By Abbie Dosell, Marine Conservation Institute GLORES Science Intern
Some of the world’s most biodiverse and ecologically valuable marine ecosystems are sporadically distributed among different regions and cultures globally. Due to this diversity, a one-size-fits-all marine protected area (MPA) framework is not sufficient to protect biodiversity. Locally Managed Marine Areas, or LMMAs, offer an alternative model to governmental or centrally-managed MPAs that are not always successful in remote, coastal communities without much government oversight.
Members of many island communities are born into traditional fishing rights that date back hundreds of years (or longer) in their culture. This cultural value of the ocean may make standardized MPA management a challenge, but it also reflects the investment of these communities in the marine environment. The intrinsic cultural value of the ocean lends itself to a high level of engagement and buy-in; the connection between people and the ocean engenders entire communities of ocean stewards. Many small coastal communities have managed their marine ecosystems for hundreds of years based upon empirical knowledge of local natural history and the effects of community activities on their environment.
LMMAs practice community-based marine management, which empowers communities to take responsibility for their marine environment. As opposed to governmental MPAs, LMMAs may not have legal status or written management plans. They are more likely to favor adaptive management formalized through traditional community leadership frameworks. Many LMMAs acknowledge the value of traditional fisheries management and incorporate such practices within contemporary management strategies.
The primary purpose of many LMMAs is fisheries management; these areas are created with the intention of maintaining healthy fish populations for coastal communities that rely upon the marine environment as a source of both food and livelihood. Although not managed with the exclusive intention of protecting biodiversity, some LMMAs have similar conservation outcomes to no-take MPAs, that are known to have substantial benefits to protecting biodiversity . Healthy fish populations, as a result of fisheries management, can improve ecosystem resilience and recovery rates, and prevent phase-shifts from coral dominated, to algal dominated ecosystems , among other ecosystem benefits.
Many LMMAs are making a substantial contribution to marine conservation and helping countries in the Indo-Pacific reach their conservation goals and commitments. Because of this, LMMAs are often described as a fundamental building block of integrated island management, and some South Pacific countries report the implementation of many LMMAs in their exclusive economic zone; for example, Fiji now has approximately 460 LMMAs and the engagement of over 400 villages.
As a result of the evident ecological benefits and successes of LMMAs, the Global Ocean Refuge System is working on appropriate criteria to evaluate LMMAs and identify those that are effectively protecting biodiversity. We think it is important to recognize and celebrate effective LMMAs with Global Ocean Refuge Awards, and we look forward to welcoming outstanding LMMAs into the Global Ocean Refuge System. If you know of an outstanding LMMA that should be considered for a Global Ocean Refuge Award, let us know about it!
 Lester et al. (2009) Biological effects within no-take marine reserves: a global synthesis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 384:33-46.
 Nystrom and Folke (2001) Spatial Resilience of Coral Reefs. Ecosystems 4:406-417.
 Bellwood et al. (2004) Confronting the coral reef crisis. Nature 429:827-833.