ELI Collaborates With Niue to Help Create One of the World’s Largest MPAs

Monday, June 18, 2018

One of the highlights of the 2017 Our Ocean Conference in Malta was the announcement made by Minister for Natural Resources Hon. Dalton Tagelagi that Niue, a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, would create a new, large marine protected area to adequately conserve the unique marine biodiversity in Niuean waters. The new MPA will cover 40% of Niue’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), including the waters around the remote Beveridge Reef, a place of unique richness in marine biodiversity.

ELI is cooperating with the government of Niue to help identify and conduct the necessary legal reforms to enact the new MPA and to implement a coastal and marine spatial planning (MSP) approach to ocean resources management in Niue.

Between May 11-18, 2018, I conducted a research trip to Niue to gather information on the implementation of the legal framework for ocean resources stewardship, with a special focus on fisheries management. The trip was conducted in cooperation with representatives from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and the Pacific Community (SPC) and coordinated by Brendon Pasisi from Niue Ocean Wide (NOW).

In preparation for the trip, ELI conducted a preliminary analysis of the legal framework for ocean resources management in Niue. Thirty-one legal and policy instruments were reviewed to develop a list of legal questions on the implementation of the regulatory framework for ocean resources administration, marine environmental protection, and fisheries management. The trip provided a unique opportunity to enhance the researcher’s understanding of how the Niue legal framework works in practice and to gather input from Niuean experts and stakeholders on the preliminary results of the legal analysis.

The creation of the new MPA and the enactment of MSP regulation is part of a set of activities to strengthen the sustainable use of Niue’s ocean resources and to promote Niue as a prime global marine ecotourism destination.

During the one-week visit to Niue, I held interviews with national Niuean government agencies including Crown Law, the Ministry of Infrastructure, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Directorate of Environment, Taoga Niue, and the Directorate of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries. I also spoke with other key groups, such as the fisherman associations Vaka and Niue Fisherman Association, the Niue Chamber of Commerce, four Village Councils, the Niue Police, the IUCN Ridge to Reef Initiative, and the New Zealand High Commission for Niue.

Interviews were structured into two separate groups: conversations with legal experts were directly aimed at testing the preliminary findings of the legal analysis and identifying the most adequate legal instrument for the implementation of a Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) framework in Niue. The list of legal questions prepared in advance was especially useful for these conversations. Among other topics, questions focused on addressing how some legal instruments work in practice, identifying challenges for legal implementation and compliance, and discussing the role of national and local authorities in ocean resources stewardship.

Meetings with other stakeholders were oriented at gaining a broader understanding about the conditions and challenges to fisheries management and marine environment protection in Niue, hearing stakeholder’s main concerns, and identifying tools for traditional management of fisheries that could be relevant for the regulatory implementation of MSP and MPA enforcement. For example, Niue traditional canoe fishing is governed by a detailed set of customary norms that brilliantly speak about fishing as a self-challenge for seafaring people, and an activity that helps Niueans obtain the means for their subsistence and show their respect for marine life. This traditional code of conduct offers valuable inspiration for setting priorities of the MSP process, particularly for near-shore areas.

The final activity of the research trip was a stakeholder workshop in which ELI briefly explained the main objectives of the project and shared some preliminary conclusions.

Having the opportunity to witness Niue’s exceptional wealth of marine life, and learning about Niueans’ unique connection to the sea was an awe-inspiring experience. ELI is proud to be part of this initiative and honored to accompany Niueans on their quest to ensure a healthy stewardship of their ocean resources for generations to come. The ELI team is now developing the legal framework report for Niue with the aim of contributing to making the new MPA a reality before the end of 2018.