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In the latest issue of Ocean & Coastal Management, there is an article by Gerhardinger et al. (1) about management of marine reserves and the influence of local fishermen’s knowledge in management practice, in which several reserve managers and local government authorities were interviewed. The conclusion was that although most management is still science-based, using local knowledge provided “an essential means of achieving a broader and more diverse knowledge basis”.

The authors also talk about an interesting flipside to this, which is public involvement and responsibility. As a park manager or warden, it can sometimes seem like the best thing to do to preserve your park/whatever would be to deny all access to visitors or charge through the nose to get in, because people bring all sorts of undesirable things: pollution, theft, damage to property. Particularly in a parks/whatevers that are well-established locally, it can also be hard to convince local groups to stray from aesthetics or commercial production in favour of scientific conservation. You may see a wildflower meadow, but to someone else it just looks like someone’s neglected to cut the grass, and they can’t even pick the flowers. The temptation is to believe that if you cut the people out, the environment will flourish.

Of course, that’s a totally blinkered view-point, for various reasons. As Gerhardinger et al. show, local knowledge can enhance one’s own knowledge base, and thereby guide better management practices. So why not just restrict access to laypeople and kids who couldn’t identify a cinnabar moth in a line-up?

Oh, have a heart.

For starters, the benefits of green spaces to people, especially kids, are huge. See these .docs from Natural England: “Benefits of Green Space for Mental Health” and “Benefits of Green Space for Children” for a whole list. Highlights include improved concentration (including in ADD) and academic performance, less domestic violence and other aggressive behaviours, lower anxiety, lower incidencde of obesity and high blood pressure, alleviation of pain, greater self esteem and sense of identity and belonging, and longer life. By ensuring access for people of all ages to a natural space, you are also ensuring that people can live better lives. Feel good about that!

And even if you’re going to be Machiavellian about the whole thing, don’t forget that continued funding of any park hinges on public support. Kids who have access to green spaces grow up to appreciate their value (2, abstract here), and a report funded by the Forestry Commission (3, full pdf here) suggests that kids who do shocking things like climb trees and build dens are more likely to visit parks when they’re older. So by ensuring access to parks, you are also securing public support and funding in future years.

In the specific case of Marine Protected Areas in Brazil, an example of a successful community-driven marine reserve is Corumbau Marine Extractive Reserve in Abrolhos Bank (off the coast near Caravelas), supported by Conservation International. The area had been suffering overexploitation of its natural resources, which was cause for concern not only to conservationists but also to the local people who rely on those natural resources for survival. Involvement of the community instills a sense of responsibility as well as entitlement to use the area, so with some efforts to spread the gospel of science, the methods of using natural resources for survival turn to sustainable ones. Commercial fishing is now banned, but local fishermen are still able to fish using sustainable practices that have resulted in a successful return of fish stocks.

Just this January a community marine reserve, the Karkum Conservation Area, was set up in Papua New Guinea, supported by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. I shall be watching with interest to see what happens. There are many things that could possibly go wrong if insufficient effort is given to education and involvement, or private interests start to rear their head, but it’s a promising project.

Gerhardinger et al. make a worthwhile suggestion for an approach to co-management:

co-management schemes might benefit from the adoption of a ‘knowledge-building’ instead of ‘knowledge-using’ approach during a ‘problem-solving’ instead of ‘decision-making’ management process.

And that’s the kind of quote I want to keep on my fridge.

References:

1. Gerhardinger LC, Godoy EAS, Jones PJS, 2009 “Local ecological knowledge and the management of marine protected areas in Brazil” Ocean & Coastal Management, 52(3-4): 154-165, doi:10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2008.12.007: co-funded by ECOMAR NGO, ICMBio, Diretoria de Unidade de Conservação de Proteção Integral, Coordenação do Bioma Marinho e Costeiro, SCEN (IBAMA HQ), Brazil, and UCL, UK.

2. Bell S, Thompson CW, Travlou P, 2003 “Contested views of freedom and control: Children, Teenagers and urban fringe woodlands in central Scotland” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 2(2): 87-100, DOI: 10.1078/1618-8667-00026. Openspace Research Centre, Edinburgh, UK.

3. Bingley A, Milligan C, 2004 “Climbing Trees and Building Dens” Report for the Forestry Commission July 2004.