Island forest management priorities
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a former U.S. Trust Territory, now a sovereign nation in a “Compact of Free Association” with the U.S. The Marshall Islands encompass 29 atolls and 5 solitary islands, and is comprised of approximately 1,225 individual islands and islets. The Marshall Islands are naturally tropical forested ecosystems, mostly converted to agro-forest over the millennia since settlement by the Marshallese people. Marshallese agro-forest is a mix of trees, woody shrubs and herbaceous species, managed for food and other forest products, notably breadfruit, coconut, pandanus, and bananas. Since Western contact, many areas have been managed as coconut plantations (often with other species intercropped, a simpler form of agro-forestry) and additional species have been introduced and integrated into the agro-forest (especially fruit trees).
Conservation and sustainable land management to protect the biodiversity and productivity of the species-rich marine environment
Designate ‘traditional land use’ conservation areas and protect of ‘special reserves’ and conservation areas
Promote and increase production of agroforestry including high value market crops; community extension and education
Many Marshallese suffer from malnutrition and diabetes that could partially be addressed with increased agro-forest production. Traditional agro-forest practices maximize soil organic material (compost), essential for water retention in sandy soils. Traditional practices do not add chemical fertilizers and pesticides to aquifers. While there has not been a formal comprehensive survey of agro-forests in the Marshall Islands in recent years, partial surveys indicate that agro-forests in the country are generally becoming less managed. In the last three to five years, however, there seems to be a better awareness and growing interest among the general public on improving management and preservation of the country’s agro-forests.
Urbanization is a result of migration and the adoption of Western patterns of living. A large proportion of the Marshalls’ population is now concentrated on a few urban islands, with resulting reductions in forest cover and separation of people from the tangible and cultural benefits of forests. Although some tree planting continues, it likely cannot keep pace with the increase of number of trees being cut down to allow for more houses, other buildings, and parking lots.
Conservation of biodiversity in the Marshalls concerns terrestrial native species - especially endemic species and including migratory birds -traditional cultivars, and sustainable land management to protect the biodiversity and productivity of the species-rich marine environment. Concern from this issue is rooted in efforts to reconnect with traditional culture, interest of external scientists, and international commitments including the Micronesian Challenge.