landless, and other community members who have organized to form 60 village development committees. But it also involves the private sector, such as fish and rice 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 supported in developing more clout and influence, working with the private sector and authorities to promote the conservation of fishing grounds.
Alternative employment options in crafts and trade as well as agricultural improvements are providing supplementary income for women and men of the coastal communities. This income will make it possible for fishermen to curtail or suspend harmful activities in spawning grounds.
Coastal communities in association with relevant private sector actors are establishing a mechanism to sustainably manage the tidal flats and the rivers feeding into the gulf while conserving them at the same time.
Promoting community resilience to climate change
The Gulf of Mottama is especially vulnerable to climate-induced hazards such as cyclones, tidal surges, floods, saline intrusion, and droughts. Predicted rises in temperature and more frequent intense precipitation events mean that these risks will increase; disaster risk reduction measures are thus incorporated into project activities.
Working in a changed political context
The seizure of power by the military on 1 February 2021 necessitated a major reorientation of project approach, at the same time as heightening the need for action. The natural resources of the Gulf of Mottama are under increasing threat due to a downward spiral of poverty caused by the major economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, internal armed conflict, and the internal displacement of people. The project is therefore supporting humanitarian efforts, including Covid-19 prevention measures and cash for work on conservation-related activities.
The project complies with Swiss government policy of suspending engagement with the de facto authorities in Myanmar. Because natural resource governance remains critical, the project is strengthening local level action and working with associations of fishers, farmers, and private sector actors to collectively manage resources and deal with authorities at the township level.
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 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Network Activities Group (NAG).
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Thein Myant, middleman and spokesman for the fishermen, Saik Ka Ye village, Myanmar