Cook Islands Biodiversity & Ethnobiology Database

Last modified by Mike on 2021/12/30 08:21

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Purpose: To assist the Cook Islands government meet their local, CBD, CITES and CMS objectives using local ethno-ecological knowledge systems through recording, transmission, formalisation and application to improve island community adaptive strategies for biodiversity management, reporting and monitoring in the Cook Islands in the context of significant demographic and climate change and subsequent ecosystem change.

This is a collaborative project between CSAC, the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust and community groups on the islands of the Cooks. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust is a government agency responsible for collecting traditional and scientific information on local plants and animals and making this information available to decision makers and the general public. The project aims to support the use of scientific biodiversity data and local ethno-ecological knowledge to improve adaptive strategies for biodiversity management, reporting and monitoring in the Cook Islands in the context of significant demographic and climate change and subsequent ecosystem change. The project has four basic components. Effective contribution in support of the implementation of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), as well as related targets set by countries rich in biodiversity but constrained in resources.

The habitability by humans and other species of small Pacific islands, such as the Cook Islands, is threatened by climate change, including rising sea levels and severe climatic events but also seasonal average changes in sea and land temperature and rainfall. Some impacts already observed are shifting rainfall patterns, coral bleaching, altered productivity and new invasive species. Poor people, particularly women and children, bear the greatest burden from these changes. Previous ethnobiological research conducted by Vougioukalou and Fischer on the island of Atiu demonstrates that ethnobiological knowledge of local people is important for understanding human interaction within a changing ecosystem. Despite the importance this knowledge is under threat as traditional means of transmission have eroded due to imbalanced demographic structure and economic disruption.

The project aims to support the use of local ethno-ecological knowledge to improve adaptive strategies for biodiversity management, reporting and monitoring in the Cook Islands in the context of significant demographic and climate change and subsequent ecosystem change. The project has four basic components.

  1. We will extend the Cook Islands Biodiversity Database (CIBD), a CI Government project to document all species in the Cook Islands and territorial waters, currently estimated to be about 80% complete. We will work with CI Natural Heritage Trust (CINHT) to add to the database capability to store ethnobiological and ethnoecological knowledge associated with species and varieties. For this project we will encourage any contributions, but will focus on a few selected species for development and evaluation purposes. These will include the 2007 re-introduced Rimatara Lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) to evaluate how new ethnoecological knowledge is formed, , Pandanus arapepe & Eretmochelys imbricata as endangered species on Atiu, as well as biodiversity threats, such as Acridotheres tristis and Rattus exults.
  2. We will develop ethnographic interview instruments for eliciting ethnoecological knowledge relating to these species and to establish local patterns of reasoning that correspond to ecosystem services. To reduce the need for rare and expensive ethnobiological expertise, we will develop a computer-based interface (expert system) for local people to record and interrogate ethnoecological knowledge as a contextually driven dialogue to which the respondent makes judgements and/or provides positive information. This will be based on our open source Knowledge Elictiation Tools (KnETs) co-developed with the Stockholm Environment Institute. The result of these 'automated-interviews' is a record of knowledge in the form of dynamic indigenous judgements on controlled but contextualised queries suitable for integration into scientific and policy analyses and models.
  3. We will deploy and evaluate tools that support community knowledge-exchange. The Cook Islands Biodiversity and Ethnobiology Collaboratory (CIBEC, a 'social computing platform' has been under development funded by the Cook Islands Government with technical assistence by Fischer and Bagg. A social computing platform is a participatory web-based application where a group can contribute and amend content, such as a 'wiki'. CIBEC deploys and extends the current online Cook Islands Biodiversity Database (CIBD with a more detailed and dynamic representation of indigenous knowledge and understanding. Islanders will use CIBEC to document and discuss traditional environmental knowledge in the context of scientific information from CIBD.
  4. We will develop community programmes to increase awareness of the importance of local knowledge and the need to record this knowledge. We will support use by hosting community meetings, engaging with pupils and teachers in schools, and interviewing local experts. These will include public discussions, competitions, individual interviews and educational programmes, particularly programmes directed at school children and their teachers. There will also be specific training in using the CIBEC as a tool for both recording knowledge and to support local decision making using locally relevant criteria that is informed by external policy advice and science-based knowledge. The resource, with contributions from local people and professional researchers will enable the community to draw international attention to challenges faced in the Cook Islands and share experiences with other Pacific Island communities. We will work with local educators to develop programmes for the school and use the existing high level of community involvement in education through events, annual prize ceremonies and recognition in collaboration with Cook Islands Natural Heritage and the local Environment Service unit.

These will support retaining and distributing local knowledge, and how people use (and can use) that knowledge to meet the challenges of their future in the context of climate change and consequent ecosystem change. This project aims to empower local people as active participants in the documentation of environmental and biodiversity change creating a sustainable and dynamic monitoring unit in the outer islands that will be able report directly to the government, thereby heightening the profile of Cook Islanders in international climate debates.

UK personnel include Fischer, Sofia Vougioukalou, who will initiate the ethnographic and ethnbiological research and develop the software intefaces for local input, and with Bagg extend the CIBD into the CIBEC. CI personnel include Gerald McCormack, the directory of CINHT who will direct database operations, organise identifications, and co-develop educational materials. Two assistants will be hired on Aitu to help with research and training. School personnel will develop curricular activities. Local Environment Service Officer will assist, support for local participants.


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