ICRS Abstract

Christopher Y. Bartlett & Charley Manua 

Coral reef reserves in Vanuatu; ecological vs. socio-cultural impacts

This paper examines people’s perceptions of local social-ecological systems as influenced by the presence of community-based coral reef management initiatives in the Republic of Vanuatu. National and regional Melanesian characteristics, such as strong customary marine tenure and decentralized governance, are highlighted as integral to understand the existence of local marine reserves as well as to give context to historical marine resource use patterns.  We assess human-nature interactions and perceptions of marine resource levels and management of all individuals from six (6) small insular communities; three (3) with permanent reserves and three (3) with periodically harvested reserves.  The research employs a comparative analytic methodology based on socio-cultural and ecological participatory research. We demonstrate that communities with the most robust local management regimes and long-term coral reef reserves, have significantly different average perceptions of the SES including stronger local governance, social cohesion, management responsibility and human agency. Results indicate that small-scale marine reserves and associated activities in insular Melanesia may have influence into village social and cultural realms that transcend intended ecological benefits.  It will be intimated by the authors that these social and cultural impacts may be of the most valuable benefits of marine reserves to be gained by the SES in small Melanesian communities with extremely limited sea tenure areas.  This thesis is discussed in light of the temporal and spatial scales necessary for effective management of coral reef ecological systems.  We conclude that some small Melanesian marine reserves, combined with the village social and cultural attributes they enhance, significantly contribute to regional management capacity, thus enriching the marine reserve ‘effectiveness’ debate.