- A study found that Fijian communities engaged in the country’s locally managed marine areas network, known as FLMMA, exhibited strengths in the mechanisms believed to advance conservation efforts, such as community participation in decision-making and financial support.
- However, it also found that FLMMA villages didn’t necessarily experience improved economic well-being, wealth, food security or even better ecological outcomes for marine resources.
- The authors say they hope the results will encourage practitioners to reassess community-based marine management projects to understand how they can be modified for success.
- Fiji has one of the most extensive LMMA networks in the world, collectively covering more than 10,000 square kilometers across the country’s territory.
A recent study found that locally managed marine areas in Fiji strengthened the mechanisms believed to advance conservation efforts but ultimately led to few social, economic or even ecological benefits. Based on these results, the authors suggest reevaluating community-based marine management projects to understand how they can be modified for success.
Published in Nature Sustainability, the study examined the efficacy of Fiji’s locally managed marine areas, or LMMAs, which operate via a national network known as FLMMA. LMMAs refer to areas of nearshore waters and their coastal and marine resources that coastal communities and partner organizations locally manage. About 350 coastal villages in Fiji are currently part of the FLMMA network, sharing the goal of preserving, protecting and sustainably using marine resources.
The research found that FLMMA communities exhibited higher levels of decision-making, increased marine resource knowledge, better access to financial and infrastructure support and had more basic management tools in place when compared with non-FLMMA villages. These results also showed “higher levels of subjective well-being and more reported benefits from management in FLMMA villages,” the authors wrote.
However, the study also found that FLMMA villages didn’t necessarily experience improved economic well-being, wealth or food security or even better ecological outcomes for the marine resources — all of which are desired impacts of community-based approaches to marine resource management.
The authors generated data by conducting surveys with village leaders, women, fishers and youths in about 150 Fijian villages, nearly half of which were part of the FLMMA network.
Fiji has one of the most extensive LMMA networks in the world, collectively covering more than 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) across the country’s territory, an area two and a half times the size of Rhode Island. The LMMA model is also utilized by numerous other Pacific nations, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Pohnpei, which is part of the Federated Islands of Micronesia.
Sangeeta Mangubhai, a study co-author who previously acted as director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Fiji Country program, said she and her colleagues pursued this study to assess the effectiveness of the FLMMA network since its inception two decades ago.
“We’re very committed to working with locally managed marine areas but recognize that it was a model that was set up 20 years ago … and we thought it was really an important time to try and have a look at how impactful they’ve been,” Mangubhai told Mongabay.
“We would love to have had a much stronger impact in areas where there’s been investment in LMMAs,” she said about the results, “but it’s good to be reminded of the realism of the situation and where we all need to be doing much more work and not to be just blindly doing these things without stopping to review them and spend time assessing them.”
Lead author Tanya O’Garra, an environmental and experimental economist at the Institute for Environment and Sustainability in Singapore, said that while the study did not find any tangible social or ecological outcomes, the results were “positive” because they provided the necessary information for conservation practitioners. She also praised FLMMA and its partners for their transparency and willingness to publish “something that could be seen as negative.”
“I’m hoping that this analysis is the kind of thing that conservation organizations will want because it will help them move forwards,” O’Garra told Mongabay. “I suspect that it won’t require a huge overhaul of how they do things, but more sitting down and thinking and adjusting what’s already in place.”
Study co-author Margaret Vakalalabure, a fisheries expert at WWF who previously acted as the coordinator for the FLMMA network, said the study would be a powerful tool in helping conservation practitioners improve their management tools and strategies and strengthen fisheries policy. However, she said she also felt the study did not fully capture or incorporate the traditional knowledge of Indigenous Fijian communities regarding fisheries management.
“Traditional methods and traditional knowledge are very, very powerful — that’s one thing I continue to advocate,” Vakalalabure told Mongabay. “But I also tell our communities that there is the opportunity to marry this with a lot of the science that is coming to us.”
Jonathan Booth, a marine conservation adviser who was not involved in this study, said he was not surprised by the results since he is “well aware of the challenges involved with marine management.”
“In Papua New Guinea (PNG), there have been several efforts to establish LMMAs,” Booth told Mongabay in an email. “Even when communities collectively claim they want to manage their marine resources, there can be inter-community rivalry, jealousy and other issues that can lead to LMMA failure.”
“I think similar studies in other countries should take place, which can then be compared,” he added, “the outcomes from which could be used to generate recommendations for marine management practitioners, which can be trialled in LMMA communities (the impacts from which can then be assessed and shared).”
Booth said he hopes the study encourages practitioners to assess the management approaches they are involved with.
“I also hope the study will increase collaboration, communication, and cooperation among marine practitioners at local, national, and international levels,” he said, “enabling information and lessons to be shared and novel approaches to be developed, which can improve human well-being and the health of the seas they depend on.”
Banner image: A fisher in Fiji. Image by Tom Vierus/Ocean Image Bank.
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a senior staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.
O’Garra, T., Mangubhai, S., Jagadish, A., Tabunakawai-Vakalalabure, M., Tawake, A., Govan, H., & Mills, M. (2023). National-level evaluation of a community-based marine management initiative. Nature Sustainability. doi:10.1038/s41893-023-01123-7