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Reviewed by:
  • The Marshall Islands: Living Atolls Amidst the Living Sea; The National Biodiversity Report of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and: The Republic of the Marshall Islands' Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
  • Julianne Walsh Kroeker, Executive Director
The Marshall Islands: Living Atolls Amidst the Living Sea; The National Biodiversity Report of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, by the Team of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Santa Clarita, CA: St Hildegard Publishing Company, 2000. ISBN 982-9045-02-1; 345 pages, figures, maps, tables, glossary, bibliography, index; written in English, Marshallese, and Latin. US$45.00.
Includes The Republic of the Marshall Islands' Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, by the Republic of the Marshall Islands Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan Team. Santa Clarita, CA: St Hildegard Publishing Company, 2000. ISBN 982-9045-01-3, 24 pages, tables.

Increased awareness of global warming trends and the impact of sea level rise on fragile coral reef ecosystems led the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to sign the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity at the Earth Summit held in Brazil in 1992. With funding from the Global Environmental Facility of the United Nations Development Program ( UNDP), based in Suva, Fiji, the RMI Ministry of Resources and Development, through the Environmental Protection Agency, created a National Biodiversity Team to compile data from both traditional and western sources and to formulate a plan for conserving national resources. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is the first Pacific nation to complete a project of this scope and produce a comprehensive biodiversity report (Preface, Romulo Garcia, UNDP Resident Representative). [End Page 449]

The biodiversity team worked collaboratively and inclusively. Nancy Vander Velde, the primary author of this report, is an American researcher, writer, and artist who worked closely with Marshallese cultural experts, chiefs, government ministry and agency representatives, as well as with residents of six atolls where workshops were held to seek contemporary information from locals. The team's goal, as expressed in the acknowledgments, was to "compile and preserve important knowledge about the biodiversity of the Marshall Islands in a way that will be accessible to many people." The collective research process and the goal of the report are significant because this text is one of the first locally produced, Marshall Islands-centered resources available for students and educators in the Marshalls and beyond.

The authors' attempts at accessibility are successful in many ways. They note that much of the information that is compiled in the series of comprehensive tables listing flora, fauna, and marine life was previously unavailable to typical Marshall Islanders. The authors have made the content of the tables even more accessible by including three background chapters. These are written in a non-scientific, straightforward style and serve to introduce Marshallese readers to the foreign terminology used in global discourses of conservation. Unfamiliar terms are explained clearly with examples drawn from the atoll environment. Although it relies heavily on such terminology and employs a western-centered framework of ecological analysis, the report attempts to balance this dominant western discourse with numerous examples of Marshallese environmental knowledge. An obvious respect for Marshallese skills and knowledge is evidenced in the inclusion of Marshallese jabon kennan (proverbs) concerning characteristics of various fish and birds and their habitats, the explanation of the culturally significant conservation concept of mo (taboo), and the representation of traditional fishing methods (the chart on page 320 includes nearly one hundred). Other key contributions to making the report user friendly are the use of atoll maps, almost one hundred black and white drawings, and five colorful panoramic scenes with keys to identify species by their Latin and English names. Unfortunately, Marshallese names are not included.

The first third of the report (approximately one hundred pages) consists of three background, framing chapters. The first relates Marshallese ecological and geological history, historical exploitation of resources, and the settlement patterns of diverse species. The second chapter introduces western terminology and the various ecosystems and biological resources existing in the Marshall Islands. The third chapter encourages conservation practices and explores contemporary threats to biodiversity. Here a too-brief discussion of the impacts of the US nuclear testing program in the Marshalls is...


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pp. 449-452
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