Concern over the worldwide decline of coral reefs has prompted many countries and local communities to impose marine reserves to protect dwindling fish stocks. However these can adversely affect the incomes and welfare of fishers and their communities.
For a marine protected area to work, the people living around it have to trust it to deliver both the conservation goals and the needs of the community. They have to be comfortable with it - otherwise they won’t comply with it.
While the research was carried out in Fiji, it could equally apply to the protection of coral reef resources across the six nations of the Coral Triangle, to Australia’s north, and to Australia’s own Great Barrier Reef and other coral regions.
Designing a protected area so that it meets both conservation and community goals is a complicated affair. It requires strong community involvement and a lot of dialogue.
Essentially we modeled the highest value fishing grounds, both now, and into the future assuming the introduction of new kinds of fishing gear. Then investigate how to reposition the fishing closures to reduce conflict and ensure that fishermen would not lose too much income in the process.
The success of the project was founded on two elements - the first being that many coral-dependent communities across the Pacific and Coral Triangle want to establish marine protected areas to protect their sea areas from incursions by large industrial fishing vessels.
In Fiji, they have long had areas which are tabu, where fishing is forbidden on traditional grounds, so the concept of a protected area is part of their culture.
It was also noted that fishermen were well aware that protected areas help to restock the surrounding waters with fish, and can see the benefits from practical experience.
The paper "Improving social acceptability of marine protected area networks: A method for estimating opportunity costs to multiple gear types in both fished and currently unfished areas" by Vanessa M. Adams, Morena Mills, Stacy D. Jupiter and Robert L. Pressey appears in the journal Biological Conservation 144 (2011).