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Pay in stone money or the low-impact tourism dilemma!

Micronesia is an archipelago nation, far and isolated in the Pacific Ocean. The Yap islands group is part of Micronesia and has a very peculiar currency: stone.  Stone money known as “Rai” are large stone disks, sometimes measuring up to 4 meters, with a hole in the middle that was used for carrying them. Rai was and is still used as a trading currency there. Interestingly enough, most of the stones have not been mined on Yap but on the neighboring island of Palau. The Yapese would take the ocean on their canoes and rafts and sail there. They would quarry the stones and then bring them back home.

In exchange for letting them mine the stones, the inhabitants of Palau would get copra, coconut, or beads.  The danger and time it took to bring back the stones were part of their value, as well as their size and age. The larger and the more ancient, the more value a stone has. The value of rais is now fixed as they are not mined anymore, their value is now fixed.   

If you hike through the island, you will easily notice rais that is often placed by the side of the trail. Some of them are so heavy they cannot be moved easily so when they are being traded, ownership is passed orally between the two parties. There are no other records than the words of men. 

Even though the US dollar is now the official currency in Micronesia, stone money is still used for important transactions such as marriage, land purchase, or compensation in case of wrongdoing. 

Nowadays, Micronesia is known for its beautiful landscape and its tropical weather. Stable, and excellent, weather all year long makes it quite nice for romantic getaways and family retreats alike.

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However, Micronesia is facing a number of climate change-induced challenges. It is located in a region of thousands of small islands in the Pacific Ocean where there is a major concern due to the region’s vulnerability to sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events.

Climate change-induced challenges

Rising sea levels caused by climate change are already eroding beaches and flooding low-lying areas, threatening the livelihoods of island communities that rely on fishing and agriculture. The increased frequency and intensity of storms and typhoons are also causing damage to infrastructure and homes, making it difficult for the region’s economy to recover. Climate change also poses a threat to Micronesia’s unique and fragile ecosystems, including coral reefs and mangroves which are essential for tourism, coastal protection, and fish habitat. With many islands in the region having a high poverty rate, the cost of adaptation to these impacts is a significant challenge and the dependency on tourism as a major source of foreign currency is increasing.

Low-impact tourism opportunities

In this sense, Micronesia is a case study of the low-impact tourism dilemma, from the one hand, increasing tourism activity will support the local population and its development. Support that shall help the local community build relevant mitigation actions facing the climate change challenges. And from the other hand, due to its geographic location, every traveler will have a high environmental cost since they will use the plane to go on-site. Of course, the islands are doing their best to ensure low-impact tourism through optimization of transportation once on-site or the use of local produce for food production, actions that are surely relevant and that shall contribute to this low-impact tourism. Nonetheless, the use of air travel to visit Micronesia leads to a high environmental cost that in its turn leads to more greenhouse gases, consequently aggravating climate change impacts that would need mitigation actions from the Micronesian stakeholders.

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A difficult challenge that is of particular intensity, and clarity, for this part of the world where the remote geographical location in the pacific ocean, with many snorkeling, fishing, coral reefs, birdwatching, and many more magnificent low-impact tourism activities are possible, but a high environmental cost has to be paid upfront to be able to visit.

Do not miss any opportunity

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