Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Community support helps protect areas of high biodiversity

Ms. Nenenteiti Teariki-Ruatu 

By Steve Pognowski

6 December 2013, Suva Fiji - Protection of key biodiversity areas in Kiribati, Fiji and the Solomon Islands was linked to successful community engagement and marine planning at the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas.

Attendees at the Marine Spatial Planning parallel session held during the week, heard examples of protected area projects and the challenges faced in persuading governments and small villages on the long-term value of linked marine and land planning.

Mr. Willie Atu from The Nature Conservancy explained the use of the Ridges to Reef Approach in the Solomon Islands to meet the goals of the Coral Triangle Initiative.

Ridges to Reef aims to link terrestrial, freshwater and marine conservation planning to ensure a strategic approach, as demonstrated by successful projects in Choiseul and Isabel provinces in the Solomon Islands.

“We involved the community by giving them maps to show threats (to their livelihoods) and opportunities and their local knowledge of the province,” Mr. Atu said.

“These provinces contain potential mining areas and their map of threats matched up with the (land-based) mining leases.”

Kiribati has been seen as a test case where successful marine spatial planning is of vital importance, as the islands contain a land area of 810.8 square kilometres and an exclusive economic zone of 3.5 million square kilometres.

Nenenteiti Teariki-Ruatu from the Kiribati Government’s Environment and Conservation Division said identifying and protecting key biodiversity areas across the 33 atolls of the Gilbert, Line and Phoenix groups required strong community involvement.

“We learnt from some projects that there was limited community involvement, engagement and participation. Protecting key areas is a priority in the outer islands where livelihoods and income are from the land and sea,” she said.

“Eight key biodiversity areas are currently protected … and North Tarawa has a proposed RAMSAR site that should offer further protection.”

Wildlife Conservation Society Fiji program director Stacy Jupiter said speaking to community leaders in each province would be crucial to the success of the Kubulau District Marine Protected Areas Network in Fiji.

She said the lack of national legislation supporting marine protected areas in Fiji meant that involving the community and listening to their concerns on overfishing, poaching and coastal management was necessary to ensure local people would work to conserve local ecosystems.

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