Julian Hyde, General Manager Reef Check Malaysia, Speaks about the Importance Co-Managing Marine Protected Areas

Julian Hyde

June 20, 2018

Reef Check Malaysia emphasizes the LOCAL in marine protected areas. The Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project took a moment to speak with the Managing Director of Reef Check Malaysia to understand more about their efforts to protect a significant population of dugong and seagrass along the east coast of peninsular Malaysia.

Hi Julian. Can you please introduce yourself

My name is Julian Hyde. I am the General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) and have been since it was first registered as an NGO in 2007. RCM focuses on conservation of coral reefs and associated ecosystems, with an emphasis on community participation in resource management.

What is the role of Reef Check Malaysia in the Project??

RCM is partnering with the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM), who manage Malaysia’s Marine Protected Areas. This includes the MPAs around the islands where Malaysia’s largest dugong population is resident. We are assisting DMPM with developing a management plan for the islands, and building capacity among the local community to participate in management of a dugong sanctuary.

Can you describe your project site?

The project site comprises two small islands off the East coast of the Malaysian Peninsular, in the state of Johor. Sibu and Tinggi are both home to traditional fishing communities (population approximately 350 on the two islands) and a small but growing tourism market. Nearly 40% of households earn less than the Malaysian poverty level. Until recently, fishing has been the mainstay of the islands’ economies, with some jobs in a small tourism market. Recent changes to Marine Park management have meant that some traditional fishing grounds are no longer accessible, creating a need for alternative livelihoods, which it is hoped that dugong conservation programmes will provide. Malaysia’s Marine Parks were gazetted in 1994 with no consultation of local stakeholders.

What does co-management mean and why do we need it?

We consider co-management to mean establishing a management system that gives everyone a voice in decisions that could affect their livelihoods.

The Marine Parks were imposed 24 years ago, with no consultation, a typical “top-down” approach in Malaysia. Local inhabitants were deprived of their traditional, cultural livelihoods and many suffered because of this. Conflict and bad feelings remain and there are on-going problems with compliance. Introducing co-management would redress this, providing local stakeholders with a say in decisions that affect them.

It is believed that introducing co-management would:

  • Improve compliance with regulations
  • Reduce infractions of rules by local islanders
  • Reduce the conflict between stakeholders and managers
  • Re-introduce some (perhaps limited) access to traditional livelihoods, particularly fishing grounds
  • Generate new livelihood opportunities for locals, such as custodians.

From practical point of view and in your case, what does the co-management model look like? How does it function? Who plays what role?

At a minimum, a co-management system would establish a body in which all stakeholders have membership. The body would discuss all management issues, thereby providing a forum for local stakeholders to have their say and affect decisions relating to the management of the Marine Park, including changing rules and regulations concerning activities allowed and prohibited within the protected area.

We envisage a system that holds quarterly meetings in which all stakeholders participate, and in which all participants have a say in any decisions relating to resource management.

Some roles have to be stipulated. So DMPM will always be responsible for patrolling and enforcement of Marine Park rules and regulations. But these should be reviewed periodically and changes should consider the views of local stakeholders.

The table below shows the proposed roles of participants.

DMPMPatrolling, enforcement; legal issues, technical support; training and capacity building; funding
IslandersLocal stakeholder representation; stakeholder conservation campaigns; education and awareness programmes; participate in monitoring activities in the Marine Park (e.g. Rakan Park or similar)
Resort OperatorsEducation and awareness campaigns for staff and customers; management of tourism activities to minimise impacts
State GovernmentManagement of land issues including development and pollution arising from tourism operators
Combined (Proposed)Conservation programmes including reef surveys, net removal, mooring buoy management, predator removal; stakeholder liaison; management of dugong tourism

Have conservation co-management models been applied in Malaysia before? Is there legal basis for developing co-management structures?

Co-management has not been tried in Malaysia before. The legal basis required would be for DMPM to issue regulations enabling the establishment of the co-management body, and define its functions.

What has Reef Check Malaysia done to promote and establish co-management structures with local communities under the Dugong project?

We have held extensive consultations with local stakeholders – primarily local islanders but also resort operators. We have discussed how they might play a role in management of the Marine Park and the associated dugong sanctuary.

In addition we have conducted training in co-management for both local stakeholders and DMPM and other relevant agencies, to build capacity in both for co-management.

In July this year we plan to hold the first joint meeting between local stakeholders, management agency and other government agencies, to discuss the formation of a co-management body.

What does co-management need in your country to progress further?

It needs the managing agency, DMPM, to accept that co-management is a positive step; it also needs DMPM to accept that they will have to devolve some of their authority and responsibility to local stakeholders. This will require a change in institutional mind-set.