Of all the Micronesia jurisdictions, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is the largest and has the most vibrant ecosystems and diverse cultures. The country is made up of four states — Pohnpei, Kosrae, Yap and Chuuk — where 17 indigenous languages are spoken. It encompasses a variety of habitats, from Chuuk’s low-lying atolls to the dwarf cloud forest in Pohnpei —one of the wettest places on Earth.
The FSM is an important player in the Micronesia Challenge, an ambitious initiative to conserve at least 30 percent of near-shore marine resources and 20 percent of terrestrial resources across the entire region of Micronesia. As one of five participating governments, the FSM has dedicated an unprecedented amount of energy and funding to environmental protection.
By mobilizing sustainable funding and providing isolated island communities with the expertise they need to preserve their resources, The Nature Conservancy is making local investments and testing innovative science-based approaches that are inspiring further conservation, across the FSM and across the region. For example, we are helping the FSM to design and implement a nationwide network of protected areas that will serve as one of the building blocks of the Micronesia Challenge.
Here’s how some of those local investments are helping.
The Conservancy has a long presence on the lush island of Pohnpei, which houses the FSM’s capital, Palikir. Although our presence on Pohnpei began with a project to protect the island’s interior forests and freshwater resources, our work now extends well into the island’s surrounding waters.
The Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP) has been a major reason for our success in Pohnpei. The Conservancy helped create CSP in 1998, and we continue to be involved with the organization. With our support, CSP created the Nahtik Marine Sanctuary, a 58-acre stretch of coral reefs where we spent years working with local communities to design a sustainable management system that will protect marine life and people’s livelihoods.
We also supported CSP’s work to revitalize the 2,300-acre Ant Atoll, an important site for nesting seabirds, countless fish species, sea turtles and coconut crabs. By developing creative systems for enforcement to prevent illegal fishing, we’re also helping Pohnpeians to protect Ant, which was selected as both a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a state-protected area.
On land, Pohnpei is launching the first Pacific water fund, using a highly successful tool developed by the Conservancy in Latin America. Communities in the upland forests of Nett Municipality have agreed to restore and protect the watershed that provides water for 70 percent of the island in return for a portion of customers’ water utility fees. This is an exciting first step that will open the door for similar funds throughout the Pacific.
Our site-based work has yielded some major successes, but we realize that we’re most effective when we’re mobilizing others to help us expand the conservation movement.
Our experience in protecting Micronesia’s freshwater is also paying dividends in Kosrae, another FSM state. A volcanic island with plentiful natural resources — both onshore and off — Kosrae has been an important site for the Conservancy's work in Micronesia.
The Conservancy helped establish the first conservation easement in Micronesia when we joined with Kosraean land-owners and other international partners to complete a unique land protection deal that will safeguard 78 acres of forested wetland in the Yela Valley. The Yela conservation easement will preserve the largest remaining stand of Terminalia carolinensis (“ka”) trees in the world, as well as the endangered Micronesian pigeon and several plant species found nowhere else in the world.
Forests such as Yela are vital, because they act as natural water filters, trapping sediments that could harm nearby corals and mangroves — and the fish that depend on both. The forest is part of the 1,400-acre Yela Valley — an “unusually pristine tropical watershed,” according to a 2006 assessment by the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. Now the forest will be protected in perpetuity, and the families who are its traditional owners will see benefits from sustainable tourism.
Yap, more than any other area in Micronesia, has preserved its rich cultural traditions including the use of their famous stone money for ceremonial exchanges. Known as the world’s best place to see and swim with manta rays, Yap is very popular with divers and snorkelers. From a conservation standpoint, Yap is an exceptional example of traditional conservation practices being incorporated into a legal framework for protected areas.
The Conservancy works with our local partner, Yap Community Action Program, to catalyze community-based marine conservation. Through our conservation action planning (CAP) process, we helped establish the Nimpal Marine Conservation Area. Well-known for its community-based enforcement program, Nimpal has the highest fish populations of any marine protected area in Micronesia. Other protected areas established through the CAP process include Ngulu Atoll, Balabaat Marine Protected Area and Fanif Marine Conservation Area.
In 2009, with input from the Conservancy, Yap passed a law that set aside an 8,000-square-mile stretch of ocean as a manta ray sanctuary. The waters off the 16 main islands of Yap are an incredibly important habitat for manta rays, and divers from around the world come to dive with these majestic creatures. By helping Yap protect mantas and their habitat, we’re helping to conserve an area of the Pacific equivalent to the state of Massachusetts.
After a Conservancy-supported learning exchange to Palau, leaders from Tamil Village returned home and rallied the 12 villages in their municipality to establish the Tamil Resource Conservation Trust. Traditional leaders in Tamil are now reviewing plans for what will be Yap’s first municipality-wide conservation area. The Tamil Marine Conservation Area will protect important food resources such as fish, clams, lobsters and turtles, as well as key habitats like coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds.
Chuuk is a complex system of coral reefs, islands and islets that lies in the geographic center of the Micronesia region. Chuuk lagoon is one of the largest and deepest lagoons in the world and has played a major role in the state’s history. Chuuk is well known to divers, as well as to war buffs familiar with its role as a major Japanese base of operations during World War II.
The Conservancy has been instrumental in community-based conservation efforts in Parem Island, which is now a model for similar conservation initiatives across Chuuk. We also played an important role in launching the Chuuk Conservation Society through Micronesians in Island Conservation, a peer-learning network that was designed with support from the Conservancy and serves to strengthen the organizational and technical skills of leaders and their organizations so they can better protect important natural areas.
See photos from Nimpal at the launch of a new surveillance raft for enforcement of their marine protected area.
One guy, zero crew and 6.71 million square kilometers of unforgettable conservation stories.