Ocean and coral reef ecosystems face multiple pressures endangering, in the near-future, their fragile and complex ecological equilibriums.
Global warming is one of the most iconic threats these unique environments are exposed to: consequences of the increase in water temperature are dramatic for marine life (coral bleaching or ocean acidification , for instance). Coastal urbanization, pollution, or other human activities, such as tourism, agriculture or fishing may have detrimental effects on coral reef ecosystems. When combined, these threats act synergistically and may lead to irreparable damages to the fragile equilibrium of coral reefs.
In French Polynesia, coral reefs occupy more than 15,000 km2 which represents five times the total area of emerged land. They are among the most preserved and most resilient in the world, but are exposed to practices or climatic disturbances that make them increasingly vulnerable (repeated bleaching episodes, increased tourist traffic, fishing pressure, etc.).
However, these reefs provide many ecosystem services, in other words, they provide essential benefits to local populations. In French Polynesia, reef fisheries are essential because they provide food and revenue for many families and reef fish are an essential component of local culture. : self-consumption guarantees a supply of protein and, when sold, fishery products generate cash income For most French Polynesian islands, coral reefs form a barrier around islands protecting the main land from climatic or natural disturbances (e.g.,reduction of erosion through absorption of wave energy, protection against tsunamis).
Our endeavor is to protect such environments so that local populations can continue to sustainably use local resources all the while conserving the exceptional biodiversity which thrives in these environments.
A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY TEAM
The Rāhui Forum and Resource Center is hosted by the Insular Research Center and Environmental Observatory (CRIOBE) in Moorea, French Polynesia.
We are a team of researchers in environmental and social sciences: ecologists, marine biologists, anthropologists, sociologists, linguists, economists from CRIOBE from the Bren School for Environmental Science and Management from the University of California – Santa Barbara, and the EASTCO lab of the University of French Polynesia.
Our project is supported by the Vibrant Ocean Initiative from Bloomberg Philantropies, which acts in favor of the protection of marine environments – in particular coral reefs – and which is mobilized to reduce overfishing practices / promotes sustainable fishing practices (plus positif non)?.
OUR GOALS – Supporting local fisheries to preserve coral reef ecosystems and sustainably manage their resources
Throughout French Polynesia, we support the design or improvement of locally Managed Marine Areas. We support small-scale fisheries in the design and trial of sustainable management practices of coral reef resources. Our ambition? Ensure sustainable and healthy stocks of fish, shellfish and other invertebrates stocks , while promoting environmental conservation in order to guarantee communities access to the fishery for subsistence or market purposes.
In this process, we work with local stakeholders and more particularly local fishermen and -women. Empowering local communities is the most important challenge to accomplish in order for decisions to be informed and locally adapted.
Concerned about the acceptability of our approach, we want to anchor our action in the Polynesian cultural context as well as to integrate local practices and knowledge. For centuries, Polynesians have imagined and implemented terrestrial and marine resource management strategies through an institution called Rāhui. Today, existing Rāhui in Polynesia aim to ensure the availability of local resources in the long term. The transformation of both the cultural framework and socioeconomic practices have led to the emergence of a new paradigm: contemporary rāhui contribute to the strengthening of environmental governance, the fight against pollution and the management of fisheries. It is with this multidimensional framework in mind that we work alongside fishermen and -women and that we integrate local knowledge and cultural representations. Through the combination of innovative scientific protocols with this participatory management method, we help local fisheries to make optimal ecological decisions to manage their marine environment and resources.
© Megane Delhaie – Unsplash
© Lauric Thiault
OUR METHODOLOGY – DESIGN AND PROVIDE DECISION-MAKING TOOLS FOR ADAPTATIVE MANAGEMENT
© Ewen Morin
Our project aims to improve coral reef conservation and small-scale fisheries management strategies in French Polynesia, producing collaborative tools and models to promote efficient and adaptive management.
We seek to empower local communities so that they are able to independently assess the impacts of the choices they make and to readjust their decisions based on the results of their observations and analyzes.
That is why we are implementing a methodology that combines social sciences (anthropology, sociology, linguistics, economics) and environmental sciences (marine biology, ecology). This involves, on the one hand, a better understanding of local practices and customs (linked to coral reef ecosystems) as well as the underlying cultural mechanisms and, on the other hand, assessing the ecological state of coral reefs environments and to better understand their dynamics.
In this way, we are building solutions that are adapted and consensually accepted by the largest number of stakeholders possible.