Back to the Future: Using traditional knowledge to strengthen biodiversity conservation on Pohnpei


  • Raynor Bill
  • Mark Kostka


Pohnpei’s traditional belief system strongly supports con- servation, but years of foreign rule and influence, popula- tion growth, excessive US aid, shift to a cash economy and other factors have combined to weaken the island- ers’ conservation ethic. The result has been a rapid de- cline in biodiversity health, which has in turn led to a de- crease in quality of life and increased dependence on out- side assistance. Conventional government-led western style approaches to resource management were clearly failing, and in 1990, The Nature Conservancy, the local government, and other partners embarked on a program to involve the island’s traditional leaders and other cultural experts in the protection of the island’s upland forest wa- tershed. After a difficult start, the program has focused on combining Pohnpei culture and traditional knowledge with modern conservation planning and management prac- tices with some success. The result has been a unique community-based management approach that establish- es local control over spatially discreet resources that are legitimately considered to belong to the community and the return of resource management and use to an auto- nomous, consensus-based decision-making process. In a sense, the approach is an act of reconciliation, reconfirm- ing those aspects of both political systems that are con- sidered legitimate. For the participants, it has been a valu- able learning experience through which a uniquely “Pohn- pei-style” approach - suited specifically to the island’s so- cial and political conditions - is being developed.




How to Cite

Bill, R., & Kostka, M. (2008). Back to the Future: Using traditional knowledge to strengthen biodiversity conservation on Pohnpei. Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 1, 055–064. Retrieved from