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‘Taming the Lagoon’: Aquaculture Development and the Future of Customary Marine Tenure in Kiribati, Central Pacific

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The atolls and low-lying limestone islands of Kiribati (Micronesia) illustrate the challenges of economic development based on natural resources exploitation. For that reason, the widely scattered island nation has relied heavily on foreign aid and remittances sent by merchant seamen. However, it is becoming apparent that excessive reliance on external support can no longer be considered secure in the medium to longer term, notably with cutbacks in aid assistance and advances in marine technology. In attempts at achieving ‘self-reliance’, successive governments have always perceived marine resources development, particularly living resources, as a means of attaining greater economic independence. Recently, efforts have been underway to promote inshore and aquaculture development by smallholders. Seaweed farming, and especially black pearl production, are new commercial ventures. Giant clam mariculture remains an option. While it is too early to measure the success of some of these projects, their establishment may have important implications for reviving marine tenure by encouraging smallholders to reassert their traditional rights to inshore resources. Customary marine tenure (CMT) has declined significantly as a result of colonial intrusion. Today, the impact of population growth, urbanization, more efficient extractive technologies and expanding market opportunities calls for more effective village-based control of threatened resources. Close monitoring of aquaculture projects will be required to minimize potential conflicts over traditional marine ownership.

Keywords: Kiribati; Micronesia; aquaculture; black pearls; cooperation; customary marine tenure; giant clams; seaweed

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Ministry of Internal Affairs, Historic Preservation Office, Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands

Publication date: December 1, 2003


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