25 November, 2020 - Our Pacific islands are biodiversity hotspots with local communities having strong cultural connections to nature. Our Pacific communities rely heavily on natural resources to sustain their economies, livelihoods and overall wellbeing.
Day 2 of the 10th Pacific Islands Nature Conservation and Protected Areas Conference saw a session that explored the effectiveness of terrestrial protected areas in the region.
Titled ‘Bringing our Pacific Lands Under Meaningful Protection - Lessons from the Past 10 Years,’ the session was moderated by Mr Paul Van Nimwegen of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with four key presenters sharing knowledge, lessons learned and highlighting management effectiveness tools for terrestrial protected areas in the Pacific.
Unfortunately, formal terrestrial protected area coverage for the region is currently less than 6%, a negligible figure that reinforces the urgency to step up efforts in the region, especially as the world and the region moves towards a new set of global protected area targets to be achieved by 2030.
Mr Vainuupo Jungblut, Protected Areas Officer of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) presented an overview during the session.
“Overall, protected terrestrial areas covers only 31,000 km2 of total landmass of the Pacific islands combined out of the total land area of 546,220 km2,” said Mr Jungblut.
“Since 2010 there has been a small increase in terrestrial protected area coverage in the Pacific with only seven countries and territories having achieved commitments in this area. The region wide terrestrial protected area coverage of 6% is just under half the global level coverage of 15%.”
The session delivered a snapshot of the current state of knowledge on terrestrial protected areas based on recent analyses conducted for the Pacific region, noting that a high percentage of land in the region falls under customary ownership.
The Pacific is unique whereby community-based conservation is the main model practised. Thus, local communities are empowered to enact traditional governance systems and make decisions over the current and future conservation and sustainable management of their natural resources.
Pacific island governments and civil society partners recognise the need to designate important areas for protection and management, and have taken action either individually, or through multi-county collaborative initiatives such as the Micronesia Challenge which aims to effectively conserve 20% of Micronesia’s terrestrial resources by 2020.
Mr Jungblut stated that protected areas managed and governed by private actors, indigenous and local communities are underreported at the global level, coupled with differences in coverage statistics reported through national reports to the Convention on Biological Diversity, have largely contributed to inaccuracies with terrestrial coverage data for the region available through the World Database of Protected Areas (WDPA).
“One example of the prevalence of community based management in the region is evident in a draft dataset submitted by the Government of Vanuatu and reviewed recently by SPREP, where 85% of Vanuatu’s 182 sites included in the dataset had the governance type of local communities or indigenous peoples. Furthermore, nearly 74% of 200 sites submitted recently for SPREP review by the Government of Samoa were designated as either community based or community conserved,” said Mr Jungblut.
The session also provided insight into the concerns of local and indigenous communities over sharing of information on their conservation areas which is largely due to a perception that that this may lead to tenure disputes, increased encroachment or may impact on community rights to resources. This has been directly cited as one of the reasons for underreported terrestrial coverage in the region.
“Some protected areas in the region still do not have boundary data on the WDPA with about 26% of countries and territories displaying more point than polygon (boundary) data on the database. This indicates that many areas are not formally mapped yet, or their boundary data not shared.”
Mr Jungblut also stressed the point that accurate data plays a key role in supporting our understanding of the state of protected and conserved areas in the region and concluded his presentation by voicing support for “mapping of area based conservation measures working closely with local communities and rights holders and for national data reviews and updates for the World Database on Protected Areas,” which will contribute greatly to national level decision making and greater accuracy of reporting.
The session concluded with a live Q&A facilitated by the moderator, and later participants were invited to network and engage in greater discussions at the conference virtual lounge.
A recording of the session will be made available by the conference for public viewing.
The conference was originally scheduled to be held as a face-to-face event in Noumea, New Caledonia, from 19 – 24 April 2020. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in the closure of borders for most countries in the Pacific, it has had to be postponed and changed to a virtual meeting.
The conference will be held from 24 – 27 November, with more than 150 speakers expected to present on various topics pertaining to the themes of “Our Ocean”, “Our Island”, and “Our Connection with Nature.” Currently, there are over 1700 registered participants of the conference.
For more information or to register for the conference, please visit the conference website at www.pacificnatureconference.com.