Mozambique: Leading the Way on the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas

By Hugo Costa | May 21, 2021

Rhampholeon nebulauctor, a threatened chameleon (Vulnerable) endemic from Mount Chiperone KBA, credit: Harith Farooq

ey Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) are the most important places in the world for the persistence of biodiversity. This year, Endangered Species Day and the International Day for Biodiversity (May 21 and May 22 respectively) are being celebrated in Mozambique in a very particular way: 29 KBAs are being presented to the country and the world by the Minister of Land and Environment of Mozambique.

Mozambique has a notable abundance of natural resources and biodiversity that are vital pillars for the country’s sustainable development. The country’s mostly rural population depends on biodiversity and ecosystem services for their livelihoods. However, the ongoing over-exploitation of biodiversity and habitat loss, combined with the introduction of exotic species and climate change effects, as well as aspects of poaching and illegal wildlife trade, have degraded Mozambique’s unique species and ecosystems.

This year, on Endangered Species Day and the International Day for Biodiversity, 29 KBAs are being presented to the country and the world by the Minister of Land and Environment of Mozambique.

In 2016, a participative process that lasted several years and included academia and some of the world’s leading nature conservation organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), led to the establishment of the KBA Partnership, which promotes the identification, documentation and conservation of KBAs. That same year the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published its Global Standard for KBAs.

An African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), one of the trigger species of the Niassa Special Reserve KBA, which hosts one of the largest known global populations of this species. Credit: Thomas Retterath

The Mozambican State is committed to preserving its biodiversity through its implementation of international agreements and conventions such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Conventon on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Nairobi Convention (NC). It has joined the High Ambition Coalition, an international initiative of more than 50 governments to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of the terrestrial and marine realms by 2030.

In recent years, Mozambique national policies have been aligned with these commitments. In February 2019, WCS (as one of the government’s main conservation partners, and with support from SPEED+, a USAID project) established a partnership with the Ministry of Land and Environment, through the National Directorate of Environment, to develop an innovative project that would assess threatened species according to the IUCN Red List and map Key Biodiversity Areas in Mozambique.

Mozambique has a notable abundance of natural resources and biodiversity that are vital pillars for the country’s sustainable development.

That project, now concluded, was one of the first initiative worldwide to conduct a comprehensive national KBA assessment, applying the 2016 Global Standard to a whole range of biological groups and elements (insects, freshwater fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, plants, ecosystems and marine biodiversity).

Niassa Special Reserve KBA Landscape. Credit: Valdemar Jonasse

It all started with the creation of a National Coordination Group for KBAs and Red Lists and 8 technical working groups. Over a period of 18 months more than 100 national, regional and international experts identified and delineated 29 KBAs covering a total area of some 140.000,00 km2, split roughly 86–14 percent between terrestrial and marine environments respectively.

The Mozambican State is committed to preserving its biodiversity through its implementation of international agreements and conventions.

The terrestrial KBAs occupy 17 percent of Mozambique’s continental territory and the marine 1 percent of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). These areas are now available in the World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas.

The project also conducted Red List assessments for 67 species found only, or nearly only, in Mozambique, nearly half of which were found to be threatened with extinction. Those assessments can now be used to develop a list of protected species for Mozambique. Meanwhile, a working group of regional and national experts developed a map of Mozambique’s ecosystems and conducted a Red List assessment of terrestrial ecosystems.

Apalis lynesi, endemic bird from Mount Namuli KBA. Credit: Ross Gallardy

The data collected for species, ecosystems, and sites are now ready to be used by the Government to inform decision-making and reporting to international conventions.

The government is integrating KBAs into its National Plan for Territorial Development, as well as its Marine Spatial Plan, as areas to be preserved. The KBAs are also being used to support the strategic expansion of the National Network of Protected Areas.

Another important output of the project is the translation into Portuguese of the IUCN guidelines “Business and KBAs: Managing Risk to Biodiversity,” which identify best environmental practices that development projects must follow when implemented in or around KBAs.

The government is integrating KBAs into its National Plan for Territorial Development, as well as its Marine Spatial Plan, as areas to be preserved.

The project also expanded capacity-building, with 130 technicians trained to identify KBAs and assess Red Lists, including 8 young Mozambican biologists trained to organize data and conduct Red List and KBA assessments. Additionally, the project brought in Mozambican fauna specialists on the IUCN Regional Species Survival Commission. Project information will be collected at a new biodiversity web portal, which is currently under development.

Finally, the project has created new opportunities for the country. Institutions can now access more funding and investment, as KBAs are a priority for many multilateral donors, including the GEF (Global Biodiversity Facility). Local communities should also benefit financially, as KBAs can create jobs and financial benefits through performance-based payments.

A whale shark (Rhincodon typus), one of the trigger species from Tofo KBA, which is among the 10 largest known global aggregation sites for this species. Credit: Derek Keats

The biggest gains will be for the well-being of Mozambicans. Should Mozambique be able to preserve the Key Biodiversity Areas identified by the project and others yet to be mapped, the ecosystem services they provide will include watershed protection and drinking water storage, carbon retention and CO2 emissions reduction, and improved management of fishing areas.

This work needs to continue. More areas must be explored, and more data collected for species and ecosystems. Surely new KBAs will be triggered considering the country’s incredible biodiversity. Mozambique and its partners are helping to lead the way, and by conserving KBAs, Mozambique will continue to contribute to the global effort to stop and avoid biodiversity loss in Africa and across the planet.

Hugo Costa is Marine Program Coordinator for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) in Mozambique.

Note: The work described in this story received the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), through the SPEED+ Project “Supporting the Policy Environment for Economic Development” for funding the project. This project was the product of an immense teamwork, led by the author, Hermenegildo Matimele and Eleutério Duarte. We deeply thank the all the national and international individuals and organisations that contributed to project.

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

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