Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 959–971 | Cite as

Culturally grounded responses to coastal change on islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, northwest Pacific Ocean

  • Patrick D. NunnEmail author
  • John Runman
  • Margie Falanruw
  • Roselyn Kumar
Original Article


The characterization of Pacific Islands as especially vulnerable to climate change often undervalues the cultural resilience of their inhabitants. On many Micronesian islands, coastal stone-built structures are the most visible type of tangible cultural resilience and have endured for perhaps 1000 years or more. A distinction is recognized between older structures, likely built in response to sea-level rise during the Medieval Warm Period (AD 750–1250), and more recent structures that likely took advantage of the lowered sea level during the Little Ice Age (AD 1350–1800). Detailed studies of Micronesian responses to recent coastal change were undertaken in the islands of Yap (Proper). The positioning and maintenance of coastal men’s houses (faluw) reflect either pragmatic responses to unmanageable coastal change or a cultural determination to resist this. The long history of traditional responses to climate variability and coastal change for terrestrial food production on Yap is also discussed. Future adaptation pathways on Yap and other higher islands in Micronesia need to combine scientific knowledge of climate change with traditional responses to historical change, including the stonework tradition and the cultural determination to resist undesired coastal change.


Pacific Island Micronesia Coastal change Climate change Adaptation 



The field surveys that stimulated this study were seed funded by the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia) and supported by the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia. The assistance of Augustine Kohler, Francis Reg, Falownug Kenmed and Kenneth Fanaguchel is especially acknowledged. For information and hospitality, we thank James Raech (Bechyal), Joseph Waayan and Lewis Yifith (Leang), Andrew Waayan (Riy), Mark Mangarfir (Ngariy) and Thomas Ganang (Gachpar).  The generosity of the people of Yap with which PN and RK were previously unfamiliar is something they (and Petra Nunn) will never forget.

Supplementary material

10113_2016_950_MOESM1_ESM.jpg (3 mb)
Fig. 1 Rear of the Dirrak men’s house (faluw) at Wanyaan on Gagil Island showing the top tier of the 400-m2 stone platform (chabog) on which the house platform (deaf) of smaller stones was created prior to faluw construction (JPEG 3071 kb)
10113_2016_950_MOESM2_ESM.jpg (2.9 mb)
Fig. 2 Causeway (gaachath) leading to the Falaras men’s house (faluw) at Wanyaan Village on Gagil Island involves solid structures and bridges to permit water movement. The faluw (not visible in this photo) is built on a stone platform (chabog) on the artificial island in the middle ground. Mangroves are being encouraged to colonize the area to reduce exposure of the stone structures (JPEG 2951 kb)
10113_2016_950_MOESM3_ESM.jpg (2.9 mb)
Fig. 3 One of the wide stone pathways (kanawo’ ni malang) just inland of Gaanu’ang Village on Rumung Island (JPEG 2968 kb)
10113_2016_950_MOESM4_ESM.jpg (829 kb)
Fig. 4 Future sea-level rise in the Federated States of Micronesia according to projections in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (BOM 2014; Church et al. 2013) (JPEG 828 kb)
10113_2016_950_MOESM5_ESM.xlsx (10 kb)
Table 1 Common forms of indigenous stonework on the coasts of the islands of Micronesia (XLSX 9 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick D. Nunn
    • 1
    Email author
  • John Runman
    • 2
  • Margie Falanruw
    • 3
  • Roselyn Kumar
    • 4
  1. 1.University of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydoreAustralia
  2. 2.Historic Preservation Office, Government of YapYapFederated States of Micronesia
  3. 3.Yap Institute of Natural Science, Federated States of MicronesiaYapFederated States of Micronesia
  4. 4.Pacific StudiesUniversity of the South PacificSuvaFiji Islands

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