As anyone that has studied conservation knows; the creation of protected areas is extremely beneficial. They act to prevent habitat loss which is the leading cause of biodiversity loss, as well as directly protecting species from over-harvesting. However, the creation of protected areas is not enough for successful conservation, as the management of the area as a whole needs to be sufficient. There are too many examples around the world of places in which protected areas are made but no management occurs, to the detriment of the region. With a growing number of protected areas globally, the contact that local people are having with these regions is also growing. It is essential that we understand to what degree a region is being exploited to understand how to manage an area sustainably. Luckily, here at MCC we don't just sit around on our little island and hide from the outside world. Each week we journey to the mainland to a number of local fishing communities. Here we conduct surveys with willing local fishermen about their personal practices and their concerns for the state of the regions environment.
From this a wealth of information is gained about the intensity of the fishing in the region as well as the amount of illegal fishing that is spotted by local people. This sort of information, along with research, can enable management decisions and emphasise areas of concern. Along with this it can only be beneficial to involve the very people who are using the marine resources. On the trips to the communities we have seen many different people, with differing beliefs, and ideas about the surrounding environment. The people seem happy to engage with us and often appear to be happy to be able to voice their own personal concerns about the state of the coastal waters. Many highlight concerns about the illegal fishing activities that are occurring in the region and are happy to explain what they see to MCC, who directly deal with such issues.
From a personal perspective, going to the communities and being able to speak directly (via a translator) to the fishermen is a great experience that opens my eyes wider to how decisions and issues are impacting these people on an individual level. It provides a level of perspective one doesn't derive from studying such issues from afar and has been an all round positive experience that I will take with me throughout my career.
• Alexander Wyatt BSc (Zoology) & MSc (Animal Behaviour/Conservation) student at Anglia Ruskin University (UK)