A perspective: what BIOPAMA brings to the Pacific

04 March 2014 | Article

"While BIOPAMA is focused on protected areas, the Pacific context triggers a need to rethink the limits of the conventional definition."  by Tony O'Keeffe, Protected Areas Coordinator, BIOPAMA Programme, IUCN

The Pacific is characterized by proud peoples, vast ocean expanses, enormous wild and rugged landscapes and tiny remote specks of islands. Although covering about 20% of the planet’s surface, it’s a region known little by those outside of it. 

The region is subject to major threats and the vulnerability of island biodiversity on one hand and incredible opportunities for biodiversity conservation and protected area establishment and management – all this at a wide range of scales from extremely large marine protected areas, ‘ridge-to-reef’ and integrated ‘whole island’ management to smaller community based marine, terrestrial and “wetland” conservation areas.

While BIOPAMA is focused on protected areas, the Pacific context triggers a need to rethink the limits of the conventional definition. Far from the notion of formally reserved and managed parks, the indigenous communities of Pacific island countries own, use and manage their island and near-shore biodiversity resources in ways that form an intrinsic part of their culture, tradition, spiritual values, history, way of life and livelihoods.

A great example of the Pacific way of conservation and also one of the big regional success stories is the extensive network of locally managed coastal and marine, or LMMA, areas - 12,000 square kilometres of community based systems of marine resource management involving over 500 communities in 7 countries. The LMMA project helps to achieve livelihood and conservation objectives based on traditional knowledge and customary tenure and governance. There is a strong lesson in using and supporting locally appropriate and cost-effective strategies that have a proven track record and community interest and ownership.

Under BIOPAMA’s central aim of building the capacity of local conservation practitioners, the programme is currently helping to redevelop and re-offer the Pacific Islands Community Conservation Course in 2014. This short course, delivered by practitioners for practitioners, covers approaches so new and locally applicable they are not taught in universities as there is as yet no programme that encompasses the specialised range of social, economic, scientific, leadership and negotiation skills required for this work in Pacific situations. The learning environment is quite participatory, involving sharing of experience, field work, follow up workplace based projects and mentoring help, and role playing or group exercises as participants gain confidence.  Participants include government officers, NGO staff and community leaders and a number of these people have become well known regional conservation leaders.