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Keywords:

  • Bêche-de-mer;
  • Solomon Islands;
  • Ontong Java;
  • globalization;
  • livelihood;
  • vulnerability;
  • natural resource management

Abstract

The rise and fall of the bêche-de-mer trade in Solomon Islands is an example of how small, remote island communities are influenced by drivers of change on both the national and international scales. This susceptibility leads to local economic collapses and changed livelihoods. This article focuses on small-island livelihoods, socio-economic responses to fluctuating markets and the instability caused by internal and external forces of change. Quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews and participant observation have been used to explore the development trajectories of Ontong Java, a Polynesian outlier in Solomon Islands, in the context of the bêche-de-mer trade over the past forty years. The main findings can be captured in four distinct periods that demonstrate the transformation of this atoll community from subsistence-oriented strategies to specialization in marine resource extraction to economic collapse and return to subsistence. It is concluded that this atoll population has shown a remarkable ability to adjust and cope with processes of globalization.