Better governance in community-based conservation delivers few expected benefits


View of a beach, a fishing boat and some houses from the sea

A study of community-run marine areas in Fiji shows that while mechanisms thought to lead to change were ‘activated’, they led to few tangible gains.

The result, following a large evaluation campaign, shows that community-based conservation programmes may need to be carefully assessed to make sure the expected pathways of change deliver positive outcomes.

The study was conducted by researchers in Fiji, Singapore, USA and the UK, including Imperial College London researchers. The results are published today in Nature Sustainability.

First author Dr Tanya O'Garra, from the National University of Singapore, said: “Community-based governance of natural resources is considered a key approach to addressing global biodiversity and climate challenges. Finding out what ‘works’ in community-based conservation is thus essential to support the design and implementation of effective interventions and initiatives.”

Managing fisheries

To mitigate the loss of marine biodiversity and achieve sustainable development goals, fisheries need to be better managed. About half of the global fish catches are caught by small-scale fisheries, many of which are managed by local communities.

The team evaluated the Fijian locally managed marine areas (FLMMA) network, a national network of more than 350 coastal villages in Fiji aiming to improve fisheries management, and compared these to village fisheries not in the network.

They quantified whether village engagement with the FLMMA network led to improvements in the desired conservation and social outcomes, using 12 indicators including reef and mangrove health, income and food diversification, and improved wellbeing.

They found that while mechanisms that are thought to lead to these outcomes were ‘improved’ – such as participation and knowledge growth among locals,  management, and gains in financial and infrastructure support – they led to few tangible outcomes.

Diagram showing knowledge, participation, financial support and management in a circle, leading to arrows showing perceived benefits
Mechanisms, in the circle, don't always translate to expected outcomes. Illustration by: Manini Bansal

Co-author Dr Arundhati Jagadish, from Conservation International, said: “Our findings show that conservation practitioners working on community-based conservation may need to carefully evaluate and adapt the mechanisms through which they expect their efforts to generate benefits for people and the rest of nature.”

Finding what works

Since community-based approaches to conservation are crucial for meeting global biodiversity and climate change targets, the team say they continue to research the mechanisms and impacts of a larger set of initiatives.

One of the issues they faced was a lack of coordinated data, so they aim to partner with organisations supporting communities in their conservation efforts across different regions, to get a more detailed picture of what ‘works’.

Co-author Dr Morena Mills, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “We want to empower communities and partner organizations to co-design effective programs at scale, but it is only through large-scale evaluation projects like ours that the information to support this goal will become available.


National-level evaluation of a community-based marine management initiative’ by Tanya O’Garra et al. is published in Nature Sustainability.


Hayley Dunning

Hayley Dunning
Communications Division

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Nature, Sustainability, Sustainable-Development-Goals, Global-challenges-Natural-world
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