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Negotiating the future of local ‘Backwaters’: Participatory marine conservation on small islands in Eastern Indonesia

Steenbergen, Dirk (2013) Negotiating the future of local ‘Backwaters’: Participatory marine conservation on small islands in Eastern Indonesia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The biodiversity rich coastal waters of eastern Indonesia have in recent years become a centre of interest for marine conservation initiatives. Island communities across the region find themselves engaged with conservation oriented agencies concerned to develop sustainable management of marine resources. Through these engagements flow new ideas, meanings and practices of conservation, that do not necessarily reflect either dominant science-based conservation ideas, or local customary perceptions and practice.

To understand the interplay of structural and agency-based forces behind the implementation of marine conservation, the collaborations and contestations taking place within communities, and between them and conservationists, are examined according to the different meanings and values that become attached to conservation programs. Through an ethnographic examination of the agency of actors with roles as key mediators (brokers and agents) and their relationships with local social structures and institutions, the research seeks to make sense of local societal responses to conservation interventions.

These complex interactions are investigated through an in-depth examination of the workings of two participatory marine conservation programs under the coordination of a single conservation NGO, the Indonesian Locally Managed Marine Area network (I-LMMA). The engagements of I-LMMA with two separate small island artisan fishing communities in eastern Indonesia form the two main case studies: Tanimbar Kei, in the Kei Archipelago in Maluku province, and Meos Mangguandi, in the Padaido Islands in Papua province.

The social and political associations of mediators involved in environmental ‘conversations’ at the interface between social domains are explored. Of specific interest are the affiliations these individuals have to certain influential groups or institutions that affect their position in formal negotiations and emerging relationships. The case studies researched show how conservation programs gain local support or incite local resistance. Moreover, findings suggest that the integration of conservation ideas into communities through external interventions aligned with adaptive co-management objectives does not necessarily result in the kinds of sustainable conservation practices that were intended at the outset. Local dynamic socio-political contexts and the individuals who mediate conservation ideas within these contexts are strong forces that shape outcomes for conservation.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Arts
Supervisor: Warren, Carol, Moore, Susan and Visser, L.E.
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