Sunday, January 16

How South Africa can involve communities in the conservation of coastal and marine areas


Protected areas, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are clearly defined geographic spaces reserved for conserving nature, ecosystem services and cultural values. They are important in reducing biodiversity loss and protecting sources of food, drinking water, and medicine. They also offer protection against the impacts of natural disasters.

The recent Protected Planet Report 2020 found a 42% increase in protected area coverage between 2010 and 2019. This includes a 68% increase in coastal and marine protected areas during the same decade. But Living Planet Report 2020 shows that biodiversity continues to be lost at an alarming rate. Observe an average decrease of 68% in the size of the world population of many species in the last 50 years. Not surprisingly, the same report claims that “our relationship with nature is broken.”

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The central challenge facing conservation is that it is not only an ecological problem, but also a social one. If the local context and the priorities of those who depend most directly on natural resources for their survival are not taken into account, conservation efforts will continue to fail. Therefore, many have asked for a new conservation movement that incorporates the interests and priorities of Indigenous villages. This is what Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework recognizes and strives to achieve it.

Recent research has emphasized the importance of areas conserved by the community. These are protected areas governed, managed and conserved by custodial indigenous peoples and local communities. But until now, while 8% of the world’s marine environment is currently protected, only 1% of these protected areas involve custodial indigenous peoples and local communities.

In Africa there is a similar trend. Only 0.01% of current coastal and marine protected areas (covering 17.7% of the marine and coastal environment) have some form of community administration. This despite the fact that many conservationists and initiatives in the region point to the success of conservation action at the community level.

Barriers and Enablers

in a recent article, my colleagues and I explored what prevents and enables community protection of coastal and marine areas in South Africa. We review the world and South African literature to identify common factors in these types of initiatives. We then refined this list based on interviews with a variety of people involved in conservation in South Africa.

We found that local communities can conserve areas when:

  • they have secure rights and decision-making power,
  • conserved areas are aligned with local needs,
  • the state provides technical and financial support and
  • there are streamlined processes to legally declare community conserved areas.

The success of community conserved areas requires motivated local champions who can get things done and get people involved. Good communication is also needed. Initial and ongoing support from the state, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society partners is also essential.

A potential barrier to success is the relationship between communities and partners, especially the government. In South Africa, strained relations stem largely from the “people-free” conservation approaches adopted during colonial and racial segregation regimes. Under apartheid, blacks were denied access to and use of land and resources. Many communities were even evicted in the name of conservation.

Therefore, a key enabler will be to improve community perceptions and support for conservation by providing redress to these communities. Furthermore, when necessary, cultural institutions should be revitalized. These include cultural rules and practices that regulate the use of natural resources, the respect and effectiveness of traditional leaders in enforcing this. If this is achieved, and communities can receive a source of income or livelihood from conserved areas, they are more likely to protect them. But it is important to monitor initiatives to avoid profit capture by some local elites.

Reducing biodiversity loss and meeting people’s needs in a sustainable way means having stronger enablers and reducing constraints. Conservation must empower communities to be valued and effective in management and decision-making activities.

Technical and financial support must be present from the beginning. Madagascar, what’s wrong with it 178 locally managed marine areas, is a great example of what happens when local communities have recognition and power. Conservation here offers both social and ecological benefits.

Going forward

South Africa has the potential to do something similar to Madagascar. It has laws that recognize communities to establish and manage conservation areas. But the country has not yet declared a community conserved area in the coastal and marine realm.

Our respondents highlighted the need for greater government support, in particular a more streamlined approach to establishing these initiatives. You need greater efficiency to finalize land claims and land use plans. The government must recognize that local communities can contribute to both social and ecological goals.

Other countries in the region have shown how conservation can be more inclusive. And a recent report found useful community conserved areas in South Africa, especially in areas of high biodiversity.

This approach can also generate much-needed local economic development. The country needs to embrace this new conservation movement.The conversation

Wayne Stanley Rice, Interdisciplinary Conservation Social Scientist, University of Cape Town.

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the Original article.


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