Designing marine reserves to reflect local socioeconomic conditions: lessons from long-enduring customary management systems
Coral reef conservation strategies such as marine protected areas have met limited success in many developing countries. Some researchers attribute part of these shortcomings to inadequate attention to the social context of conserving marine resources. To gain insights into applying Western conservation theory more successfully in the socioeconomic context of developing countries, this study examines how long-enduring, customary reef closures appear to reflect local socioeconomic conditions in two Papua New Guinean communities. Attributes of the customary management (including size, shape, permanence, and gear restrictions) are examined in relation to prevailing socioeconomic conditions (including resource users’ ability to switch gears, fishing grounds, and occupations). Customary closures in the two communities appear to reflect local socioeconomic circumstances in three ways. First, in situations where people can readily switch between occupations, full closures are acceptable with periodic harvests to benefit from the closure. In comparison, communities with high dependence on the marine resources are more conducive to employing strategies that restrict certain gear types while still allowing others. Second, where there is multiple clan and family spatial ownership of resources, the communities have one closure per clan/family; one large no-take area would have disproportionate affect on those compared to the rest of the community. In contrast, communities that have joint ownership can establish one large closure as long as there are other areas available to harvest. Third, historical and trade relationships with neighboring communities can influence regulations by creating the need for occasional harvests to provide fish for feasts. This study further demonstrates the importance of understanding the socioeconomic context of factors such as community governance and levels of dependence for the conservation of marine resources.