[Coral-List] supporting Jamaican conservation and "traditional" management of coral reefs...

Joshua Cinner joshua.cinner at jcu.edu.au
Tue May 4 04:23:00 EDT 2004

I appreciate Melissa's message about poverty's role in resource
degradation in Jamaica, particularly because it focuses on the human
dimension of reef management.  Unless we understand how social and
cultural factors influence resource use and incorporate these into
management, we don't stand a chance of conserving coral reefs.  However,
I have to say that having worked on coral reef conservation in Jamaica
for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, despite the poor condition of
Jamaican reefs I think writing off Jamaica as a done deal does a great
disservice to people such as Peter Espuet, Jill Williams, Malden Miller,
and countless others who have worked so hard to conserve coral reefs in
what is truly the trenches of our global conservation effort.  By
encouraging co-management through delegating management authority of
national parks to NGOs, Jamaica has been a leader in developing a
framework for Caribbean reef conservation and needs our support rather
than abandonment.  
Regarding the role of "traditional" management in conserving coral
reefs.  I agree with Chuck that proliferation of community-based
management in the Pacific certainly holds promise, particularly because
these strategies are often based on systems that make sense in the
cultural and socioeconomic context of a community. However, this is not
a magic bullet and I think there are reasons to approach "traditional"
management as a solution to reef management in the Pacific with caution:
First, the traditional management systems I have worked on (in Papua New
Guinea and Indonesia) were not practiced for conservation purposes, but
rather to meet utilitarian community goals such as providing fish for
periodic feasts to conclude mourning periods, maintain trade relations
with neighboring communities, and/or affirm social status of certain
families or clans.  Reef closures were either periodic or only
restricted certain gears and were generally practiced so that they had
minimal impact on the community (i.e. little social or economic
displacement).  Although maintaining fish stocks within tambu areas was
clearly the goal of restrictions, conservation in the Western sense was
but a byproduct of other cultural and economic needs.  High mobility,
foraging patterns, and other social processes can appear like
conservation, but are actually ways of efficiently or optimally
exploiting resources based on the prevalent socioeconomic conditions.
This "epiphenomenal" conservation can lead to a serious gap in
expectations between NGOs, donors, and scientists on one hand and
communities on the other.    
Secondly, very little is known about the social and economic frameworks
that allow communities to employ or maintain common property regimes.
As Chuck mentioned, socioeconomic factors (such as dependence on
resources, social capital, occupational mobility, perceptions about the
environment, modernization and even historical trade patterns) can
influence how individuals and communities are able to collectively
organize themselves to manage resources.  The Pacific is a region of
profound demographic, economic, and social change.  However, national
and regional conservation strategies are being developed around a
"traditional" foundation upon which the resilience to these factors is
not well understood.  Indiscriminant application of "traditional"
management to present day problems in Pacific communities without
understanding the socioeconomic context in which these systems can
operate effectively may lead to disappointment with results and
disenchantment with the process if it does not meet expectations.  In
terms of a regional conservation strategy, this could be like building a
skyscraper on soft sand and may do more to undermine than promote
regional reef conservation in the long term.  
I don't mean to sound too skeptical.  I think Chuck's examples were
refreshing and I hope more of those abound.  After completing three of
five chapters of a PhD thesis on the subject, I remain guardedly
optimistic about the role of "traditional" management in Pacific reef
conservation.  However, decades after Bob Johannes' seminal work
highlighted the important issue, much more integrated biological and
socioeconomic research is still needed on the subject.  
"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully"  
 ..George W. Bush, Jr.
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Joshua E. Cinner
PhD Candidate
Department of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography
James Cook University
Townsville, QLD
ph: Int (61) 7 4781 5262
fax: Int (61) 7 4781 4020
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