In the conservation world, an ever-present sense of urgency to do more work faster can prevent leaders and teams from taking time to reflect and actively share what it takes to work effectively. While universities teach the technical skills and tools used in marine conservation—such as mapping, population surveys, planning, and more—long-term conservation also requires excellent process, people, and partnering skills. Of course, this tacit, intuitive, and often intangible knowledge can be learned by working with a master or mentor over time. In fact, that is how most great field conservationists learn their craft. However, the global need for effective conservation leadership in remote places is growing rapidly. Many of the original founders of community-based marine conservation are retiring and some have passed on, taking decades of experience with them. The goal of this pilot project is to capture this specialized knowledge before it is gone, and share it with conservation teams who can apply, adapt, and add to it. 

Marine conservation was a new frontier for the growing global conservation movement in the early 1990’s, and community-based conservation was emerging as a “new” and powerfully effective way to protect and restore natural areas across the Pacific.  

Four years ago, the 1994-1998 Action Strategy [for Nature Conservation in the Pacific Islands Region] heralded a major new approach to conservation in the Pacific—community-based conservation. After decades of very limited success with other approaches, this “people first” approach went back to the roots of Pacific island traditions and enlisted local leaders and communities in the management and protection of their precious forest and reef resources. It worked. In four years, new community-based conservation areas have been established in almost every Pacific island country, bringing wise stewardship to rainforests, reefs, mangroves, and other valuable island ecosystems.
— SPREP 1999. Action Strategy for Nature Conservation in the Pacific Islands Region: 1999-2002, p ii

In less than 25 years, this approach led to the protection and management of more than 600 marine areas of all sizes and types across the Pacific and helped inspire locally-led conservation around the world.  

With the generous support of the Acacia Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaiʻi marine program launched this pilot project to capture and share some of the tacit institutional knowledge that led to many of these advances—knowledge that feels so intuitive it is typically not articulated or codified. Our goal was to:

  • Understand the key lessons learned by leaders engaged in community-based marine conservation in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific over the past 25+ years, and
  • Disseminate those lessons to a new generation of conservation leaders and community partners to help catalyze and accelerate conservation efforts across the Pacific.

We focused this pilot on the Conservancy’s staff and closest partners in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, where the opportunity to apply the knowledge in the field and solicit feedback on its value is greatest. We interviewed 19 community-based marine conservation leaders who are working in the field with communities and their partners, all of whom shared personal insights and hard-earned knowledge on how to build conservation partnerships that deliver lasting results (see About the Project, The Team).

Several universal themes emerged from the interviews, which lent structure to the findings.

  • The Pacific Way reflects core cultural guidance essential for working in this island region.
  • Getting Started in a New Place provides tips that can help ensure a strong foundation.
  • Embarking on a Partnership highlights common missteps and principles fundamental to effective community-based marine conservation partnerships.
  • Making it Endure provides insights to help ensure local leaders, communities, and organizations are able to lead robust conservation efforts into the future.
  • Scaling Up offers insights on how successes at sites can be used to achieve impacts at larger scales and illustrates the incredible power of networking through case studies in Hawaiʻi, the Solomon Islands, and Micronesia. 

Each of these themes is presented in stand-alone sections that can be quickly skimmed and are available on the companion website for browsing or downloading, supplemented by audio clips from the interviews. The key messages are also illustrated through stories that trace the evolution of community-based marine conservation in Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, and Hawaiʻi (see Scaling Up).

Though this tacit knowledge is not meant to be comprehensive curricula, it offers a wealth of information beneficial to conservation professionals who are new to the field or the region and facing a steep learning curve. Readers and users can explore these findings to answer their unique questions, address their individual situations, and identify learning opportunities.

The interviews also provided valuable career guidance for young professionals and the pilot project offered lessons in the knowledge capture process, both of which can be found in Helpful Resources. Background on the pilot project can be found in About the Project. We hope others who want to do similar work find this information useful.

Our direct outreach is focused on the colleagues, partners, and networks with whom we work most closely, and for whom we believe the information is particularly relevant. We believe this will increase the likelihood that the knowledge shared will be used and expanded upon. We also believe that adhering to these proven insights and guidance will save time and avoid costly setbacks.

This pilot proposes that reflection, learning and sharing are essential to increasing impact, training the next generation, and ensuring long-term success. It will be a success if it inspires new champions and broader commitments to actively share knowledge within and across teams and networks. Integrating this practice of formal self reflection into a variety of settings will accelerate learning and will provide a way to recognize --, with the respect that is key to the Pacific Way --, the often unspoken contributions of the diverse  people, organizations, and cultures that make lasting conservation possible.