FOR the first time yesterday, Fiji hosted the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas.
And in opening the week-long event, chief guest and President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said the involvement of local communities was paramount for a regional workshop to produce good results.
"Communities are the backbone of successful conservation strategies in the Pacific countries," Ratu Epeli said yesterday morning.
He explained that at the last meet, which was in Papua New Guinea in 2007, the role of the people was highlighted in depth.
"The 8th Conference laid down a five-year action strategy with precisely that theme, of empowering local people, communities and institutions to place them at the forefront of our collective conservation effort.
"We needed to empower ordinary people to take responsibility for the protection of their immediate environment for us to have any hope of implementing effective national or regional conservation strategies."