Fiji's Locally Managed Marine Areas Network

A Basis for Promoting and Assessing Marine Conservation Success

Thaman, Randolph

The disappearance of fish and other marine species constitutes one of the most serious biodiversity crises of our generation. It is a crisis, driven namely by overfishing, but also pollution, habitat degradation, and the lack of reliable written knowledge of how bad it has really become and one we must address now! In the mid-1990s, local fishers and communities who had personally witnessed and been involved in the collapse of their fisheries, partnered with the Fiji national and provincial government agencies (including fisheries), NGOs, private industry, The University of the South Pacific (USP) and international funders, such as the Macarthur, Packard and Total Foundations to establish a Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas Network (FLMMA). More than 200 villages now have LMMAs and have seen impressive improvements in reef ecosystems and gains in marine biodiversity. The success has been based on participatory management planning and involving communities in all phases, including monitoring.

Particularly exciting has been a taxon-by-taxon assessment of changes in the occurrence and abundance of over 1,000 species that have occurred over the past 50 years within the fishing grounds (iqoliqoli) of Vanua Navakavu in the Fiji Islands, based on a comparison of time-depth testimonies of surviving older male and female fishers with results from more recent surveys in an effort to record and correlate observed changes with factors such as intense overfishing, use of fish poisons, increased pollution, a 1953 tsunami and the establishment of the LMMA in 1991. At present, local vernacular names for over 1,000 species have been recorded and the recovery status of almost 900 assessed. Results show that the successful restriction of fish poisons, dynamite fishing, and small-mesh gill netting, combined with the establishment of a successful MPA, seem to be largely responsible for the return of many taxa not seen for decades and the increasing abundance and size of a wide range of fin fishes and invertebrates.

The results show that the combination of the best indigenous and modern scientific and taxonomic knowledge may be the only way of really determining how our efforts at marine conservation are impacting on, and will ultimately affect, marine biodiversity. The cumulative and ongoing results of the surveys highlight the incredible potential that the marriage of local and indigenous knowledge can play in sustainable fisheries management. These efforts are critical for documenting the un-written histories of the collapses and building ecological, economic and cultural sustainability in the face of global change.

Further Reading: 

Aalbersberg, W. (2005). Fiji. In Lutchman, I. with W. Aalbersberg, D. Hinchley, G. Miles, A. Tiraa and S. Wells. Marine protected areas: Benefits and costs for islands. WWF the Netherlands, Zeist.

Govan, H. (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 MAs. Study report. Component 3A – Project 3A3: Institutional strengthening & technical support – Improvement of socio-economics of oral reefs. SPREP/WWF/World Fish-Reefbase/CRISP Coral Reef Initiatives for the Pacific (CRISP), Noumea.

Hubert, A. (2007). Use of fishermen perception in participative resources management: Case study in Navakavu (Fiji). Noumea, New Caledonia: Coral Reef Initiatives for the Pacific (CRISP). 51 p.

Jackson, J.B.C., M.X. Kirby, W.H. Berger, K.A. Bjorndal, L.W. Botsford, B.J. Bourque, R.H. Bradbury, R. Cooke, J. Erlandson, J.A. Estes, T.P. Hughes, S. Kidwell, C.B. Lange, H.S. Lenihan, J.M Pandolfi, C.H. Peterson, R.S. Steneck, M.J. Tegner and R.R. Warner (2001). Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293:629-638.

Roberts, C. (2007). The unnatural history of the sea. Island Press, Washington DC.

Thaman, R.R., Balawa, A and Fong, T. (2013). Putting Ancient Winds and Life into New Sails: Indigenous Knowledge as a Basis for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) – A Case Study of the Return of Marine Biodiversity to Vanua Navakavu, Fiji. Proceedings of the Pacific Regional Symposium on “A Decade of Rethinking Pacific Education 2001- 2011”, University of the South Pacific, Suva, December 2011. Institute of Education, University of the South Pacific, Atele, Tonga (In Press).

Back to top