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The Importance of Institutional Arrangements for Sustainable Livelihoods: The Case of Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sabah, Malaysia
Although there has been growing research examining ecotourism from a livelihoods perspective, there is still lack of explicit and critical analysis of how people relate to the institutional environment, where power lies, which influences the relationships among ecotourism, community development, and conservation of parks and protected areas. Therefore, it is crucial to examine the institutional and livelihoods impacts of park establishment on communities living within the park. Specifically, the establishment of a park affects local communities’ livelihoods, as they may face restrictions on extracting resources as their main source of living. It is necessary to explore institutional arrangements and how they affect livelihood sustainability.
This study was conducted in Tun Sakaran Marine Park (TSMP), Sabah, Malaysia. It is the first and the only marine protected area in Sabah to include private land and recognize native customary rights (NCR) especially in matters regarding land. This exploration is especially timely for the communities in TSMP, where some are entitled to native rights and some have been given usufruct rights by native rights holders and yet they are living in a gazetted park under state administration. It is important to examine the institutional arrangements for park management in this unique context for they are fundamental to the well-being of park’s communities. More generally, it is also an example of the common challenge of identifying an appropriate role for local communities in park establishment, especially in coastal settings.
A sustainable livelihoods (SL) approach was adopted as a framework to analyze the relationships among institutional processes and organizational structures (i.e. NCR, institutional arrangement), livelihood strategies and livelihood outcomes. In-depth household surveys and stakeholder interviews were undertaken during three months of fieldwork conducted in 2012. Although TSMP contains beautiful islands, and has many attributes and potential to be suitable for ecotourism development, it was found that the local communities are not involved in ecotourism. At the same time, dive operators are bringing divers and snorkelers to the park on a daily basis. Therefore, institutional support should be strengthened if ecotourism is to become a livelihood strategy for communities in TSMP.