Interview with Graduate Sebastian Marino
Sebastian: When I began looking into graduate programs, I had a pretty clear idea about where I was headed professionally. As an indigenous leader, I knew that I wanted to find a way to validate the traditional knowledge that was shared by my elders. I also knew that I needed to pursue graduate studies in order to be recognized in my field. At Goddard I was able to design my own study program - which for me meant finding ways to validate what I knew while at the same time acquiring the theoretical base necessary for professional recognition.
My Goddard experience has given me the confidence to know that I can always find the answers I seek. I set out to research conservation models where traditional resource management techniques were recognized and validated. I ended up with more than I expected. I not only found a model that could work for my particular project, but I connected with the economist who developed the model and we are now implementing it in the conservation area in my home state. It is all pretty cutting edge and pretty exciting. So none of my Goddard experience was isolated ivory tower theory, it was all practical.
From Sebastian's thesis, Exploring Options: Lessons on Leading a Community Visioning Process among Tobians on their Future Hopes for Natural Resource Management at Helen Reef, Hatohobei State, Republic of Palau:
Paradise exists on Earth. I am sure of this, because I have been there many times. In fact, I grew up there.
I grew up on a small island, in a small island nation, in the western-most Pacific. When I say small, I mean it. My home country Palau has a population of only about 20,000 people. My paradise, which is my home state of Hatohobei, is both the most remote and the smallest state in the Republic. It is comprised of two islands, Tobi an island of approximately a quarter of a square mile in area, and Helen Reef a submerged reef system roughly the size of the state of Connecticut, with a smaller island of a few hundred square meters of land.
Currently, Hatohobei State has a population of only about 200 people. The people of Hatohobei continue to rely on Helen Reef's varied and rich marine resources culturally, economically and for subsistence, particularly giant clams, trochus, sea cucumbers, turtles, sea birds, and large reef fishes which form a large part of the diet.
In recent decades Helen Reef has become the target of foreign fishing vessels in search of valuable marine commodities. Due to illegal overfishing by foreigners and the impact of unsustainable locally driven harvesting, some of Helen Reef's key resources and habitats have been over-exploited or harmed to the point where wide-scale damage is evident.
My particular angle here was in identifying how methods developed in the west, and initially during the European colonial enterprise, are not appropriate in many respects to the cultural mores of many other communities in the world. Since my own community is in itself a minority culture (and language) within a smallish culture with a deep history of sustainable consumption and its attendant and presumably ever-growing knowledge of place I needed more urgently than many to develop a culturally appropriate means of meeting the goals of both my study and my work in the world. This led to another part in my research searching for appropriate conservation methods that might be adapted to the needs of the people of my home. In this search, I discovered the work of Dr. Rice and conservation concessions.
When I look at the conservation systems and practices of the people of Palau, and specifically the people of Hatohobei, I can not help but realize that our people have had the tools, have had the knowledge all along. But because the West's "rules" of research and presentation have not been the rules of communication from generation to generation in our culture, we have not always been heard by Westerners. Now, we must make ourselves heard and in part we must do this by using some of the West's rules of theoretical design. Thus, my research is in many ways an attempt at reclaiming the indigenous knowledge specific to my culture, as well as an effort to move us forward as we collectively reframe our knowledge in the contemporary context of the outside threats to our environment.
Paradise will continue to exist on Earth. I am sure of this, because the people of Hatohobei, my people, have decided to do what ever it takes to maintain our paradise for our children, the way our forbearers did for us. We have committed to doing this through the lessons taught to us by our ancestors and through the practices - the tools - they gave us for this purpose.
In this age of globalization, we know we need to seek out partners, as the threats to our resources are, at times, bigger than our own ability to control these threats. We will however, pick out partners carefully, the way our ancestors chose their allies. We will seek alliances only with partners that respect the sacredness of our resources and that recognize the intimate relationship we share with these resources. Our partners must also understand and respect our role as resource owners. Based on a foundation of mutual respect we believe we will be able to conserve and protect our paradise.