The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is comprised of 4 states (YapChuukPohnpei, and Kosrae) and includes 607 islands spread over 1 million mi2 of the western Pacific Ocean. Its coral reefs, estimated at 14,517 km2 are home to nearly 1000 species of fish and over 350 hard species of coral. The majority of people living on these small islands depend on natural resources for their food, livelihoods, and traditions. These resources are threatened by pressure from rapid population growth, over-harvest, habitat destruction, changing cultural practices, invasive species and climate change.

FSM has committed to achieving the goals of the Micronesia Challenge (MC), an ambitious initiative by the jurisdictions of Micronesia to effectively conserve at least 30% of their near shore marine resources and 20% of their terrestrial resources by 2020. To begin to address this challenge a team  comprised of representatives from the FSM government, the Micronesia Conservation Trust, and TNC, has been working with State government and local conservation NGOs to raise awareness and build support for protected areas.

Chuuk is the most populous state in FSM and is contains one of the largest lagoon systems in the world. Chuuk Lagoon is home to a number of marine habitats and high levels of biodiversity. The region is heavily dependent on the health and persistence natural resources as 60% of the population relies on subsistence methods for their livelihoods. Economic development and population growth threaten these livelihoods as more people turn to the Chuuk Lagoon for food and income, resulting in an overexploited coral reef fishery.

As of 2017, only 1% of Chuuk’s reefs fall within managed areas.  In this analysis, all forms of spatial fisheries management, including traditional temporary fisheries closures, are included and collectively referred to as managed areas, to account for the fact that permanent no-take zones are rare in Chuuk. In order for this jurisdiction to approach the goals of the Micronesia Challenge, additional protected areas need to be designated.  The Micronesia Challenge presented an opportunity to design a brand-new Protected Area Network (PAN) through a coordinated effort using best available science.

To assist Chuuk in addressing these issues, outreach and analysis were conducted to guide the design and siting of new MPAs that would not only meet conservation targets, but would also meet socioeconomic objectives such as food security, health, cultural preservation, and sustainable incomes. This analysis built upon previous work to identify areas of biological significance in FSM (2002), a Rapid Ecological Assessment to assess existing MPAs and identify potential new sites (2005), and a gap analysis using information gathered in workshops (2009).

In  2017, a workshop was convened that aimed to integrate PAN planning and statewide fisheries management effort. Specifically, this workshop was intended as a first step towards identifying candidate reefs in Chuuk for management efforts that would meet biodiversity, conservation, and community objectives.

Following this workshop, a gap analysis was conducted to determine how well how well species or habitat types are represented within management areas, and whether existing protections are adequate to protect species or habitats, given their ecological requirements.

That gap analysis demonstrated that the managed areas proposed by workshop participants increased the total percentage of reef area under management from <1% to 6.5%. While this doesn’t meet the Micronesia Challenge target, indicating that higher levels of investment and engagement will likely be needed for Chuuk to reach Micronesia Challenge targets. The results also underscored the need to ensure that new management areas are well-designed and effectively implemented, and that fisheries no-take MPAs shouldn’t be the sole fisheries management tool applied in this region.  Similarly, while one existing management area was found to provide adequate protection for many key fish species, many other managed areas only protected a few species.  Establishing a management area large enough to protect many species in a challenge in Chuuk, due to the resource ownership structure. To address this challenge, the report recommended the creation of a network of smaller protected areas.

The team also conducted a spatial prioritization exercise to identify and evaluate PAN design scenarios that would better meet conservation goals.  A variety of scenarios which considered habitat representation and opportunity cost to subsistence fishers. The report recommended that future scenario development should include results from the Mapping Ocean Wealth (MOW) project to incorporate ecosystem service values into the analysis.  This work is ongoing.  It also recommended integrating more complex information about reef ownership into the prioritization exercise, to account for the complex resource ownership regime in Chuuk.  The FSM GEF Ridge to Reef project plans to incorporate these recommendations into their work over the next three years.

TNC Role

  • Facilitation
  • Marxan
  • Science/technical expertise
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Financing

TNC co-hosted the November 2017 workshop with the Chuuk Conservation Society and scientists from James Cook University. TNC also led the gap analysis and spatial prioritization analysis, which utilized Marxan to analyze conservation scenarios. This work was funded by a grant to TNC from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives.

Project Partners

Lead Institution: Chuuk Conservation Society

Project Partners: James Cook University- Queensland, Au, Chuuk Conservation Society, University of Guam


Additional prioritization exercises planned for 2018. There is also a plan to rerun the analysis once Mapping Ocean Wealth models have been refined.

Fact Sheets and Links

Micronesia MPA Design


Elizabeth Terk
Director of Conservation, Science, and Planning
Micronesia Program
Email: eterk@tnc.org

Photo credit: Nick Hall