Legal protection for important biodiversity site in Vanuatu

02 April 2014 | Article

 A community conservation area encompassing the Amal–Crab Bay area in eastern Vanuatu, an important biodiversity site, has been legally registered under national legislation.

Legal registration under the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act (EPC Act) means that the area, locally known as the Amal–Krab Bei Tabu Eria (AKTE), is now protected in perpetuity. The registration was formalized on 12 February 2014, and a certificate recognizing this achievement was presented to community representatives on 6 March 2014.

The AKTE is located on the eastern coast of Malekula Island, and consists of two headlands with large fringing reefs, with a semi-enclosed lagoon in between. It is a site rich in biodiversity, including extensive mangrove forests, soft corals, seagrasses, turtles, dugongs, crabs and numerous fish species.

Registering AKTE is a success story for the Mangrove Ecosystems for Climate Change Adaptation and Livelihoods (MESCAL) project in Vanuatu. It also means that the community and the Department of Environment Protection and Conservation are able to effectively manage the use of resources for the benefit of the current and future generations of Central Malakula” says Rolenas Tavue Baereleo, the National Country Coordinator for the MESCAL project in Vanuatu.

Biodiversity at the site has faced numerous threats. During the colonial era, clearance of coastal forests for coconut plantation resulted in sedimentation of the lagoon. Following the transfer of plantation to indigenous management, disputes between different groups over land and marine tenure led to unrestricted access and unregulated use of the resources at the site. This led to a decline in the abundance of natural resources, including fish, crabs and mangroves.

Recognizing the need for action, in 2002 an agreement was reached between all parties to establish the AKTE. This agreement placed sustainable harvesting restrictions on catching fish or shellfish, taking crabs, and cutting any trees including mangroves within the AKTE, to allow the ecosystem to recover. This has led to an increase in marine and coastal resources, which has provided greater food security for local people and provided the basis for developing local ecotourism infrastructure. The success of this agreement was acknowledged with the awarding of the Equator Prize in 2006, which recognizes local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.

Legal registration of the AKTE community conservation area provides additional enforcement powers. The management committee of the community conservation area now has the power to penalize poachers who harvest or collect within the AKTE in breach of the sustainable harvesting restrictions.

The registration of the site was facilitated as part of MESCAL project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature and Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and implemented in Vanuatu by IUCN Oceania in cooperation with the Department of Environment Protection and Conservation.

The registration of the AKTE under the MESCAL project provides a good example of the benefits of successive projects working in the same site where community buy-in has already been achieved and where we can build on the successes of previous projects implemented in the same area” says Dr Milika Sobey, the Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator for IUCN Oceania.

The AKTE is the third site in Vanuatu to be legally registered under the EPC Act, however only the second community conservation area to be registered (the Vatthe Conservation Area in northern Vanuatu is the other).

For more information contact Dr Milika Sobey, Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator, IUCN Oceania; milika.sobey@iucn.org