Legal approaches to MPA governance in Indo-Pacific small island states: A focus on public participation
The Indo-Pacific small island states characteristically have relatively small land areas but large maritime zones that include biodiversity hotspots, fragile ecosystems and unique habitats affected by anthropogenic impacts and natural pressures. Whilst there are differences between these nations in terms of geography, history, and politico-legal systems, the majority are developing countries with limited technical and financial resources to implement laws for marine conservation and management. Despite these limitations all the small island states have laws for marine protected areas (MPAs) in one form or another. Because these countries also rely heavily on the coastal zone and marine resources in terms of subsistence and livelihoods for local communities, the extent to which the law accommodates civil society interests, and involvement in decision-making and management, is critical. Although some studies have explored law and policy relevant to MPAs in individual countries, rarely have countries across the Indo-Pacific region been compared. By doing so, different approaches and success stories can be shared, as well as legislative gaps and challenges addressed. This paper outlines the legal frameworks that provide for the establishment and management of MPAs in a selection of small island states across the Indo Pacific. The laws have been comparatively analysed to demonstrate the extent to which they provide for public participation and community-based management. The results are presented together with lessons learnt and recommendations made for future legal developments. The article, therefore, contributes to the growing body of literature on MPA governance, marine management in island States, and how to advance social sustainability.