One People One Reef

LOCATION: Micronesia

SUMMARY: One-People-One-Reef is a collaboration between a multidisciplinary science team and Pacific-island communities in the outer islands of Micronesia, working together to integrate traditional knowledge and conservation practices with modern science in order to find comprehensive solutions to declining fisheries and degraded reefs. Rising sea levels threaten coastal areas worldwide, and tropical low-lying islands are at particular risk, as poor fishing practices, inadequate waste handling, rising fuel costs, and declining food security compound already dire challenges. The human population and land surface of the Yap islands are small, but the area of ocean they autonomously govern and manage is vast. These island communities represent some of the last remaining, intact island cultures, and they are at a tipping point—still comparatively healthy, but poised at the brink of accelerating decline. The One People One Reef scientific team collaborates with fishermen, community leaders, elders, and youth to understand the patterns of ecological and cultural decline and to develop management and conservation plans (and local teams to monitor them). Unlike many conservation programs in tropical marine systems, these efforts emphasize the restoration of traditional practices over establishing no-take reserves, and provide innovative models of sustainable ocean management that could broadly inform policies in many other regions worldwide.

PROBLEM SPACE: Global climate change and rising sea-levels threaten coastal areas world-wide, and low-lying islands of the tropics are at particular risk. This threat is compounded in many areas by poor fishing practices, inadequate waste handling, rising fuel costs, and cultural degradation. The impacts include declining food security, eutrophication, deteriorating reefs, expanding public health issues, coastal erosion and weakened local governance systems. We have observed this scenario throughout the Yap outer islands, and there is evidence that it is wide-spread across the Pacific. Cultural degradation is on the forefront of accelerating these problems, and revitalizing traditional management will have the fastest and deepest impacts. While total human population and land area of the Yap outer islands is comparatively small, the area of ocean these people autonomously govern and manage is vast. These island communities represent some of the last remaining unique island cultures. They maintain significant aspects of their traditional relationship to their marine resources. These islands are at a tipping point; still comparatively healthy, yet poised at the brink of accelerating declines into ecological conditions from which recovery will be far more difficult or impossible. Now is the time to work together towards healthy reefs, healthy people and cultural integrity.

SOLUTION: Indigenous ways of knowing and stewardship have protected and nurtured ecosystems for millennia. One-People-One-Reef is a partnership between scientists and Yap (Federated States of Micronesia) outer-island people; some of the most isolated communities in the world. It is a strategy founded on the premise that successful conservation and restoration in these islands depends on integrating traditional frameworks informed by modern science to provide a current ecological context for sustainable ocean management. Our team works with fishermen, leaders, elders and youth to reconstruct the history of declines (cultural and ecological), and traditional practices. We help describe patterns of decline (including human health) and changes in fishing practices, and tie those to ecological patterns we see on the reefs. We collaborate to understand these patterns and ways to address them. Community leaders ultimately develop the management and conservation plans, and teams to monitor them. We began on Falalop (Ulithi Atoll); success there brought One-People-One-Reef to three other islands, and we have requests to work throughout Yap's outer islands. Unlike many conservation programs in tropical marine systems, these efforts emphasize indigenous knowledge and restoration of traditional practices over establishing no-take reserves, and provides a model that will broadly inform conservation and fishery management.

CONTACT: Nicole Crane, [email protected]

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