Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A proposal for integrating conservation of the coconut palm into the USP campus, Suva Fiji

The University of South Pacific (USP) is one of only two regional university’s in the world  and is supported by 12 Pacific Island Countries . This public research university is a regional centre for teaching and research on Pacific culture and environment. USP's academic programmes are recognised worldwide, attracting students and staff from throughout the Pacific Region as well as from other regions and beyond.
Contacts have been initiated to integrate a coconut conservation design inside the Suva campus (Fiji), by using the remarkable Orange and Red Orange Compact Dwarf varieties recently discovered in Fiji and a Tall-type Sweet Husk varieties found in Rotuma and other Fiji Islands.
The coconut palms would not be all planted in one single specific location, but scattered between all the campus buildings as in customary landscaping. This could be an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen the commitment and interest of the thousands of students and the teachers from all Pacific regions regarding more effective conservation and use of coconut genetic resources.

Satellite image of USP campus, Suva Fiji (Click to enlarge)
The representation given up illustrates a possible design:
  • The zone around the campus is colored in blue.
  • Red and Orange dots inside USP represent each a Compact Dwarf Coconut palm with orange or red-orange fruits. About 40 to 60 coconut palms from these varieties could be planted inside the campus.
  • Red and Orange dots in the blue area (outside and around the USP Campus) also represent each a Compact Dwarf Coconut palms with orange or red-orange fruits. About 100 to 200 coconut palms from these varieties will be distributed free to the home gardens surrounding the USP campus.
  • Green dots in the USP campus: about 80 to 100 coconut palms from the Tall-type variety called "Sweet husk" could be planted inside but around the limits of the campus. Seednuts could be preferably imported from Rotuma Island (very large and good fruits) or from other places in Fiji, and preferably be green sprouted.
We estimate the size of the campus at about 100 hectares and the total number of coconut palms to be planted inside the campus at about 150-200. So the global density for coconut  palms inside the campus will be only about one to two palms per hectare, and this is lower than the average coconut density of coconut palms in most tropical cities.

This design will allow production of different kinds of seednuts:

- Various types of Compact Dwarfs with orange or red-orange fruits (orange sprouts)
- "Sweet husk" Tall types (green sprouts)
- Natural or man-made hybrids between the compacts dwarfs and seet husk (brown sprouts)

A rapid appraisal of coconut varieties presently existing on the campus was conducted. Three coconut varieties were identified, two of which are material introduced from abroad : Malayan Yellow and Red Dwarfs. These two varieties are now common in Fiji and already well conserved at the Taveuni coconut centre and in home gardens. The third variety is the most common Fijian Tall type, which can be found everywhere.

The total number of coconut palms in the campus was estimated to 60 to 80, but I could be more. Many coconut palms were felt down at the time of our visit, because the landscaping of the campus was rethinked in order to include more endemic and traditional Pacific plants and crops.

Coconut palms felt down at the USP campus
Within a 6 to 7 years period, the coconut palms which are presently in the campus will have to be progressively removed, because their pollen can contaminate the new rare traditional Fijian varieties to be conserved in the future. There is no need to remove these coconut palms at the beginning, because the Rotuma sweet husk palms will take 6-7 year to start to flower, and the design will be fully operational only when the sweet husk palm will start to produce pollen.

Low productive Coconut palms (Fiji Tall variety) at USP

If, inside the campus, there is any other rare coconut variety (but I did not see any), these few palms could be reproduced and planted at the Taveuni Coconut centre for conservation purposes.

This proposal is derived from a scientific paper on the Polymotu concept presented at  the 45th APCC COCOTECH Meeting, held  2nd - 6th July 2012, in Kochi, India:
Bourdeix, R., Johnson, V., Saena Tuia, V. and Weise, S.. 2012. Three declinations of the Polymotu Concept: “Inland ex Situ”, “Ecotourism on Islands”, “Urban” and their possible applications in Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, French Polynesia and Samoa ( 870KB). Paper presented at the 45th APCC COCOTECH Meeting, 2nd - 6th July 2012, Kochi, India.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Landscaping Tetiaroa Atoll and coconut conservation

Tetiaroa is an atoll in the Windward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. The atoll is located 33 miles (53 km) north of Tahiti. The atoll stretches on a total surface of 2.3 square miles (6 square km); approximately 1,445 acres (585 hectares) of sand are divided in 13 motus (islets) with varying surface areas.

During the pre-European period, Tetiaroa was the summer residence of the chiefs of the village of Arue (now a municipality of Tahiti) and the royal Pomare family. In 1904, the royal family offered Tetiaroa Dr. Johnston Walter Williams (1874-1937), the only dentist of Tahiti and the British consul from 1916 to 1935. In 1965, in accordance with Polynesian property laws, the famous actor Marlon Brando leased the terrestrial part of the atoll for 99 years.

In 2002, two years before the actor’s death, Brando signed a new will and trust agreement that left no instructions for Tetiaroa. Following his death in 2004, the executors of the estate granted development rights to Pacific Beachcomber SC, a Tahitian company that owns hotels throughout French Polynesia and shared in Brando’s vision for an eco-luxury resort on the atoll. Beachcomber SC began construction on Tetiaroa in 2009.

In June 2009, the company Beachcomber SA and the Brando family gave their agreement to integrate the atoll of Tetiaroa in a project of conservation of Polynesian coconut varieties.

Here is our landscaping proposal to include rationale coconut conservation on the Tetiaroa Atoll (click on the picture to enlarge it). Practically, four small islands and a small peninsula will each be replanted with a single variety. Thanks to the geographic isolation of these places, coconuts palms will breed only between palms of the same variety, allowing conservation, production and dissemination of certified seednuts. Five varieties of coconut palms will be then preserved on Tetiaroa.

In this design, more coconut palms are cut than replanted. Indeed, we do not want to cover again the Tetiaroa Atoll with coconut palms. Large areas of the atolls (in red in the figure) will be freed of coconut palms to allow endemic vegetation to increase and birds to nest - although birds are also nesting in the coconut palms.

About 100 years ago, the coconut grove was planted on Tetiaroa by decision of Dr. Johnston Walter Williams, dentist of the royal family, in order to produce copra. At the time, the planting technique consisted, in most cases, cut off all the natural vegetation, to let it dry and then burn everything. Most of the coconut palms seedlings were imported from Tahiti. Maintenance of coconuts was done, at least to a certain period, by "vacuum cleaning", i.e.  by cutting and burning everything that was not coconut palm. These planting techniques were harmful to the biodiversity of endemic species (Dupon, 1987). There were also damaging for the coconut palms themselves, especially from the point of view of conservation of the coconut genetic diversity.

The current density of adult palms is very high, up to 450 palms per hectare, whereas the normal planting densities are about 100 to 200 coconut palms per hectare. The photograph attached compares the density of coconut Tetiaroa to that of a standard plantation of coconut hybrids. Only 20 to 40% of coconut palms  follow the original planting device. They are recognizable on the satellite photos to the fact that they are planted in a straight line, generally oriented north-south and east-west. These original coconut plantation are mainly localized on the motus Tiraunu, Hiraan and Horoatera.

Harvesting of coconut and copra production ceased in the 1970s. Many coconut fell on the ground have sprouted, others are eaten by rats, whose population has increased. Coconuts pierced by rats and partially filled with rainwater promote the proliferation of mosquitoes and flies. The total number of adults on Tetiaroa coconuts can be estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000 trees.

In April 2010, although no funding was dedicated to this activity by the local government, the first planting of the conservatoire began on Tetiaroa. Seednuts of the horned coconut variety were planted a a small motu of Tetiaroa. For more information on the horned coconut palm, please visit our Tetiaroa blog.

Friday, 5 November 2010

About the respect due to the coconut palm... anthropological approach

Hinano Murphy and members of the Atiti'a Association
During my travels in French Polynesia, I made several times a public lecture untitled: “Coconut, Sister of Mankind, the hunt for lost varieties”. It is indeed a challenge to come to this place, as a French man presently living in France, and to tell the Polynesians that you are a world coconut specialist.
At the beginning, they just do not believe you; and you need time and care to convince them. Anyway, I succeeded quite well in this challenge, as shown in the press releases available here.
Some of these lectures were conducted in large conference room, with more than 100 people listening, for instance at the University of French Polynesia. Some others lectures were released in small villages of remote islands, with no more than 20 people listening.
Patirita from Tatakoto Atoll
I must confess that, from both personal and anthropological points of view, the smaller lectures were the nicers. One of the most interesting talks was conducted in Moorea Island, at the Gump Research Centre of Berkeley University. We had an excellent contact with Hinano Murphy, the leader of the Te Pu Atiti'a cultural association. No more than 30 people attend the meeting; anyway, I had the great honour that the old Polynesian sages came and listen to me.
During the conference, I presented a short movie made in Africa at the Marc Delorme Research Centre. This movie shows the technique of assisted pollination for production of coconut hybrid seednuts. In this video, the inflorescence of a Malayan Yellow Dwarf (MYD) is artificially unwrap before its natural opening; then all the spikelets containing male flowers are cut; all the remaining male flowers are remove in order to keep only the female flowers on the inflorescence. When these female flowers become mature, a mix of talk and pollen of the West African Tall (WAT) is pulverized on the inflorescence in order to obtain seednuts of the Mawa Hybrid (MYDxWAT).

At the end of the lecture, we had some interesting exchanges with the Polynesian sages about cultural facts regarding the coconut palm. But nothing really important was said. Hopefully, one week later, I was lucky to meet again Hinano Murphy and to get an indirect feedback regarding the reactions and feelings of the old Polynesian sages.

In fact, when watching my movie, the sages were deeply shocked by the disrespectful and brutal way the coconut palm was treated.

The legitimacy of man's direct intervention, with instruments, on plant reproduction is not accepted in all the cultures : this is a fact of society. What seems to be decisive in the assessment of the planting material is not only its agricultural value or utilization value, but also the process by which it was created, its legitimacy and its consequences.

The issue of man's legitimate action on his environment was studied by André-Georges Haudricourt (1962). Haudricourt looked at two extreme types by comparing sheep and yam, to analyse the relations that man has with domesticated beings, be they plants or animals.

In sheep rearing, as it is practised in the Mediterranean region, the contact with the domesticated being is permanent, sometimes brutal: the shepherd accompanies and directs his herd with his stick and his sheepdogs, schedules watering holes and determines the routes taken. Without man, the herd could not survive, so that man's action needs to be direct for the effect to be positive.

Yam growing (Dioscorea alata L.) as practised by the Melanesians of New Caledonia illustrates the other extreme: positive indirect action. The Melanesians are never in brutal contact with the plant. Man intervenes around the plant by constructing ridges and spacing the tubers, which are then left to grow, because direct action would be prejudicial or negative for the plant.
Haudricourt goes on to quote the work by the Chinese thinker Mencius, born around 300 years BC:
"A man, troubled to see that his rice was not growing, pulled at the stems. On returning home, the fool told his household: ‘today I am very tired, I have helped the crop to grow’. His sons ran to see his work for themselves. The stems were already dry. (…) Those who use violent means …. do like this madman who pulled up his crop. Their efforts are not only futile, they are harmful".

Haudricourt puts forward a parallel between the treatment of plants and the treatment of others. He takes the example of traditional Chinese society, emphasising that good government depends here on the virtue of the statesmen and not on its actions "just as the virtue of the land makes for the rapid growth of plantations". Man is not placed in a position of cause, otherwise the effect is negative.

In the framework of the Polymotu project, we are proposing two new designs to produce coconut seeds: the first design is adapted to small islands. The second design is adapted the mainlands with landscaping pollen barriers. In both designs, hybrids seednuts can be obtained naturally, without human intervention on the inflorescences. So it fit more closely with Polynesian tradition and the "respect due the coconut palm"... .


Haudricourt, A. G. 1962. Domestication des animaux, culture des plantes et traitement d'autrui, L’homme, Tome II, 40-50.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

First plantation of coconut palms in the conservatoire of Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia

In June 2009, the company Beachcomber SA and the family of the late actor Marlon Brando gave their agreement to integrate the atoll of Tetiaroa in a project of conservation of coconut varieties from Polynesia.
Practically, four to five small islands or peninsula, will each be replanted with a single variety.
Thanks to the geographic isolation of these places, coconuts palms will breed only between palms of the same variety, allowing conservation, production and dissemination of certified seednuts. Four or five varieties of coconut palm will be then preserved on Tetiaroa.
In April 2010, although no funding was dedicated to this activity by the local government, the first plantings of the conservatoire began on Tetiaroa. Seednuts of the horned coconut variety were planted a a small motu of Tetiaroa. For more information on the horned coconut palm, please visit our Tetiaroa blog here.
This work was indeed not easy, because the coconut trees were planted in half barrels of metal; the bottom of the rusted barrels was pierced by the roots of the coconut palm, making it difficult to impossible for manual unloading of coconuts. This allowed us to realize the extreme strength of the roots of the coconut palm, which play an important role in the fight against coastal erosion.
The resident biologist Nicolas Leclerc removing seedlings from barrells
So we had to bring out the heavy artillery: we banged the drums using a machine pallet forks. Coconut seedlings were then "stripped": the reduction of leaf area limits the evapotranspiration and facilitates recovery. Then they were transported by boat on a stormy sea, to the place of planting.
It was decided not to publicly disclose the exact location of this plantation, to limit the risk of theft of this extremely rare material. There are currently on this motu a few coconut trees that will be gradually destroyed when the newly planted horned coconuts will come into production.
In order to create a new population of coconut palms of the conservatoire, we generally recommend selecting twenty to fifty coconuts from the same parental variety. Then, two to four descendants of each parent are planted in a geographically isolated place. The relatively high number of parents limit the rate of inbreeding in subsequent generations. This avoids generating crosses between relatives, causing deleterious effects and a consequent reduction in vigor and fruit production.
Given the extreme rarity of horned coconut palms, it will not be possible to find twenty parents showing the required characteristics. For now, only a dozen of horned coconut palms have been reported in French Polynesia. We recommend getting seed from at least four different palms, so as to limit the deleterious crossovers between relatives in the next generations.

Contacts have been made to get horned seednuts from Raiatea and Tahaa. We recommended to continue harvesting seednuts from the horned coconut palm growing on Tetiaroa. The resident biologist Nicolas Leclerc (on pictures) told us that all the coconut produced by this palm does not have horn; fruits with coconuts horns are sometimes stolen by some workers who take them back as souvenirs. We emphasized that the hornless fruits of the horned coconut palms could also be germinated. Around the fruit, which bears the stuffing horns, is a tissue of maternal origin only. The absence or presence of horns shall not affect on the genetic nature of the embryo of the seed. A hornless coconut seed from the horned coconut palm could give a horned palm, just as likely a horned coconut seedlings (phew!). To avoid confusion and promote self-fertilization, it is better to remove all the inflorescences and fruits of the five or six palms that surround the horned one. Thus all seednuts collected at the foot of the horned coconut will sure originate from this tree.

The horned coconut from Tetiaroa given by Teihotu Brando

Because of cross pollination habit of the coconut palm, seednuts harvested on the horned coconut palms will not give all horned coconut palms. Thus, then the progeny will fruit in the motu, it will be necessary to perform a selection among the palms, and to eliminate some of the hornless. Anyway, the genes will be preserved, even if they do not speak to one hundred percent. In future generations, we will come gradually to form a population where all individuals will bear horns.

Plantation of horned coconut palms on Tetiaroa

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Polymotu project is starting in Fiji islands....

During our last trip in Polynesia, Two public lectures about coconut palm conservation were conducted in Fiji. The first one was held at the University of South Pacific in Fiji, with about 50 people listening although the heavy rain after Cyclone Tomas. The second lecture was held at a Regional Workshop held from 15th to 19th March 2010 at Novotel, Nadi.

This last meeting was attended by 20 participants from 8 SPC member countries. We also invited stakeholders of the tourism industry to attend our lecture, and we were very happy that they came !
Thanks for coming to Mr. Viilame Ratugolea (Waya Lailai Resort), Mr. Jerry And Alumita Sovatabua (Botaira Beach Resort), and Ms Elenoa Nimacere, Hospitality Manager (South Sea Island). Resort owners were interested to be involved in conservation and ecotourism programs.

Visit to South sea Island, from left to rigth:
Dr Roland Bourdeix, Dr Tevita Kete, Manager Elenoa Nimacere and another worker.

The following day, Elenoa Nimacere invited the research tem (Dr Tevita Kete and Dr Roland Bourdeix) to visit the island where her business is located. She was very interested to plant traditional coconut varieties for both ecotourism and conservation purposes.

South Sea Island is located in the Mamanuca Group. Natively known as Vunavadra (a traditional Variety of Pandanus), the island is now rented by South Sea Cruises and is used to host day cruisers. South Sea Cruises hospitality manager Elenoa Nimacere said the coconut tree planting project would help prevent the sand from being blown to different parts of the island when there were strong winds. This information was released by the Fiji times on line, as follow:

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Polymotu precursors: Maprao Kathi Island in Thailand

Polymotu concept is to use geographical and reproductive isolation to conserve and reproduce varieties of plants and trees. When a small isolated place is planted all with the same variety, the plants conserved there breed only within the same variety, and certified seed and seednuts can be produced at the lower cost. These isolated places can be small islands or small valleys; they can also be located in flat mainland, with landscaping designed to create pollen barriers.
Departure to Makapuno Island
There is, at least, one modern example of an island which was recently devoted to the conservation and use of a unique coconut variety,. This is a great success story, because it is a profitable business and it could also lead to a major improvement of this coconut variety.
Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Makapuno is an economically important coconut variety. Instead of coconut water, this coconut contains a soft, white jelly-like mass which is considered a delicacy. Makapuno is preserved in heavy sugar syrup and bottled for local consumption and export. In the Philippines alone, the domestic market needs 4 million kg of the highly-priced Makapuno meat annually. Less than 3% of that demand is being met. Makapuno coconuts are sold for at least 5 times the price of an ordinary coconut.

On the way to Makapuno Island
Growing Makapuno is unlike growing ordinary coconut trees. In each coconut bunch produced by such a palm, 15 to 20 % of the fruits only are Makapuno, the remaining are normal coconuts. Makapuno coconuts do not germinate because the abnormal jelly-like kernel does not support the growth and development of the embryo (Mujer et al., 1984). So the only way to reproduce a Makapuno coconut was to germinate a normal coconut from a Makapuno palm ; and not all these germinated coconuts will give Makapuno palms.oo
The coconut embryo culture technology was developed in the Philippines in the 1960s. Using in vitro culture, Dr. Emerita de Guzman rescued the first embryo from a non-germinating Makapuno coconut. Dr. Erlinda P. Rillo and her team did further research and exploited this technique to develop a Makapuno-based industry in the Philippines (Rillo & Paloma, 1992 ; Areza-Ubaldo & al., 2003).oo
Arrival at Makapuno Island
The opportunity to create a Makapuno Island in Thailand was seized 25 years ago, when the Thai government built the huge Srinakharin dam at Kanchanaburi. The hills were submerged and their peaks turned into more than 100 islands. All the coconut trees in one island were destroyed. Then the island was planted with Makapuno embryos rescued by using in vitro culture. In order to get a large amount of embryos, the Makapuno seednuts were collected from whole Thailand. Researchers paid 50 Bath for each Makapuno nut. Then, they split the nuts, took the embryos, and sell the remaining half Makapuno nuts each at 50 Bath in the Bangkok markets (Thai way, never miss a business). Not all the collected Makapuno nuts were the big round fruits typical from the Thailand tall varieties. A few dwarf palms were producing
Makapuno coconuts not typical to the Thailand Tall. About 20000 coconuts were bought. 8000 good embryos were obtained and cultivated in vitro. 2000 plantlets were obtained, then transferred and planted in the Island.
Makapuno Palms
The island is located near the Burmese border, at about 200 km North-West from Bangkok. No stray coconut pollen can reach the island of the because of the distance across the water barrier. All the marketing of the island was based on the fact that its coconuts never germinate, because they are 100 percent Makapuno.
On the 25th November 2009, Thanks to Thai researchers and the Department of Agriculture of Thailand, we had the great opportunity to visit the Pathi or Makapuno Island. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the island using a small boat.
One of the best Makapuno palms
When arriving, the island looks like any nice traditional Thai coconut plantation, except for one detail: no forgotten germinated seednuts are growing on the ground. Many fruit species are growing there. Some of the coconut palms are heavy producers; the average production seems to be 80 to 100 coconuts per palm per year. Nobody can imagine that these coconut palms were grown in glass tubes.
Dr Narong Chomchalow, President of the Thailand Network for the Conservation and Enhancement of Landraces of Cultivated Plants (TNCEL), gave us the following information about Makapuno in Thailand: "There are two main types of Makapuno in Thailand. One is called Kathi Khao Chao (non-glutinous) - the meat is rather hard, borne on the fruit which is not fully mature or those newly harvested fruits. If the palm is planted on fertile land, the fruit has thicker meat than when the palm is planted in infertile land. Its general characteristics are as follow: light (non-viscous) water, thin meat, rather hard and not as fluffy as the other type (see later); it is used in food processing such as boiled in syrup, blend, or make into ice cream.oo The second type is called Kathi Khao Niao (glutinous) - derived from fruits which are picked when fully mature, i.e. remaining on the tree for a longer period, or has been stored for a long time before opening. Its general characteristics are as follow: viscous water, thick meat, soft and more fluffy than Kathi Khao Chao.oo It is popularly consumed fresh. If the fruit is kept for a longer period, the meat disintegrates with rancid odor. Sometimes all the meat disappeared.
Dr Narong Chomchalow, Dr.Uthai Charanasri and a worker
This is known as dumb coconut or Duean Kin (meaning Moon Eats), probably the same as those which are called eaten by the devil or eaten by the moon in other countries."oo
Kathi Khao Niao (glutinous)
It seems that it exists a type of Makapuno in the Philippines that does not exist in Thailand. This type is called ‘Type 3’ by the Filipinos; when the fruit is 10-11 month old, the cavity of the nut is already almost fully filled with meat. In Makapuno island in Thailand, we observed an overmature fruit with the cavity almost filled with meat, but this is not the same. In Thailand, it occurs only for overmature fruits while in the Philippines, this can be encountered on younger fruits.
Another island on the same lake was designed for producing oil palm seeds. As this island is completely isolated from any other pollen source, there is no need to bag the inflorescences for producing seedlings. This generates subsequent economy of manpower. We made the observation that producing of both Makapuno coconut and Oil palm seeds production could be conducted on the same island.

Kathi Khao Chao (non-glutinous)
A few years back, the Makapuno Island Company received a complaint from one of their customers that one of their 100-percent guaranteed Makapuno fruits germinated. The owner investigated and upon opening the fruit, it turned out to be Makapuno. As the evolutionary process is continually unfolding, one individual Makapuno was somehow able to develop enzymes to digest and metabolize the endosperm, thereby enabling germination. This began a search for the mother tree that bore this very unusual and attractive germinating Makapuno fruit. This palm was found and its progeny planted.oo
Dr Somchai Watanayothin, Coconut Breeder at the Horticulture Research Institute of Thailand, added the following information: "During the year 2000, the owner of Makapuno Island in Thong pa-phumi District, found out the mother palm that produced Makapuno fruits germinated. He harvested Makapuno nuts and raised them in the nursery. After three months he have got 5 seedlings but two of them grew up. The other three seedlings dead. He brought two Makapuno seedlings to plant in Palm oil Island, at about 30 minutes of Makapuno by a rapid speed boat. Now they are six years old but they have not yet bared fruits. That is a history of the new strain of germinating Makapuno in Thailand.” Makapuno Island could lead to a great and unexpected improvement of the Makapuno variety.
Srinakharin lake, at departure from Makapuno Island
So, we can assert that the precursor of the Polymotu concept is a Thai researcher; the reason why Drs Somchai Watanayothin and Uthai Charanasri were searching for geographical and reproductive isolation of palms was more specific than ours; it was linked to the special habit of the Makapuno coconut variety. This was also made on the Thai way, directly as a profitable business: up to now I am not sure that Thai researchers really realize the huge conservation value of what they did.
Anyway the Polymotu concept can be seen as a generalization of the pioneer work of Drs Uthai Charanasri, Somchai Watanayothin and Narong Chomchallow.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Polymotu precursors: bird conservation in New Zealand

Kakato birds in captivity
Polymotu concept is to use geographical and reproductive isolation to conserve and reproduce varieties of plants and trees. When a small isolated place is planted all with the same variety, the plants conserved there breed only within the same variety, and certified seed and seednuts can be produced at the lower cost. These isolated places can be small islands or small valleys; they can also be located in flat mainland, with landscaping designed to create pollen barriers.
We discussed about Polymotu concept with Dr Jean-Dominique Lebreton, the director of the Centre for Functional and Evolutional Ecology at Montpellier, France. Then Dr Lebreton made a very interesting connection between Polymotu and what is achieved in New Zealand in the field of conservation of endangered birds.
Humans have had a profound effect on many bird species. Over one hundred species have gone extinct in historical times, although the most dramatic human-caused extinctions occurred in the Pacific Ocean as humans colonised the islands, during which an estimated 750-1800 species of bird went extinct. According to Worldwatch Institute, many bird populations are currently declining worldwide, with 1,200 species facing extinction in the next century.
Translocations involve moving populations of threatened species into areas of suitable habitat currently unused by the species. There are several reasons for doing this; the creation of secondary populations that act as an insurance against disaster, or in many cases threats faced by the original population in its current location.
Kakato Bird in the wild
One famous translocation was of the Kakapo of New Zealand. The kakapo (Strigops habroptilus Gray 1845) is a large, flightless, nocturnal parrot, endemic to New Zealand. Once abundant throughout New Zealand, the whole population in the wild was reduced to approximately 50 individuals. In situ conservation of natural populations has proved impracticable. These large flightless parrots were unable to cope with introduced predators, such as rats and cats in their remaining habitat on Stewart Island.
Between 1974 and 1992, kakapo birds were translocated to four of New Zealand's offshore islands (Maud, Little Barrier, Codfish, and Mana). Few, if any, kakapo now remain within their former range. Regular monitoring and intensive management of the translocated populations is being undertaken. In April 1998, a total population of fifty-six kakapo was known to survive on offshore islands.
Maud Island in New Zealand
Twenty-six kakapo, thirteen males and thirteen females, were temporarily transferred to Pearl Island (518 ha), southern Stewart Island, from April 1998 to April 1999. The translocation of kakapo to Pearl Island, and subsequent breeding season, provided an ideal experimental framework to study kakapo dispersal, movement patterns, home range development, habitat selection, and lek development during the non-breeding and breeding seasons (Leigh, 2009). The study have shown that Kakapo selected habitat mosaics and vegetation types with higher species diversity and moderate to high abundance of mature rimu and yellow silver pine trees.

Codfish Island in New Zealand
Of course, we cannot plant coconut palms in New Zealand, because the weather is too cold. This was one of the great sadness of the Maori people - they tried so many times to plant coconut palms when arriving from their tropical islands. Anyways, we can use  as an example what Kiwis and Maoris did for bird, and apply it to the coconut palm and other species in our warmer islands.


Joyce, L. (2008) Movement patterns, home range and habitat selection by kakapo (Strigops habroptilus, Gray 1845) following translocation to Pearl Island, Southern New Zealand. Phd Thesis, University of Otago, Neaw Zealand.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A traditional genebank disapearing in the Aratika atoll?

In 2009, in the framework of a research project leaded by CRIOBE and funded by IFRECOR (French initiative for coral reefs), we had the opportunity to interview Mr. Vairaaroa Howaerd, Mayor of the Fakarava district of the Tuamotu archipelago, French Polynesia.

He told us that, on the atoll of Aratika whose mayor is a native, there is a Motu called “Tapu”. This Motu was exclusively planted with a Kaipoa variety (the fibrous envelope of the coconut is sweet and edible). A rahui (set of traditional rules with a sacred dimension) was regulating the exploitation rights of the motu. Thus, everyone was entitled to collect coconuts on the motu "Tapu", but not to make copra. For each harvested coconuts, residents were required to clean the vegetation growing at the base of the coconut palms, cutting with a machete or an axe, without using the technique of weed burning.

Notwithstanding its sacred dimension, this rahui is akin to management rules for a conservatoire of traditional coconut varieties. Polynesians have empirically used numerous small isolated islands to conserve and breed their coconut varieties. The geographical remoteness of the islets has ensured the reproductive isolation of the coconut palms necessary for variety fixation. Once planted in a limited number on a remote island, coconut palms only crossed with each other and it became possible to create new varieties. Then, by taking seednuts from those isolated islands, the ancient Polynesians were able to reproduce, in an empirical but stable manner, the coconut varieties they had created.
Indeed, people who took seeds on Motu Tapu were assured that those seeds replicate the variety they wanted. Unfortunately, in the 1980s, a series of hurricanes has greatly damaged the coconut palms. Motu Tapu was partly replanted with hybrid coconut trees. People who go to the motu Tapu to collect seeds will not get pure Kaipoa variety anymore. The traditional genebank is now threatened with extinction and not as effective as in the past. Following this interview, our recommendation was to avoid planting coconut hybrids in Polynesian islets. Islets should be devoted to the conservation of traditional varieties and to the conservation of biodiversity in a broader sense. Polymotu will consolidate the knowledge about traditional Polynesian genebanks.

Five motu of Tetiaroa to conserve traditional Polynesian coconut varieties

We had the pleasure of receiving a letter from the association « Te Mana O Te Moana ".

This letter confirms the agrement of the family of Marlon Brando and the Company Pacific Beachcomber SC for the integration of five small motu (islets) of the famous Tetiaroa atoll in POLYMOTU project.
Each of the 5 small motu will conserve a distinct Polynesian coconut variety.
The varieties to be conserved in Tetiaroa will probably be: a medicinal variety; one or two sweet husk varieties; the rare horned coconut; the moro ati (most of the fruits dry as copra before falling from the palm); or the niu kafa, (enormous and long fruits serving to make ropes in the past, and appreciated as a drink). The final choice will depend on stakeholders’ needs, the results of genetic analyses, and the availability of the seednuts. In order to find parent palms of the traditional varieties to be conserved, we will search for places where a sufficient amount of palms of the same variety are planted together. for more information about Polymotu and Tetiaroa, see the blog:

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

A lesson from ancient (and some contemporary) Polynesians

Before 1000 AD, the Polynesians had settled in central Polynesia (Tahiti and the Society Islands), the Marquesas, Hawaii and Easter Island (Orliac, 2000). Since that time, the coconut palms became an integral part of the Polynesian way of life. The Polynesians have patiently bred coconut palms adapted to different uses, notably by successively planting their coconut palms on new islands. They contributed to the creation of numerous varieties, with spectacular morphological diversity as shown in picture.

The oldest description of coconut varieties in French Polynesia can be found in the book "Ancient Tahiti" by Teuira Henry, published in 1928 from data collected by her grandfather in 1840. That publication mentions 16 different varieties or forms of the coconut palm. Coconut varieties, which have been passed down from generation to generation of islanders, are now under threat from the globalization of trade, cultural levelling, industrialization and changes in agriculture.
Teuira Henry indicated the existence of particularly enormous coconuts growing the island of Niu-Fou (now known as Niuafo'ou). The name itself of this island means "New coconut". Niuafo'ou is a tiny island in the Tonga group, with an area of 52 sq. km. The distance to the nearest island is 200km. It is a very active volcano that slopes steeply down to the sea floor. Given its unusual geography, Niuafo'ou was named « Tin can island », because a strange way of receiving its postal communications was adopted. The mail was cast into the sea in a tin box and recovered by men in pirogues.There is no safe anchorage for boats. The repeated eruptions of volcano (1867, 1886, 1912, 1929, 1935-36, 1943, 1946, 1985) caused the destruction of many plantations and villages. Following the eruption of 1946, Niua-fo'ou was evacuated and the government authorized the return of the islanders only in 1958. The two islands in Tonga were different dialects are spoken are named Niuafo’ou (New coconut) and Niua Toputapu (Sacred coconut).

Another place famous for its coconuts is Rennell, a high volcanic island located in of the Solomon archipelago, with an area of 660 sq. km. Its two main features are its volcanic lake, now registered as a world heritage, and its Polynesian population, when other Solomon Islands are mainly populated with Melanesians. Except the small island of Bellona, also populated with Polynesians, the distance from Rennell to the nearest island is 170 km.

The fruits of the variety known as Rennell Island Tall (RIT) are among the biggest coconuts in the world. The fruit shape is quite variable, from oblong to pear shaped. Some of the fruits have a long nipple at the bottom, which is very specific to the RIT. The fruits have a good composition with a high content of solid albumen and free water (see picture 3). Numerous seednuts were collected from different locations in the Rennell Island and sent to other countries. The Rennell Island Tall cultivar (RIT) is now conserved in at least 11 germplasm conservation centres, national and international. RIT is involved as parental material in many coconut breeding programmes.
M.A. Foale, who visited the Rennell Island in 1964 and discovered this variety, said that the true-to-type Rennell, with big and pointed fruits, is found only around the volcanic lake on the eastern part of the island. The access from the coast to the volcanic lake is very difficult. It is needed to climb a rocky track with a hard slope, in a forest stuffed with endemic species of poisoning snakes (Laticauda sp.). But in other places, such as the coastal area, there is a mix between the Rennell Island Tall and the ordinary type, known as the Solomon Island Tall, which has smaller oblong fruits.
As far coconut varieties are concerned, Niuafo'ou and Rennell are the most famous islands in the Pacific region. Similarities between these two islands are hudge. They are both very isolated small islands, at a distance of 170-200 km from the nearest big island ; They have both additionals and successive factors of insulation : difficulties to access by boat, harsh slope to climb to reach the place where grow the coconut palms, risks linked to high volcanic activity or endemic poisoning snakes.
Another example of famous « coconut » island is quite different. In the 2000’s, we visited numerous Pacific island in the framework of surveys organized by Bioversity International (formerly IPGRI). L. M. Fili and T.H. Hoponoa, from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Tonga, tell us about the traditional coconut variety called «Niu 'utongau ». This variety belongs to rare forms of coconut, highly threatened, and known as « Sweet husk ». In most coconut, this husk is harsh and not edible. But sometimes, the whole husk of the young fruit is sweet and can be chewed like sugar cane. Its taste resembles that of coconut heart. Once the fruits are ripe, the husk fibres are white and particularly slender. There exist various names and various types, in which husk characteristics are more or less accentuated. Those varieties have yet to be scientifically described. The «Niu 'utongau » coconut variety can be found in quantity only on the small coral islet of Onoiki in the Ha’apai group. Tongians are still sometimes taking seedlings from that islet, which is so small that it does not appear on most maps.

Various observations made since the turn of the century also show the same tendency. The most remote islands are often those where coconut diversity has best been conserved (Labouisse and Bourdeix, 2003). Polynesians have empirically used numerous small islands to conserve and breed their coconut varieties. The geographical remoteness of the islets has ensured the reproductive isolation of the coconut palms necessary for variety fixation. Once planted in a limited number on a remote island, coconut palms only crossed with each other and it became possible to create new varieties. Then, by taking seednuts from those isolated islets, the ancient Polynesians were able to reproduce, in an empirical but stable manner, the coconut varieties they had created.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Letters of support from Cogent and the Global Crop Diversity Trust

Both the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network and the Global Crop Diversity Trust have provided letters of support to the Polymotu project.

Polymotu and the Global Coconut Conservation Strategy

COGENT (the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network) had conducted several consultations on the conservation and use of coconut diversity to assist coconut growing countries to develop a progressive conservation strategy.

The Global Coconut Conservation Strategy is now available on line. This strategy was reviewed during a meeting gathering genebank managers, international experts and the COGENT Steering Committee in December 2007. The strategy aims to optimize the conservation of as much representative diversity as possible in the most cost-effective manner for the short, medium and long term.

The Polymotu approach was included in the global coconut strategy, as shown in the following extracts:

Page 16:

"A new conservation strategy, which involves planting of single coconut varieties on small islands, serves both conservation and breeding purposes. The geographical remoteness of the islets will ensure isolated reproductive systems that are needed for true-to-type breeding, avoiding the use of the costly technique of controlled pollination. This strategy includes both in situ and ex situ conservation – an Indonesian Islet, for instance, could be planted either with a local variety or a Polynesian variety."

Page 20:

"Promoting conservation through use by supporting national coconut breeding efforts in a globally coordinated breeding programme; testing new approaches to conservation such as the use of islets for in situ conservation as well as for breeding and seed nut production; linking with research activities to serve as platform for the utilization of conserved diversity; and developing catalogues of conserved germplasm and farmers’ varieties, high-value products and coconut food recipes, and other public awareness materials to increase coconut consumption.

Motu (coral islands) born from a coconut palm !

Location of Tuamotu Archipelago
During 2009, the IFRECOR (French Initiative for Coral Reefs) and CRIOBE (Island Research Centre and Observatory of the Environment) funded a scientific survey on the atoll of Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia.

You can click on photos and maps to enlarge them.

Location of Fakarava Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago

The objective of this survey  was to conduct an inventory of coconut varieties and assess the potential conservation of traditional varieties on the many small motu (coral islands) of the atoll.

Fakarava, Havaiki-te-araro, Havai'i or Farea is  is the second largest of the Tuamotu atolls.
Fakarava map and location of a small motu
The shape of Fakarava Atoll is roughly rectangular and its length is 60 km and its width 21 km.

Approximatively 700 inhabitants are living here. Fakarava  is among seven atolls that have been grouped together as part of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) global network until October 2008.

Precise location of a small motu
At the time, Mr. Cyril Tshonfo Ayee said Tehira was president of the Association of the Biosphere Reserve of the Municipality of Fakarava. He welcomed us with great hospitality and he gave us a great deal of valuable information. We also took a boat to visit the numerous motu of the attoll. One of the smallest of the motu was particularly interesting...

Coconuts germinating in very harsh conditions
Tehira indicates that for the Polynesian, a motu is defined as a small island on which vegetation grows. A rock or a sand without vegetation are not motu. According Tehira, in many cases, "it is the coconut tree which creates the motu." Tehira said and have seen over the years, some sandbanks become small motu.

bird on a coconut seedling strongly carenced
The photographs illustrate the various stages of this process.

Coconuts brought by sea germinate on a sandbar that has not yet stabilized.

Then the birds come to rest on the palms. Their feathers or their droppings, the birds carry seeds that are deposited on the sand around the coconut. Bird droppings enrich the soil.

Detailed view of the motu
In most cases, a single coconut tree manages to survive to adulthood. Gradually, vegetation grows at the foot of a coconut tree. The roots of the coconut palm and other plants help to establish and maintain the sandbank.

We observed this small motu with only one adult coconut palms. This motu is located at 750 m from another motu where 20 to 30 adult coconut palms are growing. According to the main direction of the  wind and to the 750 m distance, it is very improbable that the coconut pollen can reach this motu. Studies conducted in Africa have shown that a 300 m distance is sufficient to obtain a high reproductive isolation.

The unique coconut palm of the small motu was bearing 9 fruits bigger than a fist. On the ground at the basis of its stems, 15 coconuts were counted. 13 of these coconuts looks  the same shape, and we think that they originates from the unique adult palm of the motu. Some of theses coconuts, when they were shaken, made the usual sound of normal mature nuts containing a normal amount of coconut water.

"Family relationships" between islands ?

In the future, we would like to encourage kinds of « Family relationship » between the small islands used for conservation purposes in the Framework of the Polymotu project.

For instance, once a coconut variety is isolated in a small island, it becomes quite cheap and easy to transfer this variety to another small island, putatively less endangered by climate change.
So, both from the biodiversity and the allegorical points of view, the first island will become a kind of the “mother” of the second one.
We are searching for Polynesian or islanders traditions using the concept of family relationship between islands, but up to now we did not find such legends. If you find, please tell me...