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Lesson 3: The Living World

Lesson at a glance

We all know that for Pacific Islands, the sea is as much a part of life as the land.

You will use published sources and local knowledge to gain a comprehensive picture of places, uses, and activities associated with the Sea in your land division. You will compare these with similar categories of information in the different communities of Pacific Worlds.

Key Concepts Local uses of the sea; coral reef formation; beaches and dunes; varieties of fish and traditions regarding them; fishing techniques and values.

Lesson Outcomes You will:

  • understand the sea as an extension of the land.
  • understand the types of coral reef (if any) found offshore their area;
  • identify local fish or sea foods derived (now or then) at their coast;
  • identify places in or near the sea.
  • Understand all of the above in cross-cultural perspective.


For these exercises, you will want:

  • A map of your shoreline, such as a USGS topographic map, that shows shoreline and reef features, as well as the depths of the sea off your coast.
  • Books or materials on fish and marine life, fishing, canoes and navigation, and cultural practices concerning all of these, for your region.

Palau Paradise of the Pacific – Aquatic Classroom
Part of the Public Broadcasting System website, this “Aquatic Classroom” has four exercises for teachers and students, and explains how each addresses particular National Science Standards in the United States.

The Coral Reef Teacher’s Guide from Reef Relief includes lesson plans for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. It is available through their website for US$40: Forest/tguide.html

There are a range of books and materials on aquatic life in different portions of the Pacific.

• Shore Fishes of Hawaii by John E. Randall
• Micronesian Reef Fishes : A Field Guide for Divers and Aquarists by Robert F. Myers
• Hawaiian Reefs by Ron Russo
• Hawaiian reefs and Tidepools by Ann Fielding
• Tropical Pacific Invertebrates: A Field Guide to Marine Invertebrates Occurring on Tropical Pacific Ocean Coral Reefs, Seagrass Beds, & Mangroves by Patrick L. Colin, Charles Arneson


This lesson explores aspects of climate, and terrestrial and marine ecosystems. As with other topics in this project, these issues may be considered from both “Western” scientific and indigenous scientific approaches. Pacific Worlds focuses on values and on world-view: how to island people understand and classify the systems and zones of their ecosystem?

The preservation of indigenous environmental knowledge is important for the good of humanity, and for engaging in locally appropriate environmental action. This is one area where modern and traditional approaches should work together hand in hand, drawing on the strengths of each.




Exercise 1: Areas
Website: The Living World>Areas

“Areas” can mean different things in different parts of the Pacific. In some cultures, there are specific terms for elevation zones, regardless of where they're found. In other cases, “areas” is a matter of specific place names for portions of the land division.

Decide which one of the above is the case in your area.

Identify the names for these different areas. List them and mark them on a map of your land division.

What do these names mean? What do they reveal about cultural perspectives on the environment?

Compare your classification of “areas” to other places on the Pacific Worlds website. How do different cultures define their “areas”? What types of ecosystems correspond to these areas, and why do they differ? You might consider the role of elevation.

Exercise 2: Seasons
Website: The Living World> Seasons

What are the seasons in your location? How is the year divided—according to what criteria? Consider them using both modern and indigenous ways of understanding.

Look at the calendar in your culture: is yours a 12- or 13-month calendar? What ar the meanings of the month names? Are they still valid?

Where is your land division located in terms of “Windward” and “Leeward”. How is your land division affected by other major climatic forces, such as the path of typhoons? How does your culture describe winds and wind directions? What proverbs or sayings do you have regarding wind?

Obtain and use climatic data to estimate the annual rainfall in your area. Does it change significantly going inland from the coast? From one time of year to another? Compare the rainfall data to the names of months in your calendrical system: is your calendar based on wind or rain, or what?

Compare your seasons to those in other Pacific Island locations. How or why do they vary? Search for information on the web or in books that explains the rainfall pattern in your island entity.

Sometimes Winds and Rains have personal names, and often there are stories, proverbs or poems associated with those names, or with different types of rain in general. Are there any for your area, or for your culture in general?

On this note, compare your culture’s attitudes towards rain with the other cultures presented on the Pacific Worlds website. Are there differences? If so, how do you explain them?

Exercise 3: The Forest
Website: The Living World>Forest

Depending on how much change of elevation there is in your area, there will be a range of vegetation zones, starting with the shoreline and going inward (or vice versa)

What are the local terms for these areas? Or, look for local terms for certain kinds of vegetation groups (similar to “forest,” “grassland,” “jungle,” etc.

Are there particular traditions regarding these areas, such as how one should behave while in the forest? What kinds of attitudes and practices regarding the Forest are found in other cultures within Pacific Worlds? How might learning about these influence your own attitude towards the Forest?

Identify the plants are most important to the indigenous practices of your area. Distinguish between native and introduced plants. Are these the same plants or different plants from those discussed in other Pacific Worlds communities? If they are the same, how do the practices and traditions of other cultures compare to your own?

Identify native birds or other animals about which there are traditions, proverbs, or sayings, or which have important cultural value (including as food). Again, compare your community to other sites in Pacific Worlds.

Using internet resources, try to identify some endangered species and invasive species in your area, and discuss any policies regarding them.

Exercise 4: Ocean
Website: The Living World>Ocean

Using a map, such as specified in “Tools” above, sketch in the coastal and shoreline features for your land division.

hook Add to your map any beach or coastal names that you know of, that were not included on the map you used, including portions of the shore that may have separate names, as well as contemporary surfing or fishing sites, and new names.

Discuss named areas of the sea adjacent to your community, such as reef areas, sandy-bottom areas, sea-grass areas, and so forth. What is the terminology, in your culture and language, for talking about the different areas and environments?

How close did the peoples of your island’s culture live to the shore? What sorts of activities went on next to the sea? For example, were there canoe houses? If so, what went on there?

Compare your findings with the other cultures found on Pacific Worlds. How do they differ? Why? Where do you see similarities, and where do you see differences?

What names do you have for conditions of the sea?

Exercise 5: Sky
Website: The Living World>Sky

Discuss the different birds of your area in terms of where they nest. What are the characteristics of these different groups of birds?

Are there important seabirds, such as those used for traditional navigation? If so, how were they used?

Are there any birds that are eaten?

Are there stories associated with particular species of birds, that tell you about your culture and how people should behave?

Exercise 6: Language
Website: The Living World>Language

Pacific Island languages are rich in terms for areas and characteristics in the ocean, fishing practices, and types of fish and marine life. Looking at these terms across different cultures is revealing about the ways these cultures understand the sea.

Go to the Language page of any The Living World chapter and compare terms on the different topics:

Zones: different types of areas, which may be defined by vegetation, or type of soil (sand, rock, gravel) or cultural uses;

Landscape features, such as hills, valleys, roads, volcanic calderas;

Names of areas in the sea, from the shoreline and out to the deep ocean;

Words for waves and tides;

Terms for winds and rains, also trees, plants, rocks, and other environmental features;

hook In some languages, fish have different names at different stages of their growth. Is this true of your culture?

Are the terms used in other cultures on Pacific Worlds similar to yours? Do you see similarities across Pacific Island languages? What do you make of these, and of the differences? Most importantly, what do these terms and their varieties tell you about these cultures?



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