Culture, kastom and conservation in Melanesia: what happens when worldviews collide?
Melanesia, which includes Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji, is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on earth, yet its species and ecosystems are fundamentally threatened by rapidly growing and modernizing populations that drive increased demands for natural resource extraction. Despite good intentions, many conservation projects in Melanesia have not succeeded, largely due to a failure on the part of researchers and practitioners to understand underlying differences between western and indigenous worldviews and issues surrounding land and marine tenure arrangements. Learning from these failures is critical in order to improve odds for future project effectiveness and sustainability. Here I present lessons from attempts across Melanesia at establishing protected areas, conservation agreements, ecotourism initiatives and research-action arenas that showcase challenges and conflicts when worldviews collide and opportunities that arise when mutual expectations are clarified early on during planning processes. Factors that contribute to more successful outcomes include: respecting international protocols for free, prior and informed consent; co-creating research and management agendas with local communities; clearly articulating realistic expected benefits; and establishing locally-perceived equitable benefits sharing mechanisms.