Project Contributor: Nancy Vander Velde with Jorelik Tibon
In previous times, tribal chiefs could designate an island, a section of land or reef as being mo, or “taboo”. These areas were off-limits to people in general, being reserved for only certain personages and purposes. As in other countries, however, changes in biodiversity and culture have continued to increase in recent years. The Marshall Islands’ biodiversity has become threatened by invasive species, urbanization, development, and climate change. Caring for traditional resources has often been neglected as the society has moved into more contemporary systems of economics and governance. Over the past few years, however, some marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in the Marshall Islands, and continue to be established on some remote atolls such as Rongalap, Ailingnae and Rongerik. The project “Collection and Documentation of Traditional Conservation Sites”, based in Majuro in the Marshall Islands and supported in part by the local government, documents the traditional knowledge and beliefs linked to traditional conservation sites and other traditionally taboo areas in the Marshall Islands. The Woja Conservation Area was recently established in part of Majuro Atoll, the capital of the modern Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Being the population centre, it is probably the most visible of the current marine protected areas in the country. There are roadside signs that serve to raise public awareness of the concept of modern protected areas.
Jorelik Tibon, who was Project Coordinator of the Marshall Islands Biodiversity Project, resides in the land adjacent to the MPA. He expresses his point of view about the current management of MPAs as follows: ‘Not enough attention is being given to understanding the new challenges of protected areas from the perspectives of the caretakers of these resources. In the past, when the authority and the law were vested with the ruling iroij, or high chiefs, the people did observe sanctions and orders issued by the iroij. Now law and order are held by constitutional governments on the national and local level, and therefore the governments need to be part of successful management of mo along with the iroij. Since the national constitution recognizes the rights of the alaps