Conservation Areas

Custom land management and traditional ecological knowledge is essential to the livelihood and wellbeing of the indigenous people of Western Santo, with all communities depending on the local environment for a major part of food and water supply as well as natural materials for shelter and dwellings.
The Constitution of the Republic of Vanuatu sets forth clearly that every person has the fundamental duty to safeguard national resources and the environment in the interests of the present generation and of future generations. Additionally, the Constitution decrees that all land belongs to the indigenous custom owners and their descendants, and that the rules of custom shall form the basis of use of land.
Accordingly, indigenous peoples of Western Santo have both the cultural and legal authority to steward, support, and protect the livelihoods and territories under their custodianship. The role of Government is secondary and supportive of the traditional owners and indigenous stewards for environmental management. Systems of traditional resource management on the Western Coast of Santo are upheld by chiefs or tribal leaders, and are often symbolised by recognised markers and protocols.
Here, a wide range of customary conservation approaches and practices have existed, linking past to present as a narrative of shifting ecological forms. These traditional environmental processes are at times linked to the perception of a change in resource status (resulting in the declaration of a taboo or tabu), or more spiritually motivated, linking resource limitation measures to death, birth marriage or other ceremonial events. The understanding of interconnectedness between indigenous peoples and their homeland is revealed through custom stories that transform human narratives of death and regeneration into tangible landmarks and place-names.
Vanuatu is one of the only countries in the world with legislation that seeks to address environmental degradation by empowering and recognizing traditional systems of resource management, as is consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Environmental Management and Conservation Act (2003) is designed to integrate traditional resource management approaches and practices into the formal legal system.
Specifically, the Environment Act provides an opportunity for interested communities and traditional authorities to obtain national acknowledgement of their efforts, ensuring that indigenous landowners define their own rules, practices, objectives and penalties according to local custom and practice. Traditional indigenous conservation efforts, termed Community Conservation Areas, are entered into a national Environmental Registry as created by the Act.
The self-defined management plans for Community Conservation Areas both empower communities to maintain their own systems of management, and protect against the creation or transfer of leases to unscrupulous developers seeking acquire or unsustainably develop land. To date, three Community Conservation Areas have been formally acknowledged by the Environment Act in West Coast Santo, and they are founded upon traditional resource management approaches and historical practices

The Environmental Protection and Conservation Act [CAP 283]

The overarching environmental law of Vanuatu. It provides for the conservation, sustainable development and management of the environment and covers three main areas:
  • Administration – Formally establishing the Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation and outlining its roles and responsibilities.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment – Providing a process for identifying and managing the impacts of a proposed project on the environment.
  • Biodiversity – Recognising Community Conservation Areas and giving direction to communities considering registering their conservation areas at the national level; and providing for bioprospecting (research).

Department of Environmental Protection and Conservation

Environment Act.pdf