Micronesia and Melanesia: People navigate into the future using knowledge of traditions and nature

Lake Ngardok in Palau

Lake Ngardok in Palau; Photo: Chiara Franco, The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy recently completed a four-year ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) project, in partnership with international, regional and local NGOs (among which IUCN, Rare and the Micronesia Conservation Trust), international research institutes (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research- UFZ and Free University of Amsterdam – Institute for Environmental Studies -VU-IVM) and multiple state and national government agencies. The overarching goal was to increase the resilience of communities and ecosystems to climate change through the recognition of the crucial role played by ecosystem services for human wellbeing. This has led to increased capacity to adapt to climate change across ten communities in Micronesia and Melanesia.

Spatial planning, economic and participatory vulnerabilities assessment tools were integrated to build and enforce partnership with the communities, local organisations, international institutions, governments whilst maintaining high the attention on ecosystem services resilience. The process revealed a world of traditional knowledge that together with modern technologies can support the efforts for climate change adaptations.

The project identified some of the best practices for applying EbA that support coastal protection, food and water security in small island countries, while leveraging successful strategies across the region.

Among the several EbA activities implemented through the overarching project are the climate smart development plan and community revegetation project around Lake Ngardok in Melekeok (Republic of Palau), and the Mejit’s community-led breadfruit mapping and planting project that contributed towards the identification and designation of a terrestrial protected area in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Climate-smart housing development plan for Melekeok State

Melekeok State developed the region’s first statewide climate-smart housing development plan. This plan includes guidance for upland housing, lease development, and for updating existing homes, directing future development in Melekeok to be more resilient to the anticipated impacts of climate change. The aim is to achieve sustainable land-use planning in areas vulnerable to commercial development, ensuring protection of valuable coastal and marine resources.

Participatory 3D model in the Republic of Palau; Photo: Johannes Fӧrster, UFZ

Geotagging and traditional knowledge for breadfruit trees in the Marshall Islands

In the Marshall Islands, the local women’s group, Ainikien Kora In Mejit (AKIM), led the mapping and assessment of the breadfruit trees location and health status by geotagging each tree on the island. Breadfruit trees are culturally and commercially valuable, they can be used for firewood, making canoes, food and income. The data were converted to maps that incorporated traditional knowledge and identified areas that were more/less suitable for planting, e.g., areas vulnerable to climate impacts. The project demonstrates how traditional knowledge and scientific mapping can be combined to support community resilience, and generate income to support women. This effort resulted in the planting of 150 breadfruit trees of local varieties, with strategic locations for planting identified through the mapping process.

Marshall Islands, Mejit: Women working on seasonal calendar; Photo: Marshall Islands Conservation Society

All in all, the project succeded in having a sustainable impact on the region by creating enabling conditions for supporting EbA policies. Examples are the work with governments to consider expanding their water utilities’ mandates to include watershed management or encouraging internal revenue streams and the introduction of financial mechanisms to support climate change actions. Results from the project also lay the foundation for the current EbA projects that The Nature Conservancy is implementing in Micronesia in collaboration with women led NGOs.