Traditional Management Practices
The Stage 6 Geography syllabus requires that students examine two case studies of Ecosystems at Risk. This article examines the case study of coral reefs and focuses on traditional management strategies in place to address the natural and human impacts on coral reefs. It will draw on examples of coral reefs around the world.
Traditional management practices to protect coral reefs
Many traditional cultures see themselves as the custodians of the land and water, and its plants and animals. Many indigenous peoples have a profound spiritual attachment to the environment that is central to their culture and identity. Mythical stories and relationships emphasise the significance of particular sites and species and as such these are particularly important for conservations and protection. Coupled with this, many indigenous cultures have social and governmental structures that value the authority of elders of the community, who hold the ecological knowledge that enable their communities to survive and flourish. Traditional management practices tend to be simple, practical and encourage conservation and preservation.
Some common underlying concepts in indigenous cultures are:
- Subsistence – traditional, indigenous communities are self sufficient in that they are able to rely on the environment to provide for their basic needs such as food or shelter.
- Sustainability – indigenous communities are reliant on the continued access to environmental resources for their survival. As such, the concept of sustainability underpins the activities and management strategies of these communities.
- Custodianship – communities, and individuals have a responsibility to act as guardians or caretakers of the environment and the plants and animals within it.
- Reciprocity – communities are built on the concept that families and individuals will pay back deeds or goods which have been given to them. Borrowing and sharing are basic principles:“Today you, me tomorrow”. Sharing resources ensures future security.
Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK)
Traditional management strategies are based on cultural knowledge that has been gained and passed on over generations through stories, ceremonies and rituals. This cultural knowledge is based on experiences, traditions and beliefs of the indigenous culture. Many indigenous cultures have beliefs of ancestor beings and creation stories which are integrally entwined with elements of the environment. As such, many indigenous cultures believe that aspects of the environment have sacred, spiritual significance. This is significant in that it contributes to the conservation ideology of many traditional indigenous cultures. Environmental knowledge held by these cultures includes counting and predicting seasons, knowledge of the reproduction cycles of species and knowledge of moon cycles, winds and seasonal availability of different species. This knowledge is used to ensure the sustainability of coral resources. The Convention on Biological Diversity recognises the significance of traditional knowledge in Article 8(j):
“Each contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate: Subject to national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of such knowledge innovations and practices.”
Controlled access to reefs
Access to reef resources can be restricted by customary tenure arrangements. The right to fish in a particular area is controlled by a clan, chief, or family who regulated the exploitation of their own marine resources. Areas of land and water are owned by particular groups or communities, and administered under customary law. Customary tenure is the primary ownership in many Pacific Islands including Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Samoa. Tribes or communities have rights over particular reefs, and people are granted fishing rights in specific areas of the reef at specific times. Local knowledge of the seasons, spawning sites and times, phases of the moon and tides, is used to make decisions about appropriate use of reef resources at different times. Due to only one group using the reef resources at any one time it is easy to monitor use and its impact. As a result, this traditional practice is very effective for small communities. A factor which limits its effectiveness is use of reef resources by traditional owners in conjunction with other users such as commercial fishers who do not abide by the same customary laws and restrictions.
Traditional fishing techniques and tools are fairly labour intensive but effective in catching fish and other marine organisms for consumption. They are relatively low intensity, small-scale, and only allow for limited removal of species. Fishing instruments include long multipronged spears, nets, fish traps and barbed harpoons with detachable heads. Underpinning philosophies tend to encourage conservative harvesting, using only what you need and preserving what you can, and care not to overfish. Rather than targeting individual species for consumption, a variety of species are intentionally targeted when fishing, so there is little impact on any one species. Limits on the size of fish is common to discourage the removal of small organisms and ensure future numbers. As such, these techniques are in line with the subsistence lifestyle of indigenous cultures, where communities only take as much as they need. However, in some communities, dolphins are hunted for food, and their teeth are used as currency. Turtle eggs and meat are considered a delicacy and consumed on special occasions. For special events like wedding or funerary celebrations increases in marine catches are commonplace.
A totem is an animal or natural figure that a clan or tribe believes spiritually defines them. Each clan holds responsibility for looking after the totem and natural features connected to them, to ensure their survival. These spiritual emblems can’t be hunted or killed.
Indigenous culture around the world have a range of terms for totems and their relationship with them.
Taboo (or tapu) areas are sites where hunting or fishing is prohibited or highly restricted, and there are prohibitions of consumption from these areas. Prohibitions include access to and exploitation of resources within culturally significant geographic areas. This provides protection for these areas and the species within them. Some species can be taboo as well, meaning that these can not be
Many traditional indigenous cultures were hunter- gatherer nomads, and groups generally moved on regularly, allowing areas to regenerate and species to replenish. The lifestyle of many traditional, indigenous cultures limits the amount of organisms that were
removed due to the issue with storing food. The stress placed on ecosystems was limited as a result of maintaining relatively small population levels and relatively low-level technology so it did not place stress on the ecosystem.
Cook Islands – Reefs of Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Palmerston Atoll
In the Cook Islands, Ra’ui sites (or taboo sites) are those under community ownership, imposed by the chief of a tribe. A rahuii would be placed on a certain area for a period of time. While the rahui was in place, the harvest of food resources was banned. Once the rahuii was lifted it would be moved to another site. Punishments for infringement ranged from execution, banishment and having a person’s property destroyed. Some activities are allowed in these sites, such as swimming and snorkelling, however others are prohibited. Removing marine life, especially those used traditionally for food, is prohibited. The Ra’ui is identified with markers around the boundaries and signage. The use of Ra’ui have increased species diversity and new coral growth in the protected areas. They allow species time to repopulate. They have also controlled the harvesting of marine resources.
Australia – Great Barrier Reef
Over 70 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island groups maintain a traditional connection and have traditional ownership of parts of the Great Barrier Reef. In the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, native title rights are asserted by the Torres Strait Islander people.
Locations that are under the ownership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are know as “sea country”. Unauthorised taking of marine resources by people who do not have traditional ownership is a serious matter.
Australian Aborigines have complex totemic systems. The totemic system provides guidelines for the relationships Aborigines have with the environment. Sacred group and individual animal totems that were not hunted by that group or individual.
“Each clan family belonging to the group is responsible for the stewardship of their totem: the flora and fauna of their area as well as the stewardship of the sacred sites attached to their area. This stewardship consists not only of the management of the physical resources ensuring that they are not plundered to the point of extinction, but also the spiritual management of all the ceremonies necessary to ensure adequate rain and food resources at the change of each season.” Australian Together
The Wuthathi tribe in northern Queensland has the Diamond Stingray is their totem and the shark is the totem for the Meriam.
Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia consists of 607 islands including coral atolls and low reefs islands, and covers 1.6 million square km of ocean. In Micronesia, communities have a tremendous amount of traditional knowledge about their reefs. A range of strategies are implemented including closed seasons during spawning, closed areas, bans on small-sized catches and
restrictions on number of traps.
Samoa and American Samoa – Samoa Reefs (including Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, Aleipata Islands)
Traditionally, marine resources were controlled by customary marine tenure held by villagers. This gave them specific rights to specific areas of the ocean and coral reefs and provided a system of management involving local rules and regulations
including taboos, seasonal limitations on harvesting particular species, “special” fishing areas and preventing outsiders from fishing in waters near villages. Various restrictions were in place including forbidding the sale or trade of certain species (Levine
and Sauafea-Leau, 2013).
In Samoa communities use cowrie shells as lures and snare sharks with pig innards. Atule (big eyes scad) were caught in communal traps. Villagers would stand in the water in a curved line while holding palm leaves in the water and would then move inwards to trap the fish. The catch would then by distributed equally. If there was a large fish, fish would be given to nearby villages, cemented
the reciprocal relationship. Spears were (and are) commonly used.
In reef and lagoon areas in Ouvea atoll, New Caledonia, tribal or clan fishing grounds or territories and very well defined. Restrictions are placed on the type of fishing instruments that can be used and the species that can be taken.
In Papua New Guinea, over 90% of coastal and near shore resources are under customary ownership. Cultural practices in Ahus Island restrict fishing in parts of the reef after the death of an important person in the community. This can last for several years.
Fishing is restricted in six areas of the reef lagoon on Ahus Island, Papua New Guinea. Net and spear fishing is restricted but line fishing is allowed. These restrictions have been in place for generations and are based on cultural traditions.