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Gwala customary marine management

  • Amount funded: £15,000
  • Year: 2023
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Locations: Papua New Guinea
  • Grant stream: Open grants call

Lack of recognition for traditional practices in coastal communities of Papua New Guinea is impeding the management of marine resources and food security.

Project partners
Eco Custodian Advocates
Milne Bay Administration
Bwanabwana Local level Government
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How we are helping

This aims to ensure the preservation, recognition and integration of customary Gwala practice, a tambu (taboo), into mainstream initiatives in the sustainable management of marine resources.

About the project

Elders in coastal communities of eastern Papua New Guinea have upheld the traditional practice of Gwala, which involves temporarily closing off a declining reef to allow the ecosystem to rejuvenate. This customary approach to marine management promotes food security for coastal communities. However, erosion and the loss of customary knowledge is threatening its continuity.

The project will work with clan elders, village courts, local and provincial governments to safeguard the tradition of Gwala in its various forms and advocate for its recognition in support of marine conservation. It acknowledges the pivotal role of young people in passing on this knowledge, and the project will engage with young people in communities where Gwala is currently practiced, to record the process and further entrench its use. The recordings will also be used to rekindle Gwala in new communities, to further reestablish and propagate the practice.

  • Training youth in documenting Gwala using smart phones, ensuring this is done in a way that respects custom and secures prior-informed consent of participants and the community
  • Advocating for the recognition of Gwala by local and provincial government authorities as well as government agencies
  • Advocating with village courts for the adoption of audio-visual documentation as binding legal evidence in community customary law settings.

As a result of the project, it is hoped that customary laws related to Gwala will be reinforced and the sustainable management of marine resources will be strengthened. Ecosystem recovery and resilience will be heightened, including fish stocks that can be taken in nearby fishing zones, crucial for ensuring food security, and surplus that can ultimately be utilised for trade.

Project Partners
Eco Custodian Advocates

Eco Custodian Advocates is a Papua New Guinean conservation organisation that promotes marine management and community driven conservation custodianship through the recognition and application of traditional knowledge. Eco Custodian Advocates is based in Milne Bay province, located at the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. Strategically, therefore, Eco Custodian Advocates’ core work centres around customary marine management in this region and in encouraging the use of this approach in other communities and language groups in Milne Bay and beyond.

Milne Bay Administration

Milne Bay Administration is the provincial government for Milne Bay, the south eastern maritime province of Papua New Guinea.

Bwanabwana Local level Government

Bwanabwana Local level Government is the local-level government of Milne Bay province.

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