Summary: The Marovo Lagoon is one of the world’s largest coral reef lagoons, covering about 700 square kilometres, formed by a double chain of raised barrier reef islands, and backed by a chain of high, rainforested volcanic islands. The Marovo area has a population of about 11,000 people living in dispersed villages. Located in the Western Province of the South Pacific nation of Solomon Islands, it is internationally recognized as an area of extraordinary biological and cultural diversity.
Similar to other Pacific islands, it faces a range of environmental threats, which have been addressed by a range of conservationist NGOs through largely unsuccessful projects. This includes increasing exploitation of near and offshore marine resources, the logging of forests and their replacement with commercial plantations, sedimentation and tourism development.
During September 2005 the multilingual book, Reef and Rainforest: An Environmental Encyclopedia of Marovo Lagoon, was employed in an intensive pilot exercise in a selected range of educational institutions in Solomon Islands, with its author, Edvard Hviding, as project leader.
The Encyclopedia was envisaged by UNESCO-LINKS and the Project Leader as a starting point for a process whereby students in village primary and secondary schools, rural vocational training centres and provincial secondary schools, throughout the area in the Western Solomons where the Marovo language is spoken as the primary language, could be actively involved in the bridging of generations, knowledges, languages and places by carrying out assignments of environmental knowledge documentation as part of their ongoing school work.
Therefore, the objective of the exercise was not to implement classical environmental awareness programs in schools (as many projects include) but to redesign science content to incorporate knowledge systems which are seriously endangered today and have been repeatedly recognised as having crucial ramifications for biodiversity conservation in these sites of global significance. Hence, the Pilot Project was intended as a practical demonstration and testing of the role of educational material in vernacular language for fostering the transmission and development of indigenous environmental knowledge through dialogue across generations, from a primary anchorage in the school system that highlights the connections between local knowledge and science.
The exercise proved to be a resounding success as evidenced by a collection of 211 assignments written by students ranging in age from 8 to 16, an estimated 90% of whom had never before written a substantial text in their own vernacular language.
Furthermore, it is fair to say that during the week of the activities, a good range of indigenous knowledge about environmental phenomena in the Marovo area was documented in written form for the first time. This applies, for example, to some truly fascinating student assignments about different species of fruit bats, certain little-known medicinal plants, the culturally central Canarium nut tree, the elusive but culturally significant sea mammal dugong (Dugong dugon), and other topics not covered in detail or indeed missing altogether from the Encyclopedia. At the same time, teachers and village elders pointed to the immediate effect of the Encyclopedia as a source of example, inspiration and cultural pride.
While the Encyclopedia is anchored in the Marovo language (as well as two other lesser vernaculars of the wider Marovo Lagoon area, Hoava and Vangunu), the book and the experiences of the exercise has led to further support for expansion of the general model into several other major language areas of the Western Province.
This project was jointly funded by UNESCO-LINKS, the University of Bergen, the Government of Norway (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Commission for UNESCO), and the Government of Solomon Islands (National Commission for UNESCO, Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development, and Western Province Government).