ICCAs are natural and/or modified ecosystems containing significant biodiversity values, ecological services and cultural values, voluntarily conserved by Indigenous peoples and local communities, both sedentary and mobile, through customary laws or other effective means. ICCAs can include ecosystems with minimum to substantial human influence as well as cases of continuation, revival or modification of traditional practices or new initiatives taken up by communities in the face of new threats or opportunities. Several of them are inviolate zones ranging from very small to large stretches of land and waterscapes.
Three features car be taken as defining characteristics of ICCAs:
1) A community is closely connected to a well defined ecosystem (or to a species and its habitat) culturally and/or because of survival and dependence for livelihood;
2) The community management decisions and efforts lead to the conservation of the ecosystem’s habitats, species, ecological services and associated cultural values [even when the conscious objective of such management may be different than conservation per se, and be, for instance, related to material livelihood, water security, safeguarding of cultural and spiritual places, etc.].
3) The community is the major player in decision-making (governance) and implementation regarding the management of the site, implying that community institutions have the capacity to enforce regulations; in many situations there may be other stakeholders in collaboration or partnership, but primary decision-making rests with the concerned community.