Scientific Evaluation in Women's Participatory Management: Monitoring Marine Invertebrate Refugia in the Solomon Islands

Article excerpt

This paper summarizes the results of a women's community-based marine protected area that has been successful in sustaining invertebrate biological resources and in promoting strong community support. We outline the project and the associated biological results, describe the processes involved in attaining a committed level of community participation, and review the lessons learned during the project's implementation. We attribute the project's preliminary success-improved shellfish biomass, enhanced local environmental awareness, and the reinvigoration of cultural management practices-to the following factors: 1) the high level of participatory involvement and community leadership; 2) the local perception that shell beds have recovered rapidly and the role that scientific evaluation has played in reinforcing this notion; 3) a research program that is cross-fertilizing indigenous and scientific ecological knowledge; 4) the unique marine tenure system that allows for the project's development and the area's policing; and 5) the tangible economic incentives created by the development project, which ultimately empowers local women. We hope that the project's findings can be generalized to other regions of the world with operational sea-tenure regimes and that it can help to make the establishing of community-based marine protected areas (CBMPAs) across the Pacific region more effective.

Key words: women, marine protected areas, scientific evaluation, participatory management, marine invertebrates, Solomon Islands

Marine habitats throughout the insular Pacific are increasingly threatened by human activity. In recent years, marine protected areas (MPAs) have emerged as a popular means of conserving global biological diversity and safeguarding essential ecological processes through the control of human activities that disrupt or damage the marine environment. Marine protected areas can be valuable fisheries-management tools, particularly for multispecies tropical fisheries in which absolute yields are difficult to predict and in which there are multiple users and fishing techniques (Man, Law, and Polunin 1995; Russ 1994; Wantiez, Thollot, and Kulbicki 1997). Experts generally agree that MPAs can enhance spawning stock biomass, allow for larval dispersal and export of adults to adjacent unprotected areas (e.g., Johnson, Funicelli, and Bohnsack 1999; Russ and Alcala 1999), and result in a greater diversity of corals and other benthic organisms (e.g., Hoffmann 2002). Social and marine scientists have also examined the economic and social benefits of MPAs (e.g., Alder 1996), although the performance criteria used to determine successes or failures are still being developed. The concept and application of MPAs continues to evolve, with one recent shift toward testing and refining different participatory and collaborative management approaches to ensure that MPA policies designed to produce the expected biological benefits do not conflict with local social and economic needs and interests (e.g., Alder et al. 2002; Garcia Charton et al. 2000; Roberts and Hawkins 2000).

Co-management policy agreements between local communities and outside agencies presently enjoy the support of social scientists and a number of policy makers (e.g., Jentoft 2000; Orlove and Brush 1996), although authors differ regarding the optimum degree of power sharing between the two groups. Marine scientists, too, have come to realize the importance of including local communities and institutions in designing, establishing, and monitoring marine protected areas and spatiotemporal refugia (e.g., Castilla 1999; Russ and Alcala 1999). Participatory approaches empower local communities by recognizing their knowledge and customary rights, thus encouraging them to participate in management. Such approaches also recognize the impossibility of enforcing managerial initiatives if local stakeholders are excluded and their resource stewardship efforts are ignored (Agardy 1997; Sillitoe 1998). …