Participatory 3D Mapping for Land Use Planning and Climate Change Adaptation

The Nature Conservancy
Published: 06 November 2017
Last edited: 28 March 2019
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Due to increasing pressure on vulnerable natural resources from tourism, local development, and climate change, state government planners in Melekeok (Palau) have identified a need to prioritize land use planning. A 3D model of the state was created using a participatory process, utlizing the knowledge of all demographic sectors of the community. The end result is a 12’ x 10.5’ x 6” model of that serves as a tool to help guide decision makers and community members how to plan for climate change adaptation, manage natural resource, and address land zoning issues. 


Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Freshwater ecosystems
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Pool, lake, pond
River, stream
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Coastal and marine spatial management
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Traditional knowledge
Water provision and management
Watershed management
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Lack of infrastructure
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Melekeok, Palau


As a remote island in the Western Pacific, Palau is dependent on a healthy environment for the ecosystem services it provides. Fresh water resources, healthy fish stock, and stable coastlines are all vital to the well-being of its residents, especially in the state of Melekeok.

Recently, encroaching tourism and its associated development, as well as geophysical impacts along the coastline due presumably to climate change, have threatened the quality and quantity of Melekeok's natural resources that its residents are so reliant upon.

A particular challenge for Melekeok is balancing economic growth with wise stewardship of natural resources and protected areas, as well as the maintenance of their cultural heritage.


Over 70 participants assisted in constructing the model. Ages ranged from 10-70+ years old, and included all demographics and multiple stakeholder groups. Staff from multiple state and national agencies will benefit directly from this tool.

How do the building blocks interact?

This workshop is primarily a learning experience, with a tangible product/tool as a byproduct. As such, there needs to be a balanced approach to the workshop using sound technical planning and execution, thorough communications, free flow of information and knowledge exchange, and an enthusiasm at the community level to ensure practical value of the tool.


The technical experts must serve in a supporting capacity to the community throughout the process so that ownership of the model takes root. They plan in advance and communicate all GIS technical information to workshop implementers and planners, who also will benefit from some GIS experience/exposure. The planners, by being proactive and thorough, will be able to reach as many participants as possible in an early time. This will ensure the greatest amount of traditional knowledge is being captured. The cooperation across all of these skillsets and demographics are what in turns yields sustained utility. There is greater chance of the project taking root if a diverse and abundant community is equally supportive.


The model is currently housed in a community center and serves as a visual tool and reference on a daily basis to members of the community. It serves as an educational tool for the community youth, who are able to visualize valuable resources, infrastructure, natural habitats, and community landmarks from a geospatial perspective. 

More formally, the model is used by state and national planners during meetings and workshops as a guide in their zoning processes. As tourism development seeks to expand beyond Koror, competing interests are vying for valuable land in Melekeok State, and this model provides an accurate, transparent window to the important natural assets of the area. Furthermore, planned retreat is being considered as an adaptation strategy and requires tools like the 3D model to properly plan for relocation around critical habitats and private property.

Using the 3D model to properly zone and plan not only protects critical habitat and ecosystems, but will contribute to a more cost-effecient process of social and commercial development.


In a response to how the P3DM workshop will benefit Melekeok, an unnamed 42 year old particpant answered:

"I will promote the 3d model as a learning and planning tool and will disseminate this knowledge to other people. I am more aware of climate change, and ready for it. It motivates me to think of other ideas besides sports to have kids engaged"

Contributed by

npeterson_32915's picture

Nate Peterson The Nature Conservancy

Other contributors

Nate Peterson
The Nature Conservancy
Mike Aulerio
The Nature Conservancy
Graham Gaines
The Nature Conservancy
Kevin Mesebulu
Melekeok State Government
Patrick Vuet
Partners with Melanesians
Cecile Senive
Partners with Melanesians
Chiara Franco
The Nature Conservancy
Bibbie Kumangai
The Nature Conservancy
Johannes Forster
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research