A cocktail of human induced local and global disturbances are threatening the health of marine ecosystems altering the ecological and economic roles that these ecosystems play and weakening the livelihood of many coastal communities that depend on these resources. Various inputs by local authorities have often been employed with little success. Government agencies due to limited resources and capacity among other factors have more often failed to effectively manage marine ecosystems even with important tools such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) have in the recent past been successfully employed to substitute the top-down management approach.
LMMAs are initiatives that empower local communities to partly or wholly manage their marine and coastal resources. They have been successful in protection of marine biodiversity as well as providing of social-economic benefits to local communities through alternative sources of livelihoods. The secret of LMMAs effectiveness lies in the inclusiveness of local communities that directly rely on marine resources from setting up of the areas to management and ultimately reaping both the short-term and long-term benefits. Through assistance, from local authorities, Non Governmental Organizations and other stakeholders, local communities can be made aware of the problems facing their areas which in most instances they do understand and empowered to manage their resources. With strong considerations of their social structures and livelihoods they set up rules and regulations they use in their resources utilization which can be periodically reviewed and adapted to changing conditions. Because they have been involved throughout the process they have a sense of ownership and therefore feel responsible for the well-being of the resources.
Sharing of successes of such initiative with marine resources users from other areas can also be a sure way of outreach to other communities increasing these areas and having a Locally Managed Marine Areas network, which will ensure sustainable use of marine resources. LMMAs have been effective in Asia and different parts of Western Indian Ocean (WIO) such as Madagascar and Tanzania.
At the coast of Kenya in Kilifi County one such outstanding initiative is Kuruwitu conservation and welfare association. Starting as a clearly degraded marine ecosystem, the area has experienced tremendous increase in biodiversity within a relatively short time. This has opened other sources of income and addressed not only biodiversity value of this area but also socio-economic benefits and poverty alleviation.
With most marine areas facing environmental threats such as diversity lose and habitat degradation, LMMAs are offering a new leeway in which communities can come together and manage their marine resources.