This thesis is an exploration of the politics and practices of environmental management
concerning a species of giant clam; pasua (Tridacna maxima) on the island of Tongareva, an atoll
in the northern Cook Islands, Eastern South Pacific. In particular, the thesis examines variations
in what the Tongarevan people see as the 'problem with pasud and the complex interplay
between these different conceptions and the acceptance or not of a proposed customary closure
on pasua harvest known as rahui.
The research accounts for a
range of social and power relations and ecological conditions in
order to demonstrate the socio-political-ecological nexus that produces pasua management on
the island. It explores how authority structures, economic changes and networks of exchange
intersect to determine and shape the politics ofpasua harvest and rahui on Tongareva and place
both the island and pasua in very specific ways. It engages with recent debates over the
significance of so-called traditional knowledge and management practices to argue for and
contribute to a more nuanced understanding of environmental management in a South Pacific
context. Theoretically, the thesis builds upon recent debates around the social and the
environmental as mutually constitutive domains, elaborating this relationship by demonstrating
how the use and conservation of pasua is negotiated in and through space.
The interdisciplinary research design includes analysis of oral histories, key player interviews and
participant observation along with findings from a comprehensive survey of pasua abundance
and distribution in the lagoon. It pursues this combination of data collection not in order to use
ecological 'facts' to verify social 'beliefs' but because it sees such knowledges as different but
equally valid -if differently empowered - forms of knowledge.
Overall the thesis suggests a different analytic lens for examining environmental management. It
challenges the self-evidence of place, the existence of clear-cut 'environmental problems' and
the idea that traditional practices can be unproblematically implemented. It suggests a relational
approach that recognises the social, mobile and networked characteristics of the species, people
and places under consideration so as to encourage attention to the varied topography of
environmental problems and to develop similarly nuanced solutions accordingly.