Sunset at a beach in the Arnavon Islands, part of the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands is a remote Pacific archipelago strung southeast of Papua New Guinea, form a double chain of 922 islands covering more than 835,000 square miles of ocean.

Working Group:
Assessing Biocultural Indicators

Pacific Island communities face unprecedented challenges in conserving natural resources and maintaining human health and well-being. In these place-based communities, the integrated social, economic, cultural and environmental connections between people and nature – known as biocultural indicators — are widely believed to play a critical role in improving and maintaining the resilience of both human and ecological communities. Can a consistent methodology to identify, measure and monitor relevant biocultural indicators improve conservation and human-well being outcomes in Pacific Island nations?

Photo: Bridget Besaw | More Info
Photo: Ian Shive

Working Group Summary

Improving Conservation and Human Well-Being in Pacific Island Nations

Pacific Island biocultural systems, including local ecological knowledge, resource management practices, complex social networks, and governance systems developed over time, have been critical in supporting community resilience and are continually evolving. Gaining a better understanding of these biocultural indicators, such as richness of native trees that have importance to local community in terms of customary beliefs, traditions, or uses (measured on farms and/or at the community level), is urgent. The Assessing Biocultural Indicators Working Group will work with communities to use local knowledge-practice-belief systems and connections to place to define and measure indicators of local biocultural state and empower local people to take direct action that promotes protection of the natural resources that are essential for cultural practice, food security, clean water, livelihoods and good health.

Learn about the Challenge

Photo: Ian Shive

The Challenge

Understanding Biocultural Indicators, Connections and Feedbacks

Across the Pacific, per capita food production and natural ecosystems have declined due to population growth, inadequate investment in agriculture, water and land scarcity, increasing costs, disasters, and urban migration coupled with increased dependence on imported foods. Given these changes and projected climate impacts, subsistence agriculture and coastal fisheries are projected to fail to support the food needs of many Pacific countries by 2030.

While substantial work has gone into conceptualizing resilience, methods for measuring and fostering resilience capacity are still elusive, in part because it is a continuous, complex, and dynamic process and operates differentially at multiple scales.

A major challenge in understanding resilience in place-based communities, such as many of those in the Pacific Islands, is that it requires an interdisciplinary framework that explicitly recognizes the links between sociocultural and biophysical characteristics and processes. A growing body of research has begun to explore some of these links by identifying socioeconomic drivers of coral reef state. However, this research largely lacks consideration of factors likely most critical to Pacific Island community resilience: biocultural connections.

Understanding biocultural indicators, connections and feedbacks requires overcoming two primary challenges:

  • development of consistent methodologies to identify and measure them; and
  • development of appropriate models to explore how their benefits are affected by social and environmental pressures.

Gaining this understanding is critical because too often resource management initiatives lacking a cultural context – an understanding of relevant biocultural indicators – for resource use have failed to achieve desired results and, worse, have sometimes weakened local, place-based action and responsibility.

Read about this Inquiry

With a shortage of flat coastal land, the Kia community builds homes directly over their reef in the Arnavon Islands. While the setting is picturesque, chief Nelson Bako laments that fish immediately in front of the village are contaminated by sewage—as well as depleted. Fishermen paddle several hours to reach clean, productive fishing grounds.

The Inquiry

Improving Methodologies for Community-Based Management Planning

Pacific Island biocultural systems, including the local ecological knowledge, resource management practices, complex social networks, and governance systems developed over time, have been critical in supporting community resilience through crises and are continually evolving. Through synthesis of the literature and comparative data analyses from on-going projects across a wide range of Pacific Island communities, the Assessing Biocultural Indicators Working Group inquiry will assess and identify:

  • Appropriate biocultural indicators and measures;
  • How indicators can be scaled from local to global levels;
  • Whether or not there is a suite of locally relevant indicators that is comparable across Pacific Island sites;
  • The relationships between pressures, management responses, ‘biocultural state’, and benefits to human and ecological well-being in Pacific Island communities;
  • How social and environmental pressures might alter future biocultural states and benefits.

At local scales, the Working Group’s results will enhance resilience thinking in existing management plans and management planning at SNAPP Working Group sites (including the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) field sites in Fiji, Hawaiʻi and Solomon Islands) and partner initiatives across the Pacific.

Effective management of landscapes for biodiversity and human well-being calls for multidimensional biocultural indicators that address process as well as pattern in biocultural landscapes and are feasible for local stakeholder implementation.

The Working Group intends to improve methodologies for community-based management planning that achieve more resilient communities by taking a biocultural approach that better encompasses Pacific Islander connections with nature.

Meet the Assessing Biocultural Indicators Team

Photo: Djuna Iveriegh | More Info

The Team

The Assessing Biocultural Indicators Team

SNAP