Collaboration and Communication
Wastewater pollution in coastal areas is a complex problem. Due to the invisible nature of the pollution and the taboo associated with it, people often have a limited understanding of the extent and severity of wastewater pollution. While developing solutions and raising awareness is a key component to tackling this enormous environmental challenge, we need to look beyond our discipline of reef management to effectively mitigate wastewater pollution. Marine practitioners need to collaborate with colleagues in multiple sectors, including public health, sanitation, philanthropy, and sanitation technology. Other important partners include managers of coastal lands and adjacent upland areas, tourism boards, utilities, and policymakers.
A ‘ridge-to-reef’ management approach links management action on land with coastal waters for integrated solutions across watersheds and across agencies. Ridge-to-reef projects work to simultaneously improve wastewater management and reduce land-based pollution, thus providing benefits to coral reefs, terrestrial ecosystems, and people. Freshwater retention strategies—such as increasing permeable surfaces, vegetation, and constructed wetlands—slow the flow of pollutants into the ocean. Capturing polluted water as it moves downhill increases its exposure to treatment mechanisms, reducing the number of contaminants that reach the marine environment.
Collaborative Water Quality Monitoring
Water quality monitoring is usually conducted by local government agencies, but partnering with local organizations and volunteers can expand capacity, build understanding of the issue, and help protect people and the environment by motivating behavior changes that benefit the ecosystem. Engaging community members in the process helps them see the problems first-hand and serve as champions to communicate findings and build support for solutions. It also provides managers and scientists much needed support on-the-ground and can facilitate partnerships with universities, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and local researchers.
A model for managers interested in starting a citizen science water quality sampling program is Hui O Ka Wai Ola in Maui, Hawaii, USA. Through coordination and support from this program, volunteers collect water samples (in alignment with local and national standards and protocols) and bring them to a high school lab dedicated to water quality monitoring.
Data from field sampling efforts are then consolidated into a database, analyzed, and summarized to provide concise information that can be used to track pollution events, recognize water quality and coral reef trends over time, and support decision-making related to water quality standards and management plans. For more information on this program, view the webinar about Hui O Ka Wai Ola.
Collaborating with the WASH Sector
Sharing expertise between conservation and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) practitioners is critical to developing sustainable sanitation solutions that protect people, natural resources, and ecosystems. Marine managers’ knowledge of ocean ecosystems is essential for developing solutions that address threats to both marine life and human health. On pages 16 - 18, A Practitioner's Guide for Ocean Wastewater Pollution highlights key sectors that managers can collaborate with: local and national governments, industry partners, philanthropists, public health workers, and more. WASH initiatives can improve people’s access to clean water for drinking and safe disposal of human waste and raise awareness of good hygiene practices to reduce the spread of disease. These initiatives can include a wide variety of projects:
- Education programs in schools and communities
- Donations of soap or water filters
- Partnerships with companies and local workers to build and maintain toilets or latrines
- Collaboration with local government to establish best practices in dealing with human waste
- Research and learning activities
Long-standing taboos around human waste pose a particular challenge for communicating about this topic. Taking time to understand these taboos and what your audience thinks and feels about human waste, elimination practices, and waste management is critical to developing a successful solution. For wastewater pollution, investigating the scope of the problem is a great starting point to identify local challenges and establish appropriate goals. Another challenge is engaging the community so they support and/or participate in your sanitation solution. Motivating people to act does not happen quickly. Strategic communication can help address these challenges.
Strategic communication is the purposeful use of communication to achieve a specific goal or outcome. It focuses on delivering the right message to the right person (or audience) at the right time through the right channel to achieve a specific goal.
This approach can help marine managers and practitioners build support, raise awareness, generate funding, strengthen relationships, and influence behavior and public opinion to achieve long-term goals and short-term actions along the way. No matter the need, follow these steps to ensure your communication is targeted, tailored, and timely:
Explore the Strategic Communication for Conservation guide for additional communication guidance, examples, and planning worksheets.
Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group (ABCG), which includes IRC, Conservation International, and the Jane Goodall Institute, developed a Freshwater Conservation and WASH Advocacy Strategy Workshop Facilitator’s Guide. This guide prepares facilitators to lead a workshop that provides foundational understanding about the need for integrated WASH and water conservation efforts and introduces strategies for engaging with decision makers to generate policy change. The intent of the guide and workshop is to raise awareness and inspire advocacy in communities to support policy programing to promote WASH and water conservation solutions.
Although the ABCG Guide is specifically aimed toward freshwater resource conservation, the methods proposed are applicable to marine areas. The four-day workshop and tools presented in it serve as an example that can be adapted for and leveraged by coastal communities.