A SMART approach to marine conservation in Cambodia
It has been one year since SMART technology was first introduced into Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago, Phallin Chea and Marianne Teoh explain what SMART is and reflect on two people who helped make it all happen…
What is SMART?
SMART stands for the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool. It combines GPS technology with software for measuring, evaluating and improving the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols and site-based conservation activities. For example, rangers or site managers can record where they go and what they do. SMART then synthesises this information to produce easily understood and informative maps, statistics and reports.
Why is SMART worthwhile?
One of the great things about SMART is that it motivates rangers while also empowering protected area managers and promoting accountability and good governance.
SMART in practice
As a developing country, Cambodia faces many difficulties in managing and protecting its natural resources due to limitations in government budget and human resources, and the push for economic development which is driving resource extraction and unsustainable development.
If used well, SMART technology offers a real opportunity to strengthen law enforcement and stop illegal activities by allowing site managers to use their limited resources efficiently.
Conservation action always begins by identifying the issues that threaten an ecosystem. Only then can solutions be found – solutions that mitigate threats in a way that most benefits both the environment and the people that rely upon it for their livelihoods.
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) has been working with the Royal Government of Cambodia since 2011 to create the country’s first large scale Marine Protected Area, known locally as a Marine Fisheries Management Area around the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem.
This zoned 405 km2 multiple use marine protected area was designated earlier this year and is home to extensive seagrass meadows where shy seahorses can be found, coral reefs teeming with colourful fish and an important feeding ground for hawksbill turtles.
FFI and the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration have been working with Community Fishery teams to implement SMART in Cambodia.
Through these collaborative efforts, Cambodia’s Koh Rong Archipelago has been the first marine site in Southeast Asia to implement fully-operational SMART methods, and it is changing the face of marine conservation research and management in the country.
Using the tool, the Community Fisheries have been able to collect and record patrol data, and analyse these to identify hotspots of illegal activity and patrol activity patterns. In turn, this information is being used by the Fisheries Administration to make more effective management decisions.
The Koh Rong Archipelago’s implementation of SMART is a great example of meaningful conservation management. It is an effective technique for locally-led fisheries patrols and management and, because it was in place before the declaration of the Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA), it can be used as a basis for comparison, allowing us to evaluate the effectiveness of our work in this protected area.
Through the success of ongoing SMART operations in the Koh Rong Archipelago, SMART can be expanded and adapted to other marine areas in Cambodia and beyond.
Two unexpected environmental heroes who have been indispensable in getting a SMART patrolling mechanism operational in Koh Rong Archipelago are Mr Nhem Vanna and Mr Sovann.
Mr Vanna is an enthusiastic environmentalist who works with the Cambodian governments’ Fisheries Administration. If there is a marine conservation project underway, you can bet Mr Vanna will be involved. Mr Vanna supports Community Fishery teams in Cambodia’s island communities, helping these locally-elected teams of fishers in the Koh Rong Archipelago to patrol and protect their fishing waters. It is dedicated individuals like Mr Vanna that made the recent declaration of the Koh Rong Archipelago MFMA possible.
Mr Vanna is proud to be part of the implementation of SMART. “SMART is very important for recording and managing data, improving patrol planning and reaching global standards,” he explained. “It will support effective management of conservation areas and increase biodiversity in the Koh Rong Archipelago”.
Mr Sovann, vice-chief for the Daem Thkov village Community Fishery, has volunteered in his community group since 2010. Mr Sovann says, “I’m pleased with SMART because it is convenient, reliable, and easy for recording and reporting. I have learnt many things including GPS use, working as a team, leading a team and gaining more understanding about the value of my work. I dream to see my Community Fishery develop and to be well-recognised as a way to protect resources for our children.”
In October, we celebrated one full year of SMART operations in the archipelago. It’s an exciting time – SMART’s applicability to a range of different conservation scenarios means that there is great potential for the tool to be expanded and adopted in other marine areas in Cambodia and beyond.
Co-written by Phallin Chea and Marianne Teoh.