This article was first published in The National newspaper weekender on 6th April 2018
In this day and age when population is increasing and resources are becoming scarce, there is need to protect endemic, critically endangered and threatened species of plants and animals; and conserve what little is available so stocks can replenish. In Papua New Guinea the most effective way for environmental protection and conservation is through Locally Managed Conservation Areas whether on land or sea. This is where local communities that own these resources and have vast traditional knowledge of conservation and protection put into practice this traditional knowledge alongside scientific knowledge to effectively manage their resources.
The Center for Environmental Law and Community Rights (CELCOR), a public interest legal NGO, is working with rural communities to educate them about their basic human and resource use rights so they can be empowered to manage their own resources without being bothered by undue foreign influence. Through its flagship program, Community Legal Education, CELCOR conducts environmental law and ecological awareness workshops, para-legal training, conflict resolution and Management, including environmental monitoring and assessments to develop a team of capable community members who would respond to the needs of environmental defense.
One community that CELCOR is helping to protect and conserve its marine environment is from M’Buke Island in Manus Province. In 2004, the people of M’Buke established the Marine Resource Awareness Team (MEART), as a community based organization and began carrying out environmental awareness in M’Buke and nearby islands.
The objective of MEART was to make people aware of environmental degradation that was happening around them and for their own people to take ownership, and care for the environment.
As an island community dependent on the rich marine life around them, MEART realized the need for a Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) in M’Buke Island where locals will take the lead to protect and conserve their marine environment and seek help from organizations that could help them achieve their dream.
In October 2017, CELCOR conducted a Community Legal Education workshop at M’Buke Island where twenty nine people attended. The topics covered during the workshop included an introduction to law, Government of PNG, landownership and management, customary landowners, conservation and management of environment, use and management of non-renewable natural resources, use and management of renewable resources, climate change and practical information on police arrests and need for a lawyer.
The information received from the workshop, further strengthened their drive in establishing a LMMMA and MEART in consultation with the Chiefs and M’Buke community, have expressed their interest for CELCOR to review their by-laws on the Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA). It is anticipated that once CELCOR reviews the by-laws the draft LMMA will be passed through the Local Level Government and that will eventually empower M’Buke people so they can be able to sustainably manage and conserve their marine environment.