HighARCS — Highland Aquatic Resources Conservation and Sustainable Development
Billions of people depend on aquatic resources, however, an estimated 50% of wetlands have been lost and more than 20% of freshwater species are known to be threatened. The Highland Aquatic Resources Conservation and Sustainable Development (HighARCS) project aims to address these issues in the highland regions of Asia where dependence for livelihoods is especially high. While the link between environmental degradation and increased vulnerability of poor communities is well known, only limited information is available concerning communities in highland areas, and even less regarding those dependent on aquatic resources and associated ecosystem services. Moreover, the role of aquatic resources is not well understood in relation to livelihoods among food-insecure households.
Given the dynamic nature and high vulnerability of aquatic resources, particularly in light of global climate change, there is an urgent need to consolidate and enhance knowledge in a number of key areas. Notably concerning the significance and conservation status of biodiversity in upland ecosystems in terms of the local ecology and regional socio-economic systems and regarding changing conditions in upland environments and conflicting demands of those dependent on these resources.
Objectives for the HighARCS project included the use of an innovative interdisciplinary approach to develop knowledge on the importance of aquatic resources in highland areas of Asia (Guangdong, China; Uttarakhand and West Bengal, India; central and northern Vietnam). It also aimed to formulate Integrated Action Plans to address conservation, livelihoods and policy concerns with local communities and key stakeholders. Better Management Practices aimed at conserving biodiversity and sustaining ecosystem services were communicated to potential users to promote uptake and enhanced policy formulation.
HighARCS has adopted an approach that cuts across disciplines and sectors, built cooperation in the field and developed new forms of partnership with poor upland communities. The approach involved participatory and integrated planning to promote the conservation and sustainable development of highland aquatic resources. It aimed to ensure that local needs are prioritized and incorporated with institutions responsible for different levels of planning and implementation. Researchers at all field sites encouraged local ownership of the project and outcomes through promoting interactive participation based on information-exchange, reflection and shared accountability. Such a process ensured continuity of appropriate and accepted practices after the project has ended. A series of capacity building workshops ensured that the project was inclusive of all marginal stakeholder groups, including women, young people and ethnic communities. Workshops brought together project managers and researchers from both Europe and Asia to share ideas and expertise, including learning about local cultural contexts and relevant gender issues in relation to local livelihoods.
The HighARCS project comprised three phases of work: (1) an interdisciplinary situation analysis of highland aquatic resources at the five sites in Asia, focusing on functionality, management, exploitation, and biodiversity and conservation issues; (2) in-depth assessment of aquatic biodiversity, including its associated livelihoods and social institutions at the selected sites leading to the development and formulation of integrated action plans; and (3) implementation of action plans with community members, including monitoring progress and evaluating the process.
The HighARCS project started on the 1st of January 2009 and the first situation analysis phase was completed in June 2011, the second integrated action planning phase was concluded in June 2012. The third phase followed with the monitoring of action plan implementation and comprehensive publication of findings. The project ended in December 2013.
The project was funded by FP7ENV and was coordinated by the University of Essex (United Kingdom), with partnership with the Roskilde University (Denmark), University of Stirling (United Kingdom), International Union for Conservation of Nature, Species Programme (Switzerland), Centre for the Development of Human Initiatives (India), Institute of Environmental Studies and Wetland Management (India), Centre for Environmental and Participatory Design (India), Research Institute for Aquaculture No. 1 (Vietnam), South China Agricultural University (China), and FishBase Information and Research Group, Inc. (Philippines).
Major project outputs
The major Deliverables for the project consisted of reports corresponding to each phase. First, Situation Analysis reports that covered each of the five study sites included the identification of communities depending on highland aquatic resources, their livelihood strategies and appropriated ecosystem services; a study and discussion of the institutional, policy and legal frameworks; a description of the market networks and an identification of the stakeholders, including men, women, girls and boys in order to capture both gender and generational perspectives. Biodiversity assessments across the major river basins where the project sites are located were also undertaken during this phase leading to IUCN Red Listings for aquatic plants, fish, molluscs, crustaceans and odonates. Second, Integrated Action Plan (IAP) reports, completed in mid 2012, contained site-specific IAPs with assessment from conservation, livelihoods and policy perspective structures using the Driving Forces, Pressures, State, Impacts and Responses (DPSIR) framework. Finally, implementation of the IAPs and conclusions were summarized in appropriate project communication media and activities at the end of the project.
Other project outputs
Better Management Practices and promising research and planning methods or tools for conservation and management of highland aquatic resources and to reconcile ecosystem services appropriation and biodiversity to ensure livelihoods sustainability were highlighted and communicated to potential users. Policy briefs to present findings and recommendations to enhance conservation regulations were done.
A notable project innovation was the Flagship Species Initiative for the identification of species that were both of conservation concern and important in people’s livelihoods. Flagship species are those that need to be conserved because of imminent ecological threats such as pollution, habitat degradation or over-exploitation and the value they have in terms of livelihoods, associated ecosystem services or economic activity at the project sites.
An online toolkit to document the research methods implemented and results derived for wetlands resources assessment planning as experienced in HighARCS was done. This toolkit is linked to institutional websites of partners.
Data archiving of species information collected from HighARCS was also done through the FishBase portal called ‘FishBase for HighARCS'. This has been created to serve as a core where biodiversity and policy data generated from HighARCS were gathered and designed to make information become available to the public within and beyond the duration of the HighARCS project. This portal was structured in such a way that it maintained links with FishBase, an online global database on fish.