The Ethnographic Institute is presently carrying out coastal marine management (marine protected area and fisheries sustainability) projects in two tropical coastal regions which geopolitically and in terms of culture history are far removed from one another:N.E. Brazil and N. Australia/ W. Oceania.
Yet fishing societies in these areas are among the world’s richest, remarkable, ethnographically well-documented, repositories of culturally-based marine environmental and biodiversity knowledge. At a glance, it might seem unlikely that these cases could have much of anything in common.Actually, a number of interesting parallels can be pointed out in respect to marine protected area development and in the chronicles of maritime anthropology. Over 30 years ago, ethnographic studies in Brazil and W. Oceania generated exchanges and debates about the occurrence, extent, functions, and consequences of losing ‘sea tenure’ systems and associated marine environmental knowledge (click on the 'publications' button for a link to Cordell’s 1989 overview of the history of research on this topic: A Sea of Small Boats (available for purchase through Cultural Survival, Cambridge, MA).
Ethnographic Institute projects continue to provide useful new perspectives on development of common property management systems, local rights and claims in coastal seas, initially with respect to fishery management, contesting entrenched notions of the‘tragedy of the commons’ as the root cause of fisheries decline; but more recently, in respect to opportunities for using sea tenure as a spatial management tool to strengthen marine protected areas. In parts of Brazil, and W. Oceania, there is growing recognition of the benefits of raising the profile of culture, in changing, increasingly interwoven, marine management discourses, projects, and policies.Valuing culture and cultural diversity in marine contexts is not only socially empowering, but potentially a more powerful incentive and platform (to catalyze local responsibility and sense of ownership for marine conservation) than employing biodiversity science criteria and assessments alone to establish marine protected areas.
Landing A Beach Seine From A Traditional Canoe at a Marine Extractive Reserve on the Rio de Janeiro Coast, Arraial do Cabo