The IUCN Regional Office for Oceania is pleased to announce the release of a legal briefing paper on existing legal mechanisms for establishment and management of terrestrial protected areas in Fiji. The paper was prepared by IUCN on behalf of Birdlife International. The paper is intended to inform the work of non-government organisations and government agencies working with local communities to establish and effectively manage protected areas in Fiji.
Involvement of local communities in the planning, establishment and management of protected areas is an indispensable aspect of conservation practice in Fiji. The overwhelming majority of land in Fiji is held under customary title by indigenous Fijians. Local decision-making processes, governed by customary law and informed by traditional ecological knowledge, have played a central role in resource management in Fiji for centuries.
In recent years, local communities have emerged as leaders in the establishment of protected areas in Fiji, with the number of community conserved areas growing each year. Community conserved areas present significant practical benefits, including: community ownership of conservation initiatives; integration of local ecological knowledge into decision-making; and, direct community involvement in management activities (including surveillance and enforcement). These benefits are particularly significant in a context of limited government capacity for protected area management.
However, protected areas established purely on the basis of customary law are subject to certain limitations. Most importantly, there are limits on the extent to which resource owners can lawfully control the activities of individuals or entities that do not belong to the resource owning group. In order to effectively manage protected areas in the long term, it may be necessary for resource owners – with the assistance of conservation partners – to identify appropriate legal mechanisms to support and strengthen their local conservation initiatives.
The existing legal framework in Fiji offers a range of mechanisms with the potential to support the establishment and management of terrestrial protected areas. This paper presents case studies of existing conservation initiatives and provides practical guidance for utilising legal mechanisms to conserve biological diversity and natural resources. In conclusion, the authors call for the development of national protected areas legislation, in order to support the establishment of an integrated and effectively managed protected area network in Fiji.