Trouble in the Triangle

Protection of the Coral Triangle is complicated by a spectrum of differing interests and actors

Spear fisherman with catch, a yellow-striped sweetlips, in Papa New Guinea. Countries within the Coral Triangle are now trying to find joint ways to manage this biodiversity rich hotspot, but the challenges are complex. Photo: J. Cinner/Azote

So-called common-pool resources are notoriously difficult to govern and the Coral Triangle region is not an exception. This archipelagic region, which consists of of Indonesia, Malaysia (Sabah), the Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, contains 76 percent of the world's reef fishes and is regarded as the global epicentre of marine biodiversity and abundance.

Differing perspectives
In a paper recently published in Marine Policy, PhD student Fanny Rosen and researchers from James Cook University analyse the diversity of factors that affect new governance initiatives of large-scale marine commons such as the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), an intergovernmental agreement between the countries in the Coral Triangle.

The agreement is a legally non-binding document setting out core goals, targets and actions for the protection of the Coral Triangle region over the next ten years. That all sounds good, but common to most of the countries involved is the failure to coordinate developmental and environmental policies. The reality across the region is that political, economic and cultural perspectives are extremely diverse.

“Political and ethnic conflict as well as conflict over resources themselves has often defined relations in the Coral Triangle region. Poor understanding or narrow perspectives can lead to simplified judgements about resource systems. This in turn can lead to failures in conservation efforts," Rosen says.

Confront competing objectives
Marine and coastal ecosystem services provide essential contributions to the national economies in the Coral Triangle countries, but there has been increasing tension between different stakeholders due to competition over declining and overexploited fish stocks, and different perceptions among actors on the benefits and costs of conservation and tourism.

Rosen and her co-authors highlight the need to confront competing objectives such as biodiversity conservation and development goals, or regional governance and community-based management.

“The CTI will need to demonstrate how regional coordination and financing of governance can contend with a multitude of pressures, perspectives and existing activities. It needs to be inclusive of the many fisheries, tourist groups, scientists, sub-national governments and community groups that are all involved in the region," Rosen says.

A healthy dose of experimentation and inclusiveness, please
Being successful in this endevour might prove a tricky one. The CTI as a whole focuses on the centralisation of coastal and marine governance, whereas most of the countries involved apply a more decentralised approach with community-based and co-management as the primary model for coastal resource management.

To cope with this complexity, CTI will need to be innovative in finding new ways to include the many perspectives and actors, and enable effective connections between different institutional arrangements and stakeholders.

"Large-scale governance initiatives such as CTI will need to allow for a great deal of experimentation and regular adjustments to governance arrangements to account for the dynamic nature of this region," Rosen concludes.

References

Citation

Fidelman P., et al. Governing large-scale marine commons: Contextual challenges in the Coral Triangle. Marine Policy (2011), doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2011.03.007

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