sustainable management by local people

(written by Intro to GIS student, C. N.)

As a GIS student who racks his brain over the quarks and particularities of the current softwares used to display spatial data, I would never have envisioned anyone short of a professional creating official maps. Furthermore, I would never have thought possible to map such intangible elements as cultural heritage, and to use such maps to create sustainable management plans for entire regions. Despite my skepticism, this is exactly what has been done for Fiji’s Ovalau Island.

Ovalau is one of Fiji’s largest islands with a population of 9000 and an area spanning ~10 by 13 kilometers. It is characterized by a rich cultural history dispersed throughout the villages that inhabit the island’s rugged landscape. Due to these conditions, any available spatial and resource data prior to Ovalau’s new mapping initiative, was of poor quality (relative to state’s needs) and only available orally through conversations and stories. In January 2005, an initiative using Participatory 3D modeling (P3DM) was implemented. The goal of the P3DM exercise – a derivative of Participatory GIS – was to create physical 3D relief models based upon local knowledge, and to use these models to propose a resource management plan. This methodology would ensure that the voice of local people was heard. After all, the proposed resource management plan would be based on their 3D model.

This is exactly what was accomplished in 2005. Base maps were constructed based on the consultations of 27 separate villages. Following this, students, teachers, elders and individuals trained in natural resource management, cartography, GIS, and community work got together for the construction of the 3D model. Throughout this construction, youth workers did much of the manual labor while elders spoke of the various resources and tales of the land. Based on the created map, the Vanua ko Ovalau Resource Management Plan was proposed and accepted.

Ovalau’s uses of P3DM show tangible real life implications for GIS, not just for the GIS professional, but also for entire communities. We are approaching the point in the semester in Intro to GIS, where GIS terminology and jargon seems to be taking over our brains, and we are wondering how long it will be before we will ever really understand the intricacies of GIS. Despite this, it is important to remember that GIS is not exclusive to those with thousand dollar programs and perfectly constructed data. Ovalau is a prime example of adaptations of GIS to participation. It demonstrates that the world of GIS is not restricted to a computer lab but can be used in entire communities, and that it is not limited to classifying well ordered numerical data but can handle cultural assets and heritage.

Ovalau’s success has also merited a World Summit Award.

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