This paper presents the experience of institutional capacity building in environmental education, and the achievement of the participatory approach in environmental management for the Canadian International Development Agency funded project ‘Community-Based Conservation Management: China and Vietnam’ in Xiamen. The project has enhanced teaching capacity and applied research skills of the local training institutions with integrated social and physical science lessons in multiple levels of a post-secondary environmental education programme. The focus of the project was to integrate the local secondary and post-secondary schools environmental education plans. Approaches to promote public awareness on environmental conservation are also illustrated. The study highlights the conservation activities of the Community Based Conservation Management project in Xiamen to encourage the involvement of a variety of community groups, including university students, youth and women. In addition, it explores the social responsibility of the faculty as an essential link between the public and decision-makers for effective public involvement in environmental management. We argue that the success of public environmental education relies on institutional capacity building, interdisciplinary studies and community participation.


Environmental management is generally considered to be a government responsibility. Nevertheless, the formulation and implementation of government policies could be dysfunctional and inoperative, if lacking in the interests and active participation of the community in environmental management. Community participation in environmental management can be defined as a constant and reciprocal process, consisting of the following course of actions and objectives: 1) to increase public awareness of the decision-making process and related authoritative investigation mechanisms in solving ecological problems, 2) to inform the public of the formulation of action plans and related environmental policies, implementation of environmental assessments as well as research progress, and 3) to collect information from local residents on their views and priorities on resource uses, development alternatives and management strategies, as well as other information relevant to decision-making.

In China, the public is involved in environmental management through the approaches of direct inspection and supervision, public environmental inquiries and public opinion as well as direct or indirect involvement in governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and environmental lawsuits (Luo, 2000).Community participation could not only strengthen the effectiveness of environmental management, but also motivate the public to take initiatives in environmental conservation. While the achievements of community participation are promising, it is worthwhile noting three problems: Firstly, legislation on community participation is vague and broad in content, whereas the level of public environmental awareness remains elementary. Owing to specific cultural practices, the public understanding of environmental management is limited and insufficient. This further affects both public initiative and willingness to participate. Secondly, because of the additional time, energy and expense required for community participation, environmental managers may choose to overlook or simplify the community participation or pay only lip service instead. Lastly, communication and exchange of thoughts in environmental management is not promoted enough between the public and the government.

Development of public environmental awareness is the key to the success of community-based conservation management. In supporting this argument, this paper explores the development of environmental education and the promotion of community-based conservation management in Xiamen for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded project, “Community-Based Conservation Management (CBCM): China and Vietnam.” This project operated from October 1998 until September 2003, and involved seven participating post-secondary institutions from Canada, Vietnam and China. The project intended to increase institutional capacity for training and applied research in ecosystem health and conservation management at three partner universities in China and Vietnam, while promoting community-based initiatives and public understanding of sustainable consumption of natural resources. The framework of the CBCM project is illustrated in Figure 1.

Establishment of multiple levels of environmental education

Environmental conservation can never depend upon legislation alone. Only those with environmental awareness would be concerned and act for the benefit of our environment (Xu, 1999). In view of this, great efforts should be made to strengthen environmental education in order to augment public environmental awareness and thus supplement the enforcement of the relevant laws. As one of the main objectives of the project, the CBCM project emphasizes public education and the development of environmental education on multiple levels as follows.

Capacity building

From 1999 to 2003, thirteen Xiamen University faculty members were sent to Canada for advanced studies, including Environmental Sociology, Integrated Coastal Management and Sustainable Development. The Canadian training greatly enhanced communication with partner institutions and improved knowledge and skills in research and teaching. New courses were developed (Table 1) and are now being offered to university students. New environmental concepts were introduced and incorporated into the curriculum. In addition, thirty-one workshops were delivered by Canadian facilitators from participating universities on environmental management and project management. The Project Team as well as other community members advanced their understanding on both CBCM concepts and interdisciplinary approaches to local conservation management.

Renovation of course design and upgrading of teaching equipment

The application of state-of-the-art technologies to promote environmental education was one of the key objectives of the CBCM Project. The project focused on the inputs to better financing the teaching facilities and equipment. Over one million Yuan (RMB) was spent to upgrade teaching equipment. As result, Xiamen University has developed long-distance courses (Table 1) on environmental planning and management. These courses built up an effective network among the participating universities.

Environmental science is still a relatively new academic subject in China. Misconceptions about environmental science often lead to an overemphasis on physical science. One of the key notions insisted upon throughout the CBCM Project, was that the integration of physical and social sciences is vital for sound environmental management. Several new courses that focused on strengthening the integration of multiple subjects were developed and adopted.

Middle school environmental education

Education aims to be a human cultivation process for enhancing character and skills. Environmental education plays an important role in this process and the middle school level is a critical time for such education. The local middle school, Xiamen Science and Technology Middle School (XSTM), was selected as the base for initiating environmental education for middle school youth. The concepts of environmental protection and sustainable development were introduced to the students and spread to their families and to the public at large. Hence, public awareness of their involvement in city construction and environmental protection has been improved. Moreover, some of the project funding was provided to XSTM for related activities. As a result, a specific course titled “Education and Practices for Environmental Protection” was fully developed and is currently being taught.

Integration of environmental education with practices and local community involvement

The eastern coastline of Xiamen Island, as well as its adjacent land areas, was selected as the study area of the pilot project (see Figure 2). As environmental education for the middle school youth was also incorporated into the pilot project, the CBCM Project has achieved many, even unexpected, positive outcomes.

Youth Education Initiative (YEI) activities included the establishment of the Student Environmental Protection Association at Xiamen University and XSTM, with the incorporation of fieldwork and data collection in the school curriculum, and participation in three Mini-University summer camps in 2000, 2001 and 2002. It was through a form of ‘learning by doing’ that the students took part in community environmental management. The Mini-University, in one to two week classes, provided environmental and associated conservation training to middle school students. These students have voluntarily become promoters of environmental conservation. Linkages among universities and middle schools, universities and community, students and community have been greatly enhanced.

Approaches and methods for community involvement

Capacity building of community involvement in conservation management will greatly improve public awareness of environmental protection and promote their involvement in conservation management. A series of activities were conducted in the study area of the pilot project:

University students' involvement in conservation management

As the large population size of China presents a challenge in environmental management, sound environmental education needs to be further developed in higher education. University students are expected to play a key role in the development of environmental conservation. In view of this, the Project Team has conducted various environmental activities on campus and in the wider community, including a survey on the tourism resource value and public awareness of Xiamen's eastern coastal zone, promotional activities related to World Environment Day, Earth Day, Tree Planting Day and involvement in the Green City Exposition. The newsletter, “Green Wind,” which highlights the activities with topics on conservation management themes is published four times every year and delivered to the community.

Youth active involvement in conservation management

It was expected that youth involvement in conservation management would directly affect their families and promote the involvement of the public. Based on this chain effect, the Project Team focused not only on the development of environmental education for youth, but also on student environmental activities. The XSTM published a book titled “Blue Sky, Blue Sea” in 2000. This book kept a detailed record of the student activities in community conservation as well as their achievements. The Xiamen Municipal Government paid great attention to these activities. The vice mayor of Xiamen, together with officials from the related departments, visited the XSTM for a meeting with the students to find out the problems that the students had discovered during their environmental activities. From the meeting, the vice mayor and the officials had the opportunity to incorporate the voice of Xiamen youth into their tentative development plans for Xiamen city. Through these activities, youth have gradually become an important community group to promote the desire for a clean and healthy environment.

Involvement of women in conservation management

Women comprise an important group within the community. Because of the special roles women have played in the community, their environmental protection awareness affects the success of CBCM. The Project Team conducted a case study from December 2000 to March 2001. Forty villagers in twenty typical families, including rich and poor, both sexes, and representing different professions were chosen for interviews. Suggestions for addressing the problems were also offered by a gender task force. This case study greatly encouraged the involvement of women, advanced family education about environmental protection, and succeeded in applying some gender analysis tools.

From April 2001, four workshops pertaining to gender in development and education were organized, as well as a gender study tour in Canada, including the participation at a conference, ‘Women's Studies: Asian Connections’ in Vancouver, Canada. Furthermore, at Xiamen University, a new curriculum titled ‘Women and Development’ was offered to graduates and undergraduates with an aim to increase female understanding on gender and environmental protection. The rapid increase in women's environmental awareness has produced a significant effect on the families. This is considered to be one of the most fundamental, direct and effective strategies of environmental conservation management.

Implementation of community participation

In China, public involvement in environmental planning and management remains relatively weak. The Project Team conducted a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) in the study area to explore the methods for community participation and to implement the community participation mechanisms. Community participation is the main goal of the SEA. The mechanism of public involvement for SEA was developed in three steps.

Identify the key stakeholders

Good relations needed to be established with multi-stakeholders, especially with those having weaker political power, such as peasants, fishermen, seniors and women.

Carry out the action plan for community participation

Throughout the pilot project, individual interviews, questionnaires, telephone hot lines, public meetings, announcement boards and CBCM activities were used as tools of public involvement. Many meetings of government consultants, reviews on urban construction plans and SEA research were conducted together with three large-scale questionnaires and related surveys. Local people attended large-scale public activities on environmental protection activities. The SEA results and CBCM concepts were showcased by local media.

Assess, monitor and adjust the plan

Public participation is a constantly changing process and subjected to adjustments based on review of the community's participatory approaches, the experiences and lessons gained, as well as feedback from the public.

Through community involvement in the different phases of SEA, the linkages between environmental researchers and the community were strengthened, scientific expertise was integrated with the experience and knowledge of the community, the assessment process was improved, and scientists were offered more access to communication with the government. Policy-makers have started to incorporate the public voice and strengthen the public environmental education and public participation. A community involvement mechanism of conservation management within the framework of “community-scientists-managers” (Figure 1) has been developed. Decision-making has progressed in the CBCM towards protecting the environment of the southeast coast and expanding it to the entire Xiamen. Some significant outcomes are: a) the greenbelt along the coastal road was re-planned to build the shelterbelt and to recover the capacity of a windbreak and sand settlement during storms; b) some buildings and drainage pipes that could cause sand beach erosion were removed or renovated; c) a report titled “Issues and Suggestions on Developing the Eastern Coastal Area of Xiamen Island” was submitted to the government; d) the construction of the coastal road in the third phase was moved inland in order to conserve the sand beach and shelterbelt; and e) regulations on Marine Management and the Marine Functional Zoning were enforced.


The successful implementation of CBCM should emphasize not only the importance of environmental education, with an aim to improve public environmental awareness, but also the creation of opportunities for community involvement in environmental conservation management. The implementation of the Xiamen CBCM project has proved that environmental education should not only be interdisciplinary but also ongoing. Furthermore, community participation and public environmental education are the key factors for better environmental management.

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