New research paper reveals land to sea connection for restoration and conservation in data-poor regions


 Protecting coastal communities, Vanuatu International Waters Ridge to Reef Project Rapid Coastal Assessment survey team in action.


The Journal of Conservation Biology just published a new study about the interactions between land-use and marine ecosystems.

Funded by the Global Environment Facility through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Pacific Community (SPC), the study undertaken by Seascape Solutions identifies priority areas on land where restoration and conservation actions would yield the highest benefits for coastal and marine habitat.

In Vanuatu, Pacific Ridge to Reef (R2R) Scientists and lead authors Dr Jade Delevaux and Dr Kostantinos Stamoulis applied the R2R approach which addresses linkages between land, forest, water, and coast, leading to holistic natural resources management and sustainable development. The study improves understanding the interconnectivity of freshwater and saltwater ecosystems, and provides scenarios that can support the management of both terrestrial and marine resources along the ridge to reef, or land to sea continuum.

SPC Regional Programme Coordinator Samasoni Sauni said: “SPC has partnered with the government of Vanuatu and local agencies since 2015 to test the Ridge to Reef concept and integrated management approaches.  Together with Seascape Solutions, we are thrilled that this research has been peer-reviewed and published, where the approach and results can be used by decision makers to identify and prioritize management actions to reverse ecosystem degradation and strengthen community resilience and well-being.”

Globally, land-use change is considered one of the greatest human threats to marine ecosystems. Expansion of commercial agriculture, logging, and coastal development are harmful to seagrass and coral reefs habitats and associated fisheries through increases in land-based pollution.

The study demonstrates that Ridge to Reef management can guide the restoration and protection of  forested habitat, reducing land-based human-related impacts with benefits to marine ecosystems.

Dr Delevaux said: “If applied correctly, R2R management actions can directly benefit environmental health, food security, and human wellbeing in tropical island communities around the world.”

An important challenge for the implementation of comprehensive land to sea restoration and conservation activities in tropical regions is that most of them are data-poor. Such activities would therefore strongly benefit from knowledge generated from R2R management.

To demonstrate such benefits, the researchers applied a spatially explicit linked land-sea model that integrates existing land-use with marine habitats using open access global datasets to simulate forest management scenarios and identify areas in key watersheds where restoration and conservation would provide the most benefit to marine habitats.

“There is a growing need to design ridge-to-reef management interventions that can provide multiple benefits, such as soil retention, biodiversity, clean water, healthy habitats, and fisheries, thereby supporting both nature and people. Decision support tools that can identify where to prioritize terrestrial management actions as a function of marine benefits can address this need in tropical data-poor regions interested in implementing ridge-to-reef management,” explained Dr Delevaux.

Dr Stamoulis  said: “What is truly exciting is that the methods and the models used in this study also have applications far beyond Vanuatu. Such open-source global datasets are on the rise, as this information is needed to inform management in Pacific Island nations as well as in other regions.”

“By applying both the Coral Allen Atlas and Millennium marine habitat maps we were able to leverage the strengths of each and determine with more confidence where management actions should be implemented,” he added.

The application of this integrated land-sea planning approach provides a focus for future ridge-to-reef investments and integrated coastal management in other countries and territories across the Pacific.

This study was supported through funding from GEF-UNDP through the SPC, and IUCN to Seascape Solutions.

Jade M. S. Delevaux & Kostantinos A. Stamoulis (2021) Prioritizing forest management actions to benefit marine habitats in data-poor regions. Conservation Biology, []

Media Contact:
Inga Mangisi-Mafileo, Communications and Knowledge Management Adviser - GEF Pacific R2R Programme (SPC) | M: +679 752 3060 E: [email protected]  

About the Pacific R2R Programme
The Pacific Ridge to Reef (R2R) Programme is a multi -country, multi -GEF agency programmatic initiative guiding the coordinated investment of USD 90 million in GEF grant funding across multiple focal areas of biodiversity conservation, land degradation, climate change adaptation and mitigation, sustainable land management, sustainable forest management, and international waters in Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Operating across 14 Pacific Island countries, the programme aims to deliver tangible and quantifiable local and global environmental benefits by focusing on cross-cutting approaches to water, land, and coastal management with linkages across GEF focal areas including: biodiversity, land degradation, international waters, sustainable forest management, climate mitigation and adaptation and capacity development.

The programme is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) & the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Executed regionally by the Pacific Community (SPC) through the Regional Ridge to Reef International Waters Project (Regional IW R2R), the R2R programme is supported by the Regional Programme Coordination Unit (RPCU) in areas of science-based planning, human capital development, policy and strategic planning, results-based management, and knowledge sharing. The Regional IW R2R Project is one of 15 child projects under the Programme and provides the primary programme coordination vehicle for the 14 other child projects – the national R2R System for Transparent Allocation of Resources (STAR) Projects under the Pacific R2R Programme.

The Regional Project aims to test the mainstreaming of ‘ridge-to-reef’ (R2R), climate resilient approaches to integrated land, water, forest, and coastal management in the Pacific Island countries (PICs) through strategic planning, capacity building and piloted local actions to sustain livelihoods and preserve ecosystem services.

The Regional IW R2R Project has 14 demonstration projects in participating Pacific Islands - Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshal Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Geoscience, Energy and Maritime