Coding Polynesian Knowledge of Biodiversity
Moorea Ethnocode is about creating a place for Polynesian traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in big data science. The objective is to design a tool that is able to code and express the cultural DNA of the island and present it in a format that is easily accessible, usable and meaningful to the local community.
About the project
Moorea Ethnocode is a database for traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), a subset of traditional knowledge (TK) that relates directly to the natural world. The database will be designed, built, and managed jointly by scientists and the island community. The data, information, and knowledge collected will be presented in a format that is easily accessible, usable, and meaningful to the local community. The spirit of the Ethnocode project is to treat traditional experts and their knowledge of the island the same way science treats researchers. This structure for the management of TEK is intended to help communities take ownership of TEK as well as science. Data science provides an opportunity to save knowledge on the brink of extinction which, if revived and integrated into present-day environmental discourse, policy, and endeavours, might have a tranformative impact on sustainability culture. Ethnocode is a model that can be replicated elsewhere where traditional knowledge is strong yet not integrated into science.
What need is ethnocode trying to address?
“If you don’t really understand the way people relate to biodiversity, then some of the management efforts that are put into place could fail. If your goal is to maintain biodiversity, you need to maintain cultural biodiversity." Neil Davies, Executive Director, UC Berkeley Gump Station in Bridging Western Science and Polynesian Tradition by Tasha Eichenseher, National Geographic News.
Te Pu Atitia and partners seek to engage local communities in ways that are meaningful to them. They are recalling the extreme proximity of Polynesian culture to the environment and its natural ecological sensitivity, and integrating it into scientific and technological innovations. By raising awareness of the value of TEK for the future, they are restoring a traditional sense of place. Ethnocode adds human dimensions to data science as the missing link for bettering our understanding of human impacts on the environment.
What would be a successful outcome?
The local community co-building Ethnocode with scientists, leading the collection and management of TEK, and taking pride in their contribution and ownership of the general science being developed on Moorea. As more general metrics, success would mean 1) the valorization of TEK as a significant contributor to sustainability science; 2) the treatment of traditional experts comparably to scientific researchers; and 3) the integration of modern science and TEK knowledge systems into one framework.
About Te Pu Atiti'a
Te Pu Atiti’a is a community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to recovering, preserving, and enhancing the natural and cultural heritage of the islands of French Polynesia. TPA's vision is to inspire, form, and reconnect the next generation of Polynesian leaders with their biocultural heritage.
Te Pu Atiti’a understands the importance of protecting this rich heritage in building healthy, resilient, self-sufficient, and thriving island economies. To pursue their vision, they create and implement educational programs on biodiversity, conservation, traditional knowledge, and Polynesian culture, for their schools and communities. They collaborate with the world’s top academic and conservation institutions, principally the UC Berkeley Gump Research Station, to develop and strengthen science-society collaborations for the integration of different knowledge systems and the creation of more participatory debates on the future we want. Such collaborations make possible the incorporation of cutting-edge knowledge and methodologies in their school programs.
OUR SHARED JOURNEY TO GET ETHNOCODE OFF THE GROUND
Our founder worked with the community-run nonprofit Te Pu Atitia and the UC Berkeley Gump Station on the Ethnocode project in 2015. She primarily provided support through grant writing, project definition, outreach concept design, and community meeting coordination to get Ethnocode off the ground. Lastly, she generated written communication material and storytelling strategies for speaking opportunities and website content.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
- Knight Foundation News Challenge on Data
- Liaising between scientists (both local and international), the community of Moorea, and the people of Te Pu Atitia
- Founder support and coaching for speaking opportunities
- Branding and marketing collaterals
- Project management