After two years of planning and an intensive effort to recruit the best and brightest Rare Conservation Fellows in Micronesia, I am thrilled to report that we have launched the program and the 11 chosen fellows are exceeding our highest expectations. They represent all jurisdictions of the Micronesia Challenge — a regional initiative to conserve 30 percent of near-shore areas and 20 percent of the land.
The tiny islands of Micronesia harbor more than 1,300 species of reef fish, 85 species of birds and 1,400 species of plants — 200 of which are found only in Micronesia. Endangered species such as the hawksbill turtle, Napoleon wrasse, and giant clam can still be found in sizable numbers in the crystalline waters of the Western Pacific. The region also boasts about 60 percent of the world’s coral species and sustains some of the best remaining large tuna fisheries.
Rare’s program, in collaboration with the Micronesia Conservation Trust, aims to mobilize community support and leadership to reduce key man-made threats to these island ecosystems while also preserving Micronesia’s unique culture and honor a way of life that has depended on the ocean’s wealth for millennia.
With this daunting challenge ahead of them, the Rare Conservation Fellows stepped off the plane in Palau in early July with heads full of excitement, ideas, concerns and questions as to how they as individuals could ever hope to influence their communities and catalyze necessary change. After an intense seven weeks building concept models and developing a theory of change for each of their islands’ unique threats and cultural nuances, the fellows returned to their communities to conduct in-depth interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders. This qualitative data will inform broader quantitative surveys to get at the heart of what can motivate behavior change needed to conserve both the cultural and natural uniqueness of the region. Volunteers recruited by the fellows will help distribute carefully-crafted surveys to hundreds of local residents that ensure scientifically significant results about knowledge, attitude and behavior shifts over the course of the project.
The fellows’ dedication motivated all of us on the Rare team to make sure they received and continue to receive the best learning experiences possible. They started with a great foundation of knowledge and ambition, which challenged us to raise the bar. The fellows are a diverse group: one fellow, Jane Dia, spent some time growing up in the United States and will run her marketing campaign on Guam, a territory that sometimes can feel more like a far-flung U.S. state than a remote Pacific island. Whereas, on the far-eastern rim of the region, Milner Okney, from the Marshall Islands, works on the atoll of Majuro in a community that still retains many traditional elements and governance structures of a Micronesia of several hundred years ago. Thus, they all have something different to offer and motivate each other as colleagues and peers. It is exciting to observe such a host of experiences come together to improve learning for everyone. I am looking forward to these campaigns generating interesting and impressive results.