Links Between Local Ecological Knowledge and Wealth in Indigenous Communities of Indonesia: Implications for Conservation of Marine Resources

By Leanne Claire Cullen-Unsworth, Jules Pretty, David Smith and Sarah Elizabeth Pilgrim.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Accumulated knowledge about nature is an important part of people’s capacity to manage and conserve the environment. Local ecological knowledge is vital if natural habitats are to receive sufficient public support for their conservation and if local capacity for self-management is to be maintained. Loss of traditional knowledge is a worldwide phenomenon, resulting in reduced environmental awareness and diminished local capacity for sustainable use and conservation of natural resources. Economic development leading to environmental disconnection through reduced local resource dependence and interaction is causing local knowledge to be hybridised and lost or replaced with modern knowledge systems. Simultaneously, globalisation and increased opportunities to trade can result in severe overexploitation. To date, there have been few cross-cultural and quantitative studies to describe this knowledge loss. This study illustrates the loss of local knowledge using an Indonesian case study, the Kaledupa sub-district of Wakatobi Marine National Park. Kaledupa has a population of around 17,000 comprised of two distinct cultural groups, Kaledupan Islanders (Pulo) and traditionally nomadic boat people (Bajo) now living in permanent houses on stilts over the sea. Marine resources are heavily exploited for income, food, building materials and waste disposal by both groups. Marine ecological knowledge differed significantly between Bajo and Pulo communities (U = 1305.000; p < 0.001). An inverse relationship was shown between marine ecological knowledge and wealth (Rs = -0.395; p < 0.001), and a positive relationship between marine ecological knowledge and support for traditional management practices (Rs = 0.396; p < 0.001). This has implications for the future management of marine and coastal systems in the area and in similar small island communities worldwide.

Keywords: Local Ecological Knowledge, Economic Status, Natural Resource Management, Self-Management, Sustainability, Marine Ecosystem

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.289-300. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 765.660KB).

Dr. Leanne Claire Cullen-Unsworth

PhD Student, Coral Reef Research Unit, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK

Leanne is shortly to begin work as an Environmental Scientist with CSIRO developing linked socio-cultural and biophysical indicators for the Queensland Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Her PhD research looked at the direct economic value of natural marine resources to local dependants; resource use patterns; alternative livelihoods; and developed of a series of economic performance criteria to monitor the local economic impacts of management/non-management within a small island community living in a marine national park in Indonesia. Leanne has an MSc in Marine Environmental Protection (2000-2001) from the University of Wales, Bangor and BSc (honours) in Marine Biology from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne (1997-2000).

Jules Pretty

Head of department, Biological Sciences, University of Essex, UK

David Smith

University of Essex, UK

Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Pilgrim

University of Essex, UK

Previous qualifications include a first class degree in Ecology and Environmental Biology and various field trip experience including expeditions to Indonesia, Greece and Southern India. Sarah is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Essex under the supervision of Professor Jules Pretty and Dr David Smith. Her research focuses on identifying, and subsequently quantifying, differences in local ecological knowledge across different cultures and scales of development in India, Indonesia and the UK. TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) has gained international importance in recent decades due to its widespread loss. This study aims to look at factors contributing to this loss and examining patterns in knowledge levels, for instance generational decline, gender differences, the way that attitude and experience of nature affects knowledge. The fear is that the loss of such a wealth of knowledge, primarily from indigenous groups undergoing modernisation, is irretrievable, like genes being lost from the gene pool, once ecological knowledge ceases to be transferred, no such long-term accumulation of observations can be replaced.


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