Environmental Management

, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 985-997

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Indigenous Knowledge and Long-term Ecological Change: Detection, Interpretation, and Responses to Changing Ecological Conditions in Pacific Island Communities

  • Matthew LauerAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, San Diego State University Email author 
  • , Shankar AswaniAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology and IGP Marine Science, University of California-Santa Barbara


When local resource users detect, understand, and respond to environmental change they can more effectively manage environmental resources. This article assesses these abilities among artisanal fishers in Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands. In a comparison of two villages, it documents local resource users’ abilities to monitor long-term ecological change occurring to seagrass meadows near their communities, their understandings of the drivers of change, and their conceptualizations of seagrass ecology. Local observations of ecological change are compared with historical aerial photography and IKONOS satellite images that show 56 years of actual changes in seagrass meadows from 1947 to 2003. Results suggest that villagers detect long-term changes in the spatial cover of rapidly expanding seagrass meadows. However, for seagrass meadows that showed no long-term expansion or contraction in spatial cover over one-third of respondents incorrectly assumed changes had occurred. Examples from a community-based management initiative designed around indigenous ecological knowledge and customary sea tenure governance show how local observations of ecological change shape marine resource use and practices which, in turn, can increase the management adaptability of indigenous or hybrid governance systems.


Environmental change Indigenous ecological knowledge Remote sensing Marine historical ecology Seagrass Solomon Islands