Marine life grows in protected areas

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.”