Changing tides - a south pacific study

Kirsten Davies*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Science confirms that global warming, or anthropocentrically induced climate change, poses a significant threat to marine environments, food security and livelihoods of South Pacific nation communities who are particularly vulnerable due to their socio-economic status and unique geographical characteristics. Can current legislation, including traditional customary law, protect their ecosystems, in the context of the unprecedented paradigm presented by climate change? This paper explores a range of legal frameworks from international to domestic law, concerned with protecting the marine environment. It proposes that, in order to successfully adapt to these rapid changes, community understandings of the local ecology can assist in adaptation management processes. Traditional indigenous knowledge, customary law and practices may offer part of the solution, as they are embedded in local culture, landscapes, seascapes and are 'bespoke' to specific localities and communities. That is not to say that customary law offers the complete solution. Rather building on traditional knowledge methods will provide adaptive co-management approaches that facilitate science, technology and the law coming together to protect natural systems threatened by the changing climate. One of the benefits of such an approach is its likelihood of success by honouring the local culture, communities will be more inclined to be engaged. Evidence of the uptake of this changing approach can be seen in nations such as Samoa, where local by-laws have been drafted to create community-owned protected areas, while citizens are simultaneously trained to monitor and manage local biodiversity. This paper advocates for localised management approaches focused on empowering communities in the conservation of their marine ecosystems. Finally it returns to the law, highlighting the urgent need for legal instruments, across all jurisdictions, to support adaptive co-management, noting the South Pacific experience offers lessons to other regions and their indigenous peoples, as the planet grapples with the challenge of how to respond rapidly to the threats posed by climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-146
Number of pages43
JournalJournal of South Pacific Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Adaptive co-management
  • Climate change
  • Climate science
  • Customary law
  • Local communities
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Small Island developing states
  • South pacific

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