Myanmar has announced that it has created the nation's very first locally managed marine reserves. They hope that by placing the operation and care of commercially important fisheries directly into the hands of those who rely on it, the health and biodiversity of the reefs will be improved and the region better protected.
The conservation organization Fauna and Flora International (FFI) has been working with the Myanmar Department of Fisheries in order to create three Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA) along the east coast of the Malayan Peninsula. Known for its once pristine beaches, bustling reefs, and mangroves, the scattering of islands that make up the Myeik Archipelago have come under intense pressure in recent times.
The fisheries and reefs have been massively overfished. Near-shore trawling by industrial fishing operations and dynamite fishing have both laid waste to the stunning coral that once flourished in the waters. All this has gone unchecked by a navy that is meant to patrol the islands and prevent illegal activity from destroying the heritage of the local communities who depend on the fisheries as a livelihood.
The idea is to put the management of these reefs into the hands of those who depend on them the most, granting them exclusive fishing rights. The local fishing community is the one who has the most to lose if the ecosystems are destroyed, so hopefully by giving them the power to protect the areas, it should mean that they have its best interests at heart. The government has pledged to support the communities when it comes to enforcing no-take zones and illegal fishing.
This form of management has already been implemented in other parts of Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “Experience from other countries such as Indonesia has shown that LMMAs with no-take zones for critical fish nursery grounds can lead to a recovery of fish stocks within two years and improve local fisheries through spill-over from the no-take zones into the surrounding coastal waters,” explains Frank Momberg, FFI Myanmar country director, in a statement.
It is hoped that the newly created reserves, announced on World Ocean Day, will help to protect the diverse coral reefs, as well as important crab and fish nurseries, in order to secure the future of the local fishing communities. If these reserves are a success, it could pave the way for further locally managed areas within Myanmar’s waters.