Local social dynamics key to success of tropical marine conservation areas

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Washington, Feb 20 (ANI): Social scientists have said that it's local people banding together with their community leaders who ultimately determine the success or failure of tropical marine conservation areas in many parts of the world.

"When people sacrifice to conserve, they want to benefit from that sacrifice," said Patrick Christie, University of Washington associate professor of marine affairs and a Pew fellow in marine conservation. "People expect direct economic and social benefits from conservation," he added.

Conflicts develop, however, when outsiders move in to take advantage of improving environmental conditions.

"Managing such conflicts poorly generally leads to the collapse conservation efforts," said Christie.

Christie reported on how such conflicts are being successfully handled by small, Filipino non-governmental organizations, community members and their mayors in 36 communities with marine protected areas.

Marine protected areas are sites in which these communities do not fish in order to restore overfished coral reefs.

According to Christie, social dynamics determine the success of ocean conservation.

In his study in the Philippines, more than 500 people were asked such things as the number of community meetings they'd attended on conservation areas, how - on a scale of one-to-five - they thought their opinion mattered, if someone from their community was on the governance committee overseeing the area and if they felt their community's mayor listened to them.

Then there were measurements of biological changes once conservation areas were established to see, for example if fish numbers were up or corals were healthier.

Residents also were asked if they felt catches had increased and if they felt there were more or less fish.

One important finding was that participatory planning and leadership at the mayoral level was key to dealing with the illegal fishing that troubles so many members of the communities making sacrifices in conservation areas.

Unlike in the United States, there is no Coast Guard to enforce rules and no courts to turn to for relief, so collaboration between localities becomes very important.

"Fostering collaboration, perhaps by helping train community leaders, and focusing on other factors concerning governance and social conditions is as important to the success of conservation areas as using the right biological and ecological parameters," Christie said. (ANI)

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