The intersection of scientific and indigenous ecological knowledge in coastal Melanesia: implications for contemporary marine resource management


  • Simon Foale is a marine biologist with 15 years of experience working on marine resource management at a community level in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Micronesia. He currently works on coastal resource management problems on small, overpopulated islands in Papua New Guinea. His recent publications include Foale, S. J. and Macintyre, M. A. 2005. Green fantasies: photographic representations of biodiversity and ecotourism in the western Pacific, Journal of Political Ecology, 12, 1–22.


Fundamental differences in the worldviews of western marine scientists and coastal Melanesian fishers have resulted in very different conclusions being drawn from similar sets of observations. The same inductive logic may lead both scientists and indigenous fishers to conclude that, say, square-tail trout aggregate at a certain phase of the moon in a certain reef passage, but different assumptions derived from disparate worldviews may lead to very different conclusions about why the fish are there. In some cases these differences have significant implications for the way marine resources are (or are not) exploited and managed. Here I analyse examples of what I call empirical gaps in both scientific and indigenous knowledge concerning the biology and ecology of fished organisms that in some cases have led to the poor management of stocks of these species. I argue that scientific education can complement indigenous knowledge systems and thus lead to improved resource management, despite some claims that scientific and indigenous knowledge systems are incommensurable.