Project title Moorea Biocultural Avatar
Implementing Institutions Lead Institution:
Association Te Pu Atitia (non profit community based organization), Moorea, French Polynesia

In collaboration with:
UC Berkeley Gump Research Station, Moorea, French Polynesia;
CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE, Moorea, French Polynesia

Country(ies) French Polynesia
Abstract Moorea is one of the best-studied islands in the world thanks to the wealth of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) accumulated by its indigenous Polynesian community and decades of study at its two international research stations. The Moorea Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar  (Moorea IDEA) provides an unparalleled opportunity to develop frameworks for combining science and TEK in a place-based computational platform. Here we seek financial support for Te Pu Atitia to digitize Polynesian TEK, a rich but vulnerable oral history, in an “ethno avatar” for use in scenario-based planning.
Project Description Polynesia is an interesting example of a region and culture where much traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) remains unintegrated with science. Moorea is perhaps the most studied island of the region with significant scientific capacity. Through the development of digital simulations (avatars) , we want to build capacity to enable the integration of all existing knowledge of the island across different knowledge systems.

We are requesting seed funds for the TEK component of building island avatars  through three projects:

Moorea Ecostation is an institution that will promote, formalize, and sustain channels of collaboration between island stakeholders, researchers and TEK experts in a way that is respectful, enriching, and equitable.

Moorea Civil Society Meetings are themed deliberations between knowledge holders and island stakeholders on the future of Moorea. These meetings are foundational data-sourcing, science-grounding mechanisms, and instances to impart the immediate benefits for the island stakeholders.

Moorea Ethnocode is a database of TEK that will constitute the basis for the development of the “ethno avatar” (based on TEK) which, along with the scientific avatar (Moorea IDEA), will enable the building of a biocultural island avatar (integrated simulation).

These projects address IPBES’ needs for empowerment of local knowledge holders, dialogues across knowledge systems, access to available data, protection of vanishing local knowledge and practices, enhanced and perennial infrastructure capacity, and mobilization of local and international resources.

Project Objectives and expected Achievables Our overarching goal is to build the Moorea Biocultural Avatar. What we have today is significant scientific capacity on the island (UC Berkeley Gump Station and CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE), four decades of data on Moorea’s biodiversity, and a multi-scale island simulation initiative based on the best available scientific knowledge of the island that is being developed: the Moorea “Island Digital Ecosystem Avatar”  (IDEA). We want to complement this scientific capacity with the homologous capacity of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), and its associated avatar—the Moorea Ethno Avatar. Effective channels of information flow, adequate measures of data access, management and use, goals alignment across different communities, and relationships of trust remain poor, and/or inexistent between science and local communities in many tropical countries. Based on over 10 years of collaboration among scientists and TEK experts on Moorea, however, we have an opportunity to build an advanced platform for exchange and scenario based planning that could be replicated throughout the Pacific Islands and beyond. Below, are listed our objectives and achievables, followed by an explanation of corresponding actions taken to meeting these objectives.

Objective 1: Develop capacity for accessing TEK


TEK in many parts of the world is inaccessible even to many members of the local community and/or is not understandable to scientists. A few TEK experts might be identified, but a large number often remain unapproachable or unknown. Challenges in TEK access, collection, articulation and interpretation present barriers for programs aimed at protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services. TEK is held in forms for which scientists are not prepared. Specific protocols of transmission as well as unclear benefits for TEK experts also present significant hurdles.

Breaking-down of the objective

Developing capacity for accessing TEK consists of:

Identifying knowledge holders and raising awareness on TEK’s value for sustainability, resilience, climate change adaptation, improved quality of livelihoods, and possible self-sufficiency;

Assessing available data, its format, status, use, possibility for re-use, and application

Designing adequate tools to work with TEK (often retained by community elders) and training members within the local community (particularly young people) to employ new digital technologies in order to teach TEK within the community;

Learning protocols of transmission that honor the boundaries that the knowledge holders establish and following them while incorporating new digital media as appropriate;

Learning about value systems and conception of life, nature, and time to improve scientific understanding of TEK’s context and;

Preparing for intense translation work between modern scientific English and French lexicon and metaphoric Tahitian language and TEK (key for transparency and alignment)


Definition of a concept with objectives and deliverables: The Moorea IDEA Civil Society Meetings (CSMs)--a series of themed deliberations between the scientific and nonscientific community on the state of the island system. The concept paper was written in English and in French. Key ideas were translated in indigenous language (here Tahitian).

Three out of six themes took place. We organized a general introduction about Moorea IDEA and the desire for local participation (June); two meetings on fishing (July and September); and one meeting on food (August).

Wide range of supporting material was produced since the beginning of the year: concept definition, guiding questions, agenda, objectives, and reports. Notes were taken and circulated and some of the meetings were video-recorded. A database of the participants was compiled for the most recent meeting (food meeting).

Participants interested in the general objectives of sustainable planning, in collaborating, in continuing to participate in future meetings and sharing relevant and useful data.


Lack of capacity to organize the meetings cannot ensure their frequency, timely organization, and continuity (including follow-up actions such as data collection and reporting).

Lack of resources (mainly people and time) for the conceptual preparation of each theme (importance, relevance and questions around the theme) in a way that resonates culturally. This often requires multiple brainstorming sessions groups. Individual follow-up with the participants is also required.

Lack of staff to cultivate relationships with the participants outside and after the meetings. This is also a constraint for post-meeting data collection with the participants who show willingness to collaborate with specific information (numbers, facts, context)

Lack of transportation affects the meetings’ attendance. This issue was particularly obvious at the meeting on fishing.


Our metrics for success are the level of attendance, participants’ responsiveness during and after the meetings, maturity and diversity of opinions, desire for sustained and repeated discussions, willingness to help, guide, or collaborate. The development of a common vision and discourse on the future is also an important indicator for success.

Timeline of milestones

Organization of three remaining themes—water, energy, and transportation (by December 2015)

Report on 2015 meetings and schedule objectives for 2016 (January 2016)

A report on the profile of knowledge holders, the status and application of their knowledge and practices for sustainability purposes (January 2016 for 2015 meetings and the same for the subsequent years)

Regular circulation of meetings notes and conclusions after each meeting.

A database that consists of key stakeholders (under each theme), key knowledge holders (This is a work in progress without a specific deadline)

Island Sustainability Curriculum (first draft in December 2016)

Objective 2: Develop capacity for managing TEK


We want local participants to find value, gratification, and pride in TEK. We want to make TEK accessible to the local community—-including those who no longer speak the indigenous language—-and promote its use for education, culture, and local environmental governance. We want to actively address the fact that TEK is vanishing and cultural transmission is disconnected to the local society. Developing the foundations to rebuild this connection will equip young people with the knowledge needed and confidently anchored in their cultural heritage, to succeed in the modern high-tech world and shape their own future.

Breaking-down of the objective

Raising awareness on the value of TEK for the preservation of Moorea’s biocultural heritage and how it can be use to create more robust conservation strategies;

Communicating the opportunities as well as the tensions associated with a modern format for its recording and transmission;

Bringing together the elders, scientists, programmers, and educators to design an adequate data management structure for TEK;

Collecting TEK from meetings and organizing it into a homogenous format that can be easily accessible and understandable to the local community and scientists

Promoting the immediate use of TEK in education and conservation


The Moorea Biocode Project. Supported by a $5.2 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Moorea Biocode Project (2008-2012) created a library of genetic markers and physical identifiers of the island’s flora and fauna. The current Biocode database comprehends information from at least 7,000 species. This information is publicly available around the world.

A concept paper on the Ethnocode Project (14-Dec-10). The Ethnocode project was inspired by the Biocode Project and especially its community outreach component through the Atitia Center. The goal was to inventory and voucher the indigenous (Tahitian) names corresponding to the scientific (Latin) names assigned to species on Moorea  by the Biocode Project. The genetic sequences (DNA barcodes) provided the bridge between the Tahitian and Latin names and the potential to link the knowledge associated with those names (TEK and scientific knowledge respectively).  The initial focus on biodiversity for  creating a database for TEK evolved into a larger initiative to build a database of all TEK. What we refer to as ethnocoding is the digitization of TEK and its representation (dissemination) through a community-controlled platform (the Ethno Avatar).


Lack of data. The Civil Society Meetings are currently our main source of TEK and contact points with potential TEK experts. The irregularity of the meetings due to insufficient resources fails to provide a secured flow of data for the database;

Lack of tools, experience and guidance to prepare for the format of TEK;

Unfamiliarity with transmission protocols, need for intermediaries between scientists and TEK experts. This intermediary will be able to speak English, French, and Tahitian and will be trusted by both sides;

Need to reach consensus on the use of TEK stored in the database. The system might have to include different levels of access according to what was agreed upon during the transmission process.

Establishment of trust prior to any work to begin requires time (time to grow familiar with the other, time to think of the implication of collaborating or not collaborating) that is not considered in funding applications given their deadline restrictions and established milestones.


Successful achievement of Objective 1

Joint development of the database (TEK experts and scientists working together)

Harmonious presentation of data easily understanding to everyone

Genuine engagement of TEK experts and the local community with the project, desire for further and deeper collaboration

Training of young people in local community in both TEK (from elders via Atitia Center) and data science and programming skills (from local schools and the international research stations)

Use of the database to support the development of the Island Sustainability Curriculum and other general applications of it in education and conservation

Timeline of milestones

Presentation of the concept to the scientific and local community (By December 2015)

Promotion of the concept in international and local media (By December 2015)

First working group to assess the data collected by the 2015 CSMs (By December 2015)

First report on TEK status, formats, quality, and possible (January 2016)

First draft of sustainability curriculum (December 2016)

Objective 3: Develop capacity for effective channels of collaboration between western and TEK experts and respective knowledge systems and the grounding of science


We want to create strong collaborative relationships among everyone that has a stake in Moorea as our proof of concept island system. Our focus is to intensify the dialogue and exchanges between the scientific and non-scientific communities.

Breaking-down of the objective

Forming the Moorea Ecostation--a facility/institution that will catalyze, formalize, and cultivate these relationships;

Explaining the importance of these collaborative relationships, exchanges, and interactions for improving our capacities to prepare ourselves and the next generations to better preserve Moorea’s biocultural heritage;

Achieving Objective 1 (the instances to interact) and Objective 2 (the material for dialogue).  Both objectives create the necessary common ground for discussions to evolve into formal linkages and long-term collaborative projects;

Imparting the immediate benefits of these projects to the local society and ecosystems, communicating them, and developing new initiatives accordingly (and informed by the perceived benefits);


A conceptual design of the Moorea Ecostation (first draft). We have designed a structure for the Ecostation in which we have defined the role, mission, collaborators, resources, and initial projects (Civil Society Meetings, Ethnocode Project--including Ethno Avatar) of the Ecostation. This structure was developed with the wider context and replication goals of the IDEA consortium worldwide. As a result, we expect the proposed structure to be relevant to other island members of the global IDEA island network.

Secretariat. We have a tentative structure for the governing body of the Moorea Ecostation. Te Pu Atitia, UC Berkeley Gump Station, and CRIOBE will be the core members.

Collaborating structures: the IDEA Consortium. The Consortium is composed of 17 international and local research institutions which includes UC Berkeley, ETH Zurich, CNRS-EPHE CRIOBE, UCSB-LTER, Oxford University, Santa Fe Institute, Smithsonian Institution, University of French Polynesia, Tetiaroa Society, and the Ross Institute, to mention a few.

A temporary facility: The UC Berkeley Gump Station


Capacity for coordination, translation of science, and replication of successful initiatives through the IDEA island network

Staff that can navigate the scientific community and the non-scientific community, that is multi-lingual and can clearly communicate the Ecostation raison d’être (mission, vision, goals, targeted issues that it addresses, the different initiatives and the interrelations among them)


Creation of the structure (the Ecostation and the Secretariat): legal paperwork, staff hiring, organization identity

The Ecostation will be capable of ensuring the successful continuation and demand for Civil Society Meetings, and for communicating its results in three main languages: French, English, and Tahitian

The Ecostation working as a resource attractor and capable of mobilizing both financial and technical resources

The Ecostation would have influence and leverage and be recognized for his work with the local community

The Ecostation will become the sustainability hub of French Polynesia

For the grounding of science: we expect to measure that through the emergence of new behaviors towards local sustainability and conservation issues (sense of care and responsibility), motivation and search for action, desire to contribute more, interest in science

Timeline of milestones

Paper published on IDEA Ecosystem structure published (by December 2015)

The Ecostation nonprofit created (by December 2015)

Develop a communication strategy (January 2016)

Achievement of Objective 1 & Objective 2 (by December 2017)

Press release on the creation of the Ecostation, its mission, its partners, and expected impact (January 2016)

The collective impact of the three stated objectives will build capacity for our long-term goal to build  the Moorea Biocultural Avatar.

Timeframe 2 years
Geographic Scale Sub-national
Seeking Resources for: Project development, Project implementation
Type of Resources/Support needed: Financial
Name of organisation: 
Contact Name: 
Te Pu Atitia
Project relevance: 
Projects and activities of interest to IPBES and partners