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How to Strengthen Community Support for Marine Conservation

Palau's legendary rock islands

During our latest visit to Palau, a beautiful island nation between the Philippines and Indonesia, WildAid’s marine team explored some interesting approaches to strengthening support for marine conservation.

One of the greatest concerns among the nations we work with is how to ensure that communities support and respect marine regulations. In developing nations especially, communities often rely on marine resources to supply both daily nutrition and their economic livelihood. In coastal communities, fishing is a way of life and regulations can be seen as an intrusion into local tradition. Thus, community interactions must be important considerations in any enforcement plan.

Boarding practice at Ngarchelong 

Historically, Palauan people protected the ocean via a concept known as bul whereby village chiefs declared bans on fishing at the first sight of resource scarcity. However, as populations grew and culture evolved, traditional management systems have given way to regulations grounded in legislation. This transition is by no means easy as fostering change in culture takes time and the new marine wardens anticipate challenges to their authority based on their youth and resistance to the new regulations.

To resolve this challenge, we explored methods to bolster their authority. For example, in Palau, as in other countries, an authoritative stance, voice and knowledge of regulations help assure that the community respects the marine wardens. Our training emphasized studying the regulations, creating a personal script to introduce themselves and establish their credentials, as well as practicing their duties.

Likewise, we emphasized the role of community leaders in helping the marine wardens gain respect and compliance. Palau is a small nation and so communities see each other as family. Youth often call elders aunt or uncle, and their peers cousin. We suggested appealing to the “auntie” network in their community outreach because Palau is a matriarchal society and thus the women command the greatest respect. This strategy would help ensure community pressure to respect the wardens and regulations. We also discussed other places to educate the community about the new regulations and their importance. Marine wardens worked on sample scripts and content for various tools such as brochures, radio ads, and even stickers to help boat captains adhere to catch sizes.

These types of methods have been applied successfully in Indonesia, where we work with local non-profit Baseftin. New protections for mantas dramatically changed the community of Lamakera’s economic structure. Baseftin worked with university students and village elders to bolster compliance and lend credibility to their work. They provided training on alternative livelihoods and created an internship program with local students to assist in community outreach and produced a series of videos and posters to educate the community about new regulations. Because of this focused approach, compliance with the new regulations in Lamakera has been largely adopted and manta conservation has generated widespread support in the region.

Hands-on training in Palau

Overall, compliance requires both community will and effective enforcement. While the marine wardens in Palau continue to educate their communities and appeal to leaders, WildAid is helping to bolster enforcement in the Northern Reef states with comprehensive training and the tools needed to protect their natural resources. Over the next year, we will install a surveillance camera at Palau’s most important port and install a radar at one of the Northern Reef sites to better monitor fishing activity from Koror to the Northern Reefs. Additionally, we will help create effective patrol routes and provide necessary patrol tools, such as safety equipment, navigation tools, and important legislation to ensure punishment for lawbreakers.