Land Tenure Journal, No 1 (2013)

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Marine protected areas: securing tenure rights of fishing communities

Chandrika Sharma, Ramya Rajagopalan


Marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly being used as instruments for conservation and management of coastal and marine biodiversity, with most MPAs being located within the territorial waters of specific nation states. Most inshore and coastal areas are defined by complex systems of local or customary tenure, and cannot really be classified as ‘open access' areas. This paper explores the extent to which tenure rights are recognized in marine protected areas. Based on a review of recent literature the paper examines whether the tenure rights of local communities have been respected in MPA practice. It draws attention to cases where tenure rights have been weakened or extinguished, and the displacement, social conflict and sense of alienation associated with them. At the same time several more positive examples are offered - primarily driven by local communities - where tenure rights have been strengthened during MPA practice. The paper emphasizes the importance of recognizing and respecting the tenure rights of local communities, both as a means for more effective and sustainable conservation and management (given the link that has been observed between biological and social success in relation to MPAs), and as an end in itself - reflecting the commitment of MPA practitioners to respecting human rights. The paper suggests some key steps and principles with respect to tenure rights that need to be part of MPA practice.

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