The 607 islands of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) occupy roughly 270 square miles of land. That number may seem small, but those islands are strung across a million-square-mile chunk of the Pacific Ocean — and The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with the people who live there to advance global conservation.
The FSM contains some of the world’s most vibrant ecosystems. Its incredible spectrum of coral reefs and fish don’t just attract tourists looking to sail or scuba dive: that marine biodiversity also provides the backbone of a region’s economy, nourishment for people all over the world and the source of an entire region’s identity. And now, actions being taken in each of FSM’s four states — Pohnpei, Kosrae, Yap and Chuuk — are contributing to an environmental movement with global implications.
The FSM is an important player in the Micronesia Challenge, an ambitious initiative to conserve 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.
The Nature Conservancy has become an essential partner in safeguarding the nation’s resources. Through the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and Micronesian nations, we’ve helped secure $2 million annually in public funding for conservation. And through national-level environmental planning and the creation of new learning networks for conservationists, we’re demonstrating how to create the conditions Asia-Pacific countries need to develop their own conservation infrastructure.
For example, we helped the FSM design and implement a nationwide network of marine protected areas that will serve as one of the building blocks of the Micronesia Challenge. By mobilizing sustainable funding and providing isolated island communities with the expertise they need to preserve their resources,we’re making local investments that are themselves inspiring further conservation, across a region and across the planet.
Here’s how some of those local investments are helping.
The Conservancy has long been a presence on the lush island of Pohnpei, which houses the FSM’s capital, Palikir. Although our work on Pohnpei began with protecting the island’s interior forests and freshwater resources, our work now extends well into the island’s waters. In 1999, we helped pass a law that established 11 marine protected areas around the island and on several surrounding atolls.
Our ongoing involvement with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei (CSP), a partner organization launched in 1998, has been a major reason for our success with in Pohnpei. We helped them to create the Nahtik Marine Sanctuary, a 58-acre stretch of nearby coral reefs where we spent years working with local communities to design a sustainable management system that would protect both marine life and people’s livelihoods.
We also supported the CSP to revitalize 2,300-acre Ant Atoll, an important site for nesting seabirds, countless fish species, sea turtles and the coconut crab. By developing creative systems for enforcement to prevent illegal fishing, we’re also helping Pohnpeians to protect Ant, which was recently selected as both a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a state-protected area.
Our site-based work has yielded some major successes, but we realize that — in order to have the maximum impact throughout the region — we’re most effective when we’re mobilizing others to help us expand the conservation movement. Through our work with groups like the CSP and Pacific Invasives Learning Network, we’re working to limit deforestation. And by connecting Pohnpeians with organizers from Palau’s Babeldaob Watershed Alliance, we’re jump-starting freshwater conservation and making past successes go even further.
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.
Over the past several years, the Conservancy has been involved in ongoing efforts to survey marine life around Kosrae and provide the planning necessary to protect the region’s crucial coral reefs. We helped establish the Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization, which is now a leading force for conservation on the island.
We have also been working with local communities to protect the world’s last native forest of ka trees. By bringing expertise from throughout the Conservancy to Kosrae, we’ve been able to start work on a groundbreaking framework for protecting Kosrae’s terrestrial resources.
In 2009, with input from the Conservancy, state of 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 by helping Yap design and develop a new MPA, we’re helping to conserve an area of the Pacific equivalent to the state of Massachusetts.
We’ve also helped local partners on Yap initiate community enforcement efforts around Yap’s Nimpal Channel Marine Conservation Area. Through a grant provided by the Micronesia Conservation Trust — a Conservancy-launched partner that’s stimulating environmental investment throughout the region — Yap is now funding and creating surveillance teams that will monitor and preserve fish populations.
Chuuk is well known to divers as well as war buffs familiar with its role as a major Japanese base of operations during World War II. Through Micronesians in Island Conservation, a now-independent learning network that the Conservancy helped establish, the Conservancy played an important role in launching the Chuuk Conservation Society. By broadening support for conservation through the FSM, we’re helping to fulfill the vision of the Micronesia Challenge: the mobilization of an entire region toward protecting marine resources that the entire world needs to survive.
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.