Incorporating Fishermen's Local Knowledge and Behavior into Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for Designing Marine Protected Areas in Oceania

Article excerpt

Drawing on our experience in establishing marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Roviana and Vonavona Lagoons, New Georgia, Solomon Islands, this paper shows how a geographical information system (GIS) database can be used to incorporate socio-spatial information, such as indigenous knowledge and artisanal fishing data, along with biophysical and other information to assist in MPA design. We argue that converting peoples' knowledge and socioecological behavior into geo-spatial data allows researchers to formulate hypotheses regarding human responses to inter- and intra-habitat variability, along with other marine ecological processes, and help in the designing and implementation of resource management strategies in a cost-effective and participatory way, bridging the gap between indigenous and Western cognitions of seascapes. More generally, we show the significance of combining spatial tools, anthropological fieldwork, and social and natural science methods for studying artisanal fisheries with the goal of aiding the design of marine protected areas.

Key words: Geographical Information Systems (GIS), indigenous ecological knowledge, fishing, community-based marine protected areas (CBMPAs), Solomon Islands, Oceania


Environmental social scientists are increasingly realizing the importance of geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) techniques (often referred to collectively asgeomatics) in studying diverse spatio-temporal dimensions of human-environmental relationships (Aldenderfer and Maschner 1996; Conant 1994; Nyerges and Green 2000) and in employing such knowledge to design and implement resource management strategies (Bowman et al. 2004). Spatio-temporal, multi-dimensional GIS, and remote sensing data can serve to verify, expand, or reveal site-specific or regional patterns of human demographic, political, economic, socio-cultural, and ecological dynamics that may not be obvious to researchers on the ground. The use of GIS and RS techniques in tandem with social and natural science research promises to deepen our understanding of important anthropological questions. Examples include: (1) how spatial patterns of grazing pressures across agro-pastoral landscapes are determined by different socio-political and economic processes (Turner 2003); (2) how demographic and social class differentiation shifts may influence deforestation patterns (Moran et al. 1994; Sussman et al. 1994); (3) how diverse ethnie groups culturally construct the spatio-temporal characteristics of their landscapes (Jiang 2003; Mark and Turk 2003; Robbins2003); (4) how indigenous land and sea tenure systems are spatially distributed in particular regions and how they change across time (Mohamed and Ventura 2000); and (5) how the spatio-temporal mapping of indigenous ecological knowledge can foster biodiversity conservation (Rundstrom 1995;Balrametal. 2004).

The use of GIS for mapping marine resources for management and conservation is a growing field of interest (e.g., Bates and James 2002; Mumby et al. 1995; Turner and Klaus 2005; Villa et al. 2002), although local expert ecological knowledge is rarely incorporated into a GIS for marine resource management purposes. In the context of artisanal fisheries management, geomatics coupled with ethnographic and marine science research proved useful in delineating and cataloguing reefs belonging to the Miskito Indians in coastal Nicaragua (Nietschmann 1995), for mapping fishing spots in southeastern Brazil and helping local fishermen use this knowledge to defend their territories from industrial trawlers (Begossi 2001), for systematizing indigenous ecological knowledge into geo-spatial data to guide fishery management in Bang Saphan Bay, Thailand (Anuchiracheeva et al. 2003), and for mapping indigenous knowledge regarding bumphead parrotfish nursery, schooling, burrowing, and capture areas in the Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands, and for using this geo-spatial data for scientific research and the designing of marine protected areas (Aswani and Hamilton 2004a). …