TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE HELPS SAVE PACIFIC REEFS, WORLD CONFERENCE HEARS

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By Harlyne Joku The National, Papua New Guinea

DENPASSAR, Bali, Indonesia (October 27, 2000 - PINA Nius Online)---Traditional knowledge of fishing practices and ownership relating to marine resources has helped in the conservation of reefs in the Pacific Island states.

This includes Fiji, Palau and the Solomon Islands, a panel of representatives from the three countries told a news briefing at the Ninth International Symposium on Coral Reefs in Denpassar, Bali.

This compares with the other Asian countries, particularly the Philippines and Indonesia, where reef damage is excessive and custom and tradition is ignored due to the population's dire need to exploit fisheries for economic and survival gains, the panel said.

Bob Johaness, from Palau, said that Pacific Islands fishermen have a vast amount of traditional knowledge of marine life and behavior unknown to science.

He said Palau fishermen who were not scientists could name him 12,000 species of fish, their breeding grounds and seasonal movements, which are not available in the science literature around the world.

Noah Idenchong, also from Palau, said traditional knowledge of fishing practices supplemented by science research and data could be effective in reef conservation.

He said a traditional ban or moratorium called the 'bul' was applied by the villagers depending on the supply of fish in certain areas. They knew when to go out and fish, where to catch the fish and left certain fishing grounds for fish life to breed and recover.

A University of South Pacific Graduate marine biology student from Fiji, Alifereti Tawake, said that having grown up in a traditional society, he acquired traditional knowledge on fishing and had the interest to combine it with science.

He said currently, as a marine biologist, he is assisting local communities in Fiji identify problems and areas of coral that have been destroyed and to use the traditional system of 'tabu' to conserve the reefs so they can recover.

Mr. Tawake said combining traditional and science techniques, including the enforcing of tabu, has seen some positive results in the past three years, where clams and other marine food have recovered and are in abundance compared to previously.

Nelson Kile, a consultant from the Solomon Islands, also stressed that the Melanesian culture of leadership and the sense of responsibility over a community have helped with conservation of reefs in the Solomons. Mr. Kile said there is traditional knowledge and indicators which guide communities when to fish in certain areas. Mr. Kile said Melanesians, where the 'tabu' is used, have been practicing conservation methods for thousands of years.

"We can see that traditional knowledge has assisted us to this day in conserving our resources," Mr. Kile said.

He said more scientific knowledge, collection of data and research tied with traditional knowledge would greatly assist in the conservation of marine life.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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