The Human Side of Coral Reef Conservation
Over half the world's countries have coral reefs along their coastlines. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, an estimated 12 percent of the world's population lives within approximately 30 miles of coral reefs, and tens of millions of people depend upon these reefs for at least part of their livelihood and protein intake. Two-thirds of all countries with reef areas are developing countries. There is a growing awareness that coral reef conservation cannot meet its objectives without better addressing poverty and the livelihoods of poor communities who depend on coral reefs.
The Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative
The Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative (SocMon) was first established when marine scientists and coastal managers realized a critical gap in coral reef monitoring: understanding the human side of coastal resource use. SocMon focuses on tropical developing countries in five regions to gather information on the social, cultural, and economic foundation of communities that rely on coastal resources. The Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Western Indian Ocean regions have well-known, established programs, with newly emerging programs in the Red Sea and Pacific regions.
One example of a SocMon study that addressed fisheries management was conducted on Corn Island, Nicaragua. Researchers found that local lobster fishermen support area closures as a fisheries management mechanism and believe that closures will increase lobster stocks. However, during seasonal closures, Corn Island experienced social difficulties, including an increase in alcohol abuse and criminal activity. The study therefore recommended that alternative livelihood programs for lobster fishermen be implemented on Corn Island during the closed season.
Socioeconomics and MPAs
SocMon studies addressing marine protected areas (MPAs) are useful to determine community support for and understanding of MPAs. MPAs without local support are much less likely to succeed than those with the support of the community. When MPAs were proposed for Lapu, Philippines, SocMon did surveys to gauge local support for the proposal. An overwhelming 96 percent of local residents supported establishing an MPA, which was a clear signal to the local government that they should designate new MPAs in the area.
As this type of research becomes more prevalent, there is a need to ensure that socioeconomic monitoring sites form representative networks, with diverse geographical representation, representative sites from different habitat types, different management schemes, and different levels of protection.
UNEP. (2006). Marine and coastal ecosystems and human well-being: A synthesis report based on the finding of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. UNEP. 76pp.
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