Environmental Management

, Volume 64, Issue 5, pp 564–579 | Cite as

Conservation Decision-Making in Palau: An Example of the Parallel Working of Scientific and Traditional Ecological Knowledge

  • Victoria Pilbeam
  • Lorrae van Kerkhoff
  • Tony WeirEmail author


Despite unprecedented knowledge of conservation science, loss of biodiversity continues on a global scale. In this study, we investigate how choices are exercised where science, local and traditional knowledge come together for conservation decision-making. Our case study is the Palau Protected Areas Network, a program established to support conservation in the Pacific island nation of Palau. We apply a framework based on the concept of knowledge governance to explore the rules and norms that shape the relationships between knowledge and decision-making across both customary and Western-styled institutional lines. The major practical implications from this study are that: (1) there are internal and external audiences for Palauan conservation, (2) these audiences are associated with different expectations around what makes knowledge a legitimate basis for action, (3) the current conservation system operates in parallel, with science informing largely external audience and local and traditional knowledge speaking more directly to internal audiences and (4) this parallel system is likely to come under increasing pressure as the audiences for conservation change.


Conservation, Knowledge governance, Decision-making Palau Traditional environmental knowledge Scientific knowledge Pacific Islands 



VP and LvK gratefully acknowledge staff from the Palau PAN Fund, particularly Clarinda Zeigler and Noe Yalap, for their infield assistance, organisation, introductions and support. We acknowledge and express our deep respect and gratitude to all of the Palauan people who generously shared their expertise and insights for our research. This research was funded through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (grant number C2014/1285) and was conducted as part of VP’s honours project in the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. This paper also draws on a preliminary report by ANU (2015). Thanks to John Cox for his insightful comments, and to two anonymous reviewers who pointed us to some similar situations to our case study. VP and LvK thank TW for seeing this paper through towards publication.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The methodology of this project was approved in May 2015 by the Australian National University Human Research Ethics Committee under Protocol 2015/172, which is in accordance with the Helsinki declaration of 1964. Consequently, informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study, and a preliminary report on our findings was provided to participants. Further details of ethical procedures are given in the Online Resource (Appendix E).

Supplementary material

267_2019_1213_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (290 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment & SocietyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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