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To thrive in an uncertain future, islanders look to the past

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Editor’s note: Conservation International’s film “Gwala Rising” won the 2018 Sylvia Earle Ocean Conservation Award. This award will be presented on June 2 by the My Hero International Film Festival and is sponsored by the MacGillivray Freeman’s One World One Ocean Campaign.

In the islands of Papua New Guinea, a movement to protect nature is spreading.

“Gwala” is the traditional practice of temporarily closing off a reef when it begins to show signs of decline, allowing the ecosystem to recover — and it’s one tool Conservation International (CI) is using to help island communities ensure a steady supply of fish.

Climate change, population growth, illegal fishing and overfishing are spurring precipitous declines in the health and abundance of marine life in the Pacific Islands. Together, these issues threaten the livelihoods of those who depend on the reefs. And so, for hundreds of years, Papuans have practiced gwala, protecting their main source for food and prosperity. Yet with the rise of technology and urbanization in recent decades, gwala and other traditional…

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