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


Executive Summary

The South Pacific has experienced a remarkable proliferation of Marine Managed Areas (MMAs) 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 Pacifi c, 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, Papua New Guinea (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 protected area databases, the figures for LMMAs collected in this inventory provide the best picture of current MMA coverage of some 30,000 km 2 .
In the independent countries, the effort of communities and their supporting governmental and non-governmental partners has resulted in over 12,000 km 2 coming under active management of which more than 1,000 km 2 are “no-take”. This progress comes at a time when older models of larger, centrally planned reserves have failed in almost all cases resulting in the need to review the inclusion of some 14,000 km 2 of such “paper parks” in national and global databases of the region.

With regards to international or national commitments to MPA coverage of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) or marine habitat types, an immediate challenge facing the region is that, with the possible exception of the two Samoas, these commitments do not appear to have been interpreted in the light of nationally available data on coastal areas, habitats and ecological regions and thus hinder analysis of progress. A preliminary analysis suggests that Fiji, New Caledonia and French Polynesia could be on track to meeting their commitments at the inshore or coral reef ecosystem level. However, the situation for other countries is cause for concern and all countries are far from meeting their commitments of “strict protection”. The regional MMA coverage represents under 0.2% of the combined EEZ and only Fiji and New Caledonia are within reach of the global average of 1.5% of EEZ protected with 0.8% and 0.9% respectively.

Samoa has shown strong government investment (originally supported by AusAID) in community-based fisheries management that had resulted by the late 1990s in a national network of dozens of village fisheries management areas, some 50 appear to be active today and the numbers remain steady or slowly increasing. Also in Samoa, the Environment Department is supporting more than 20 communities implementing no-take reserves within the two large co-managed MPA systems of Aleipata and Safata.

Fiji has shown an impressive rate of expansion supported by a national network of Non-Government Organizations ( NGOs) and government organizations promoting LMMAs known as FLMMA (Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network). More than 200 villages spread across the 14 provinces in Fiji have established some form of community-based management measures and the numbers have increased steadily every year over the last decade. This is due in part to the snow-ball effects which have seen skills passed from village to village and requests from interested communities surpassing available support capacity. Fiji makes by far the biggest contribution to area under management (10,800 km 2 ) and no-take (600 km 2 ) of the South Pacific countries.

any communities in Vanuatu have preserved traditional management in the form of ‘tabu’ areas and in others  this tradition has been revived with the support of fisheries officers, other government organizations and NGOs. Over 40 villages have been reported to manage their marine resources in this manner in Vanuatu but the real numbers may be significantly higher. Cook Islands has maintained traditional taboos known as ra’ui of which 15 are recorded in the outer islands. Ra’ui were reintroduced on the main island of Rarotonga in 1998 and six are still active. Solomon Islands has seen some of the most impressive progress in the last few years with currently over 100 NGO-supported LMMAs, Tuvalu too is promising significant gains with communities keen to register or revive up to 10 local conservation areas. PNG has seen progress with strategies becoming more defined locally but the country as a whole faces considerable challenges in achieving management of its vast coastal areas. Initiatives are in the early stages for Tonga which has seen the establishment of six special management areas under a Fisheries Division nation-wide strategy.

The dependent states and territories are progressing well using more Western style protected area approaches and New Caledonia has recently made impressive progress with the declaration of a large lagoonal World Heritage Area. American Samoa and French Polynesia are combining traditional resource management and sustainable use approaches with national protected area systems.

The spread and endurance of these LMMAs is attributable in great part to the perception of communities that  benefits are, or are very likely to be, achieved. Such benefits include recovery of natural resources, improved food security, increased economic opportunities, improved governance, access to information and services, health impacts, improved security of tenure, cultural recovery and strengthening community organization. Less explicit benefits also include opportunities to exclude outsiders to the “fringe benefits” and “resource capture”of
working with outside agencies, some of which offer incentives or payments for conservation, or promise alternative livelihood and income generation projects.

The increased abundance of target species within closed areas has been quantifiably verified but less scientific evidence has been gathered for other ecological and social benefits. It is likely that communities perceive some combination of benefits that, together, in sum are an acceptable return on their investment and opportunity costs.

Perhaps the major benefi t is the realization by that increased control and resilience of the resources upon which they rely can be afforded by enhancing resource management activities.

Despite diffi culties in quantifying the impact of LMMA approaches on livelihoods, the information that is available combined with the absence or failure of alternative approaches strongly supports community-based adaptive management as the fundamental building block of a holistic or integrated island management or ecosystem approach.

Some of the major innovations that have supported the proliferation of LMMAs have been the operation of clusters of sites supported by regional, national and sub-national umbrellas or social networks. Others include the use by support agencies of simple participatory learning and action approaches, the development of more  support oriented roles by government agencies, a burgeoning recognition of the importance of cost-effectiveness and the development in some cases of supportive legal frameworks.

Nonetheless, community-based resource management is not fully supported in the legislation of many countries and there is wide variability in the cost of supporting community based approaches which overall have directly or indirectly absorbed well over USD 40 million in project costs over the last decade. Community-based management can be carried out at a fraction of this amount, the bulk of costs going to salaries and transport of extension staff and information dissemination and workshops.

Though wide-spread implementation of LMMAs will result in an increase in the number of marine protected areas, concentrating on this aspect alone would be costly and hard to sustain. Signifi cant environmental or fi shery benefi ts from the possible increases in numbers of no-take zones are not likely unless communities address other issues in their wider fi shing area and watersheds not necessarily addressed through closed areas.

Evidence suggests that such integrated approaches are entirely possible and that average costs at economies of scale may feasibly be in the order of hundreds of dollars per community based on annual costs from Samoa and Fiji, which are estimated at USD 1,344 and USD 800 respectively per village. It is possible that a sustained investment in the order of USD 0.1-0.5 million dollars per year over at least a 10 year period would be necessary to establish a national decentralized system of support for community-based adaptive management, although
some approaches currently being piloted elsewhere are orders of magnitude more expensive and may not have widespread applicability.

Realizing the full potential of local management would best be carried out under the auspices of national or provincial or local-level governments in collaboration with civil society groups and NGOs to develop cost effective mechanisms for the support and coordination of adaptive management in any and all communities which are experiencing natural resource threats, or for those that wish to manage their resources sustainably now and into the future. Such widespread approaches would be necessary to reduce costs and ensure an affordable long term resource management strategy best adapted to achieving not only national commitments to protected areas but also priorities relating to livelihoods such as food security, community and ecosystem resilience and adaptation to climate change.

Key criteria for adopting such a resource management scenario as the generalized national approach would include:

  • Designed to fully integrate into government functions over the medium term (applies to Melanesia),
  • Decentralized into logistically functional management areas (provinces or similar),
  • Cost effectiveness to improve the likelihood of sustainable fi nancing within government budgets
    or from donors,
  • Staggered or cumulative approach optimizing trickle down or snowballing effects.
  • Simple but strategic overview and minimum data collection to enable the ongoing identifi cation of gaps (objectives, species, habitats, coverage and so on).

The following recommendations are made with a view to maximizing the potential of Locally Managed Marine Areas in achieving widespread benefi ts to livelihoods and the maintenance of biodiversity:

Government and institutional recommendations

  • Enhancing the role of government: Future support should seek to consolidate the long- term role of the various levels of government in supporting and coordinating local marine resource management. Such a strategy, ideally decentralized, might be implemented in a gradual or staggered fashion and would require strong collaboration from civil society organizations and NGOs in achieving government institutional development goals. An important tool will be national or sub-national social networks or support umbrellas.
  • Multi-sector integration in practice: Fisheries and environmental sectors will need to put into practice effective and on the ground collaboration to support communities in achieving local and onal sustainable development priorities. Legislation for inshore fi sheries, protected areas and wider environmental management will need to be improved in tandem.
  • Integrated island management as the goal: Marine protected areas alone will be fragile, costly and unlikely to achieve long-term community or national benefi ts. The adaptive management processes central to LMMAs should be built on to include ecosystem-wide (particularly terrestrial) and sustainable development issues and incorporate climate change adaptation and community and ecosystem resilience. Some large scale pilots of such approaches may be appropriate where suffi cient experience has not been attained.
  • Enabling environment: Institutions and legislation will need to develop in a fashion more support for community initiatives incorporating sustainable management of resources and remove bureaucratic bottle-necks currently insurmountable by communities.
  • Tenure and traditional governance: The success of local management approaches hinges largely on traditional tenure and governance systems. Great care should be taken before undermining or reforming these systems. It will be important to develop guidance for practitioners to be sensitized around the issues of tenure, and for improving the use of traditional ecological knowledge and other related social factors in each country.
  • Characterize and defend local and cultural approaches: LMMAs have developed in response to local needs and culture and may often have characteristics such as small size, periodic opening and location determined by social rather than biological factors. International bodies are not necessarily aware of this and these characteristics may require clarifi cation to them before international definitions of Protected Areas or Conservation can be assumed to be regionally applicable.

Financial and economic recommendations

  • Cost effectiveness: National budgets are amongst the smallest in the world and face considerable demands to meet human development priorities such as health, education and food production. High priority should be placed on cost-effectiveness of environmental management approaches and maximizing the range of livelihood benefi ts for such approaches to be mainstreamed into planning and development strategies for governments.
  • Sustainable financing: As an essential prerequisite to sustainable fi nancing strategies, cost effectiveness of marine resource management approaches must be assessed and improved. Long term government budgetary support for inter-linked approaches that build on community management needs to be secured. Trust funds and corresponding legal contracts may be able to play a crucial role in ensuring the constant and long term fi nancing of such core government activities and may be able to safeguard against likely donor fatigue or reallocation of essential operating budgets.
  • Debunking alternative income generation: While there is evidence to suggest that wide-scale support of local resource management will improve livelihoods in terms of food security there is little evidence that provision of “income generation projects” can be feasibly implemented or have benefi cial management or conservation impacts to off-set the continued over-exploitation of targeted resources. As such approaches often serve as an unsustainable incentive which deter or distract communities from more effective resource management. Considerable discussion and assessments are required before investments are made in “alternative income generation” approaches as part of any marine resource management strategies.

Operational and implementation recommendations

  • Appropriate monitoring: A process of ongoing community discussion and review of progress seems essential to community-based adaptive management. However, quantitative and scientifi c monitoring has not met expectations at the community level to date and given its cost and reliance on external expertise should not be promoted without fi rst testing and discarding simpler (e.g. perceptual) approaches reliant on existing community knowledge and expertise. Monitoring at a national level will be necessary for coordination, but again this should be designed bearing in mind cost and simplicity of implementation to provide results useful to decision-makers.
  • Improve and enhance participatory processes: Ongoing evaluation of techniques and processes used to promote and support community management should be performed. Issues that may need particular attention include community involvement, self-reliance and empowerment, the development of appropriate mixes of traditional and national governance and marine tenure in Western  Melanesia.
  • Research needs: Under the local management model communities contain the key decision- makers and resource managers.  Researchers and technical institutions urgently need to improve processes to identify community priority information needs and in ensuring necessary information reaches communities in a timely and useable fashion.

The Pacific Islands nations are facing formidable challenges in terms of mounting pressures on finite natural resources, market forces and the commoditization of natural resources, burgeoning populations and adaptation to the far-reaching impacts of climate change. The lessons learned in achieving the wide proliferation of locally managed marine areas will be key to adopting viable strategies for surmounting these challenges but only if focus can be widened to encompass their full potential as building blocks for integrated island management in support of resilient Pacific Island communities.


Alifereti Tawake, Kesaia Tabunakawai, Aaron Jenkins, Antoine Lasgorceix, Anne-Maree Schwarz, Bill Aalbersberg, Bruno Manele, Caroline Vieux, Delvene Notere, Daniel Afzal, Erika Techera, Eroni Tulala Rasalato, Helen Sykes, Hugh Walton, Hugo Tafea, Isoa Korovulavula, James Comley, Jeff Kinch, Jess Feehely, Julie Petit, Louise Heaps, Paul Anderson, Pip Cohen, Pulea Ifopo, Ron Vave, Roy Hills, Seini Tawakelevu, Semese Alefaio, Semisi Meo, Shauna Troniak, Siola’a Malimali, Suzie Kukuian, Sylvia George, Talavou Tauaefa, Tevi Obed

Helen Sykes, principal of Marine Ecology Consulting, was a contributor to this excellent report by Hugh Govan for The Initiative for the Protection and Management of Coral Reefs in the Pacific (CRISP).

The Initiative for the Protection and Management of Coral Reefs in the Pacific (CRISP),

The CRISP programme is implemented as part of the policy developed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme for a contribution to conservation and sustainable development of coral reefs in the Pacific.

The Initiative for the Protection and Management of Coral Reefs in the Pacific (CRISP), sponsored by France and prepared by the French Development Agency (AFD). as part of an inter-ministerial project from 2002 onwards, aims to develop a vision for the future of these unique ecosystems and the communities that depend on them and to introduce strategies and projects to conserve their biodiversity, while developing the economic and environmental services that they provide both locally and globally. Also, it is designed as a factor for integration between developed countries (Australia, New Zealand, Japan and USA), French overseas territories and Pacific Island developing countries.

Author and compiler: Hugh Govan, PO Box S-37, Suva, Fiji – [email protected]

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

Govan, H. et al. 2009. Status and potential of locally-managed marine areas in the South Pacific: meeting nature conservation and sustainable livelihood targets through wide-spread implementation of LMMAs. SPREP/WWF/WorldFish-Reefbase/CRISP. 95pp + 5 annexes.

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