Marine life grows in protected areasVASEMACA RARABICI
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Fiji's commitment to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network covering 30 per cent of the country's in-shore fisheries by 2020 could be realised earlier than expected.This commitment made in January 2005 by the Government has resulted in more than 200 marine protected areas within Fiji's 410 customary fishing grounds, known as i qoliqoli. That's more than 50 per cent of the total target accomplished within just three years.
Conservationists are excited about the increase in the number of MPA's or fishing grounds that have been declared taboo by traditional owners. And they are targeting for more. Already surveys have shown that fish numbers and other marine resources are increasing in these taboo areas and many have dispersed to other areas, leading to increased catches and improved livelihoods especially amongst coastal communities, which makes up 60 per cent of Fiji's population.
Government's partnership with non-government organisation and the community to protect its marine environment for a sustainable future has challenged other pacific nations to do likewise.
This includes the "Micronesia Challenge" undertaken by Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to protect 30 per cent of near-shore marine resources and 20 per cent of terrestrial resources on their islands by 2020.
More recently Kiribati has become a global conservation leader by establishing the world's largest marine protected area an ocean wilderness of pristine coral reefs and rich fish populations threatened by over-fishing and climate change.
In one of the first studies of its kind, The Nature Conservancy has worked with leading academics on a study that conclusively proves that marine protected areas (MPAs) can help alleviate poverty.
A MPA is an area of ocean or coastal water recognised by both government and society as having specific conservation value.
Measures are put in place to preserve the quality of marine life including restricted access for fishing, diving and other potentially harmful activities.
Governments around the world are wrestling with questions about whether investments in conservation benefit the lives of extremely impoverished people. The "Nature's Investment Bank" study provides new evidence that these investments do bring about measurable economic and quality of life benefits.
Co-authored by Nature Conservancy policy advisor Craig Leisher, Dutch economist Dr Peter van Beukering, and social scientist Dr Lea M. Scherl, this study found restoration of local resources be they fisheries or coral reefs increased fish catch and economic opportunities, improved community health, and directly enhanced the lives of local residents.
"When marine protected areas are developed with government support, scientific data, and are managed primarily by local communities that take pride in the management of their natural resources, significant improvements in quality of life can be seen," said Craig Leisher, co-author of the study.
As a Fijian community leader from Waiqanake Village, outside Suva, Weku Ratumainaceva said: "The marine protected area is like a bank to the people. Opening more branches of the bank in developing countries can contribute to coastal poverty reduction. By conserving marine resources, people will reap higher returns in the future."
The study findings demonstrate that opening more branches of the "bank" in developing countries can contribute to coastal poverty reduction. The study team conducted more than 1100 interviews within poor communities in four countries using rigorous scientific methodology endorsed by several leading environmental economists and social scientists analysed the effect of marine protected areas at four very different sites Navakavu a locally managed marine area outside Suva; Indonesia's Bunaken National Marine Park; a community marine conservation area in the Solomon islands and on Apo Island in the Philippines.
According to Nature Conservancy, the worldwide poverty crisis has risen to the forefront of global issues, and with nearly three billion people around the world living on the equivalent of $US2 a day or less, millions are forced to make decisions that damage their environment in order to feed themselves and their families.
"When poverty increases, fish stocks are depleted. Fishermen are often driven to use destructive methods to catch what little is left, damaging the reefs and fish habitat that produce the food local communities depend upon for survival. With every 5 per cent loss of coral reefs, 250,000-500,000 tons of fish are lost as well, threatening food security for millions," Nature Conservancy said. "This study highlights the importance of protecting these ocean habitats, to both preserve essential marine life and reduce poverty in coastal areas not only in Asia-Pacific but across many impoverished coastal communities around the globe."
Working in partnership with local non-governmental organisations and universities, the researchers talked to over 1100 local people about the changes they had seen in the quality of their life since the creation of the nearby marine protected areas. Across the four sites surveyed, there was clear evidence that poverty had been reduced by several factors:
- Improved fish catches. Fish are now "spilling over" from the no-fishing zones of marine protected areas, leading to increased catches and higher incomes for fishermen at three of the sites.
- New jobs, mostly in tourism. The marine protected areas' greatest boost to household incomes came from new jobs, especially in eco-tourism. In Fiji, tourism has surpassed fishing as the largest source of income.
- Stronger local governance. Involving the community in management and decision-making of the marine protected area gives the community a more united voice and frequently reduced conflict within the communities and with neighbouring communities.
- Benefits to health. Greater fish catches led to greater protein intake and a perceived improvement in children's health in particular.
- Benefits to women. Marine protected areas helped empower women economically and in some cases socially. The development of alternative livelihoods to fishing, such as seaweed farming and basket weaving, provides new income opportunities for women. As a result, they gained a stronger voice in community meetings.
"By focusing on potentially positive examples, we aimed to identify key factors for success that could be replicated elsewhere," explains Craig Leisher, co-author of the report and a senior policy advisor for the Conservancy.
The Conservancy hopes governments will use these study findings to harness the full benefits of marine protected areas to improve the well-being of local people while conserving marine life. The study recommends key strategies for strengthening the creation and management of MPAs that include:
- Committing to financial investment in protected areas, both in the initial set up and in subsequent years.
- Developing a network of smaller, ecologically connected MPA sites, each linked to a community, to increase local access to benefits.
- Empowering local communities in the decision making and management of the marine protected area. "Marine protected areas and local communities need each other. Without the support of the local community, marine protected areas will not succeed," says Leisher.
"Similarly, by preserving marine life, we can help the communities that depend on the bounty of the sea for their survival. We should not artificially separate conservation and poverty reduction in the places where we work they are almost always inextricably linked."
- Ms Rarabici is a Communication Analyst with SeaWeb. SeaWeb is a Communication Company that helps the media, NGO's, policy makers and businesses promote a healthy ocean.
Marine life grows in protected areas - Fiji Times Online