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Community-Based Reef Management

Characteristics of Successful Community-Based Management

It is important to create a coral reef management plan with community input that includes not only ecological conditions but also socioeconomic concerns such as environmental regeneration and preservation of the reefs and livelihood enhancement for communities. Plans must be careful to not trade off environmental preservation for poverty. The planning process should be transparent and fair. There must be successful communication between administrative/government officials and stakeholders in the community. Community members must have clear and concise rules of access, withdrawal, and exclusion in regards to reefs and reef fish. Some examples of effective rules include: issuing a limited number of fishing permits and creating user organizations so as to monitor any illegal withdrawal of reef fish.[1]

Capacity building within the community, including education and empowerment, is a pivotal part of community-based management. It ensures that community members are cognizant of the importance of coral reefs in global biodiversity and take ownership of them. This can be made possible through comprehensive public awareness campaigns and institutional buy-ins. In the event of conflicts, this capacity building combined with effective communication between stakeholders will facilitate conflict resolution.

In the process of planning truly effective community based management, allowing for iterative feedback loops is essential. These feedback loops make it so that government, interested NGOs, and community members can learn from past mistakes and work together for a more sustainable future.

Case Studies of Successful Community-Based Management

Figure 1: Example of a marine reserve system, displaying the demarcation between the traditional use area (fishing allowed) and the reserve area (usually areas with more disturbed coral cover, so are treated more as protected areas). [2]

The Coral Triangle

The Coral Triangle includes Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. Currently, the Coral Triangle sustains 590 species of reef-building coral and 4,000 species of fish. [3] In addition, the Coral Triangle provides 120 million people that live in the surrounding area with food, income, and protection from harsh storms. Today, there is a multi-billion dollar tuna industry that relies heavily on the Coral Triangle reefs and its inhabitants, tuna. [4] However, because tuna is a common resource, this formerly abundant species is suffering from a tragedy of the commons. Tragedy of the commons is the tendency of any resource that is unowned and non-excludable to be overused and under-maintained. [5]

Figure: The Coral Triangle map includes Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.[6]

Indonesia: Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program I [2]

In Indonesia, the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program was put into place to combat overfishing and overall reef degradation. After this community-based project was implemented, compliance increased by 10%. Illegal and overfishing as well as coral mining in pilot locations decreased by 50% after the management project was constructed.

Some of the lessons learned from Indonesia’s experiment with community-based coral reef management include that communities must be central to the planning, implementation, and post-project portions of the project. Also, there should be communication and agreement between national/state/local governments as well as coastal communities.

Community-Based Reef Conservation in the Philippines

San Salvador Island

[7] Community-based coral reef management was implemented in San Salvador island in the Philippines in 1988. Through community education and organization program participants developed municipal marine parks, non-fishing sanctuaries, and fishing reserves surrounding the island. This reduced destructive fishing methods, such as blasting, fine mesh nets and sodium cyanide, that lead to a decline in fish population.

Education, capacity building, and the implementation of concrete community projects was done through training community leaders with the knowledge and skills for sustainable resource management, as well as establishing a network system to increase knowledge dissemination.

Figure 2: Graph displays steady increases in soft and hard coral cover over past two decades.


Other Examples

Community-based management was put into place in the provinces of Negros Oriental, Batangas, and the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park in Palawan. In Negros and Batangas, coastal communities and fishermen were included in the decision-making process. After implementation of this program these communities fish using nondestructive methods that allow reef fish to regenerate sustainably. The reefs are divided into zones so that fishing does not happen in breeding grounds. Since this policy was put into place coral reef cover for both hard and soft corals has been increasing.[2]


Through identifying three community-based management systems located in the Coral Triangle, Indonesia, San Salvador Island, and other provinces in the Philippines, scientists analyze the impacts communities have on both marine waters and marine biodiversity. After identifying the island’s local factors that contribute to marine destruction, scientists and government officials work to develop a community-based management plan to prevent and protect the surrounding waters, plants, animals, and coral reef ecosystems. With proper funding and support, educating the community, regulating industrial runoff, establishing non-fishing reserves, training community leaders, protecting whale migration routes, dividing reef zones based on breeding grounds, requiring fishing permits, banning coral mining, and increasing mangrove growths are just a few community-based management projects implemented throughout the Coral Triangle region. Since implementing these community-based management projects, the Coral Triangle region’s coral reefs are improving in health and rebuilding fish populations.