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Status and potential of locally-managed marine areas in the Pacific Island Region: meeting nature conservation and sustainable livelihood targets through wide-spread implementation of LMMAs

Govan, Hugh (2009): Status and potential of locally-managed marine areas in the Pacific Island Region: meeting nature conservation and sustainable livelihood targets through wide-spread implementation of LMMAs.

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The South Pacific has experienced a remarkable proliferation of Marine Managed Areas in the last decade. These protected areas, implemented by over 500 communities spanning 15 independent countries and territories represent a unique global achievement. The approaches being developed at national levels are built on a unique feature of the region, customary tenure and resource access, and make use of, in most cases, existing community strengths in traditional knowledge and governance, combined with a local awareness of the need for action, resulting in what have been most aptly termed Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs). The main driver in most cases, is a community desire to maintain or improve livelihoods, often related to perceived threats to food security or local economic revenue. In the South Pacific, conservation and sustainable use are often seen as inseparable as part of the surviving concepts of traditional environmental stewardship. The extent of this shift towards Community Based Resource Management in Melanesia and Polynesia is unprecedented on a global scale and is the subject of this report.

The benefits of LMMAs and community-based resource management are many. Not least, communities anecdotally report rapid and appreciable increases of marine resources within closed areas. There is also now an increasing body of technical literature which seems to confirm these observations and indeed the potential speed at which this may occur, and these increases seem likely to reflect positive impacts on the biodiversity within these areas. Evidence for significant fishery impacts such as increased landings or catch per unit effort is scarcer, possibly reflecting a greater time period required for such impacts to be observable.

The success of these community based management approaches comes at a time when the region faces enormous challenges to food security, biodiversity and adaptation to climate change. The population in the South Pacific is projected to double in the next 30 years. This combined with poor performance of national economies and growing inequalities due to the distribution and access to economic opportunities is leading to problems associated with poverty in most of the independent countries and increased pressure on natural resources leading to erosion of biodiversity and livelihood opportunities, increasingly resulting in conflict and law and order problems. The dependency on fisheries seems likely to spark a crisis of considerable proportions, particularly in Melanesia where high population growth and predominantly rural populations with few economic alternatives have projected food requirements well in excess of what coastal areas are currently likely to produce without significant improvements in management and productivity.

These pressures are already taking their toll on biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, which is of great concern as the Pacific region is one of the world’s centres of biodiversity, or species richness (i.e. endemism), possessing the most extensive coral reef systems. Countries are attempting to manage vast tracks of coastline comparable in extent to those in developed neighbours but with virtually insignificant budgets for this purpose, consequently, low cost self-sustaining management options are required.

A regional inventory of LMMAs has been compiled as a main output of the current study, drawing on and complementing two previous attempts. Data captured prior to the study appears to be extremely variable, generally under-reporting active Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) and vastly inflating MMA coverage with inactive or inappropriate sites, particularly in Tonga, PNG and Solomon Islands. Data captured during the present study, current up to January 2008, was compared with data provided by the World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA) and used in place of “official” country lists (which were lacking except for Tonga, Cook Islands, New Caledonia and French Polynesia).

The results show that a locally managed approach to protected areas is virtually the only approach to Marine Managed Areas (MMAs) actively pursued at present in the independent countries of the Pacific Islands Region. Most countries do not maintain an up to date national list and hitherto reliance has been on data voluntarily submitted to the WDPA. Given the discrepancies detected in global PA databases, the figures for LMMAs collected in this inventory provide the best picture of current MMA coverage of some 30,000 km2.

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