A Network That Works

It is easy to forget that despite the mess the world is in, there are still successful initiatives, involving a lot of people, communities and organizations.

A remarkable example is a network of communities in the South Pacific that have adopted community-based, adaptive fisheries management. Formally called the Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, or LMMA, it has just celebrated its first ten years of operation and growth.

Its vision is to develop healthy coastal ecosystems and communities, with abundant and sustainable fisheries and, by working together, to take actions that have a high chance of measurable long-term success.

Coastal village in Indonesia (lmmanetwork.org)

Current members are Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Palau, and Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. Other Pacific island nations such as Kiribati and New Caledonia are exploring membership.

Island nations of the South Pacific. Not identified, in yellow: Indonesia extends west from PNG, and the Philippines lie to the north of Indonesia. Ignore Australia.

In each country, each participating village or group of villages agrees to support the basic vision of the network. Each sets up restricted or tabu areas, free from any fishing, and bans destructive fishing. Important species may be restored. Alternatives to fishing are explored. Mangroves are replanted. And each protects the area from commercial fishermen and poachers.

Diver monitoring site in Fiji (lmmanetwork)

Good communication is critical, of course. Information of successes and failures is freely shared. Villagers are trained to gather and analyse data in order to document the success of initiatives such as banning fishing of replanting mangroves, and they share their knowledge and experience with other communities.

Sharing information at a workshop (lmmanetwork.org)

These really are community-based initiatives. The community makes the decisions, guided by community leaders, with advice from conservation groups and university researchers from the region. Usually an NGO is involved, varying is size from local community-based organizations to WWF and The Nature Conservancy.

Gamma Gades, on the right, is a fisheries warden who helps protect Hinatuan Bay on Mindaneo Island, South Phillipines (lmmanetwork.org)

Ten years of existence is a very short time, and many communities have not been involved nearly that long, yet a new report indicates that the benefits are real. At selected sites in Indonesia, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, and Fiji, fish catches have improved, poverty is less, new jobs (mostly related to tourism) have emerged, health and sanitation are better, local governance has improved, more women are involved, and more children are in school and staying in school.

The LMMA Network council (lmmanetwork.org)

Of course there still are problems. Poaching, intrusion by commercial fishermen, and destructive fishing can be hard to deal with, stressful for those who are trying to enforce the community’s regulations. Alternative jobs to fishing can also be hard to develop or sustain. And teachers can be hard to find to introduce the planned environmental programs in the schools.

But the protected coral reefs are healthier, fish stocks are improving, mangroves are growing, and communities are deeply invested. Increasing numbers of villages are joining the Network – there really is no limit to how big this could all grow. Certainly it has the potential to encompass all the island nations of the Indo-Pacific, and there is no reason to think it should stop there.

A report on poverty reduction where communities have joined the LMMA network.

Where does global warming, with its rising sea levels and ocean acidification, fit in here? Communities include in their objectives ways to adapt to climate change, but adaptation may in some cases be very difficult. Coastal communities participating in the LMMA Network will, however, be able to share their challenges and their solutions.

Hope lies in such rational, evidence-based discussion. The LMMA Network is a model we should look at carefully. Here’s the link again: lmmanetwork.org.

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