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Managing Ontong Java: Social institutions for production and governance of atoll resources in Solomon Islands

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This paper explores the changing nature of social institutions and organizations for resource management on Ontong Java and their central role in maintaining livelihoods. Using detailed field data for three time periods, 1970–72, 1986 and 2006–07, and drawing on earlier secondary data, a longitudinal analysis of changes in governance and livelihoods is undertaken. Increased exploitation of marine resources has widened the resource base and increased people's access to goods and services. Following the ban in 2005 on the bêche-de-mer trade, however, livelihoods have reverted to being more subsistence oriented. For almost two decades after 1978, a communal organization, the Area Council, succeeded in regulating exploitation of the atoll's marine resources to ensure sustainable use, but in the 1990s it collapsed. In addition there was a paralysis of institutions that had once settled land disputes. This failure of atoll governance is a greater threat to future ‘sustainability’ than the usual processes that are invoked for atolls and small islands generally. As the Solomon Islands state is also failing, we argue that local institutions and organizations have a vital role to play in managing access to resources and the future of livelihoods on Ontong Java atoll.

Keywords: Ontong Java; Solomon Islands; atoll; bêche-de-mer; governance; livelihoods

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: March 1, 2010


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