Top-down regulation from government agencies to promote marine area protection, or restrict on human use of coastal and marine resources can sometimes be expensive to implement and enforce, slow to respond to needs on the ground, or have inadequate buy-in from all involved stakeholders, including resource users. In contrast, voluntary agreements, such as Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs), can provide an alternative or complementary tool to traditional conservation approaches to achieve conservation and human well-being goals. MCAs have emerged as a strong form of effective voluntary agreements and have been used in at least 13 countries.
MCAs are defined as “any formal or informal contractual arrangement that aims to achieve ocean or coastal conservation goals in which one or more parties (usually right-holders) voluntarily commit to taking certain actions, refraining from certain actions, or transferring certain rights and responsibilities in exchange for one or more other parties (usually conservation-oriented entities) voluntarily committing to deliver explicit (direct or indirect) economic incentives. (www.mcatools.org)
MCAs can contribute to maintaining ecosystem services by protecting sites from incompatible activities, or by ensuring marine use is done in a sustainable way. MCAs can also be referred to as “Payments for Ecosystem Services,” and can be entered into by governments, local communities, indigenous groups, private sector and NGOs. There are increasing examples of MCAs making positive impacts ecologically and socioeconomically.
Because of the strong tenure system in Fiji, there are likely to be many examples of partnerships between the private sector and local communities, particularly relating to the tourism industry. However, there is limited public information on: (i) to what extent MCAs being used in Fiji; (ii) what are the best practices being applied; (iii) how effective MCAs are; and (iv) if MCAs are achieving ecological and socioeconomic outcomes.
WCS is currently leading a national study to address these questions, and develop best practice guidelines for communities, the tourism sector, policy makers and conservation practitioners. We will also be documenting case studies to demonstrate what success looks like.
At the same time we are working with communities and tourism operators in the Vatui-i-Ra Conservation Park and Namena Marine Reserve to support MCAs between the community and the tourism sector.