4 Aug 2016

Ancient Pacific city thrown lifeline

9:01 pm on 4 August 2016

An ancient ruined city in the northern Pacific, at risk from rising seas, has been thrown a lifeline by the international community.

Nan Madol

It remains a mystery how the boulders of Nan Madol, an ancient city on Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia, were transported and built up. Photo: Michael Runkel / Robert Harding Premium

The centuries-old capital Nan Madol, on Pohnpei, one of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), received UNESCO World Heritage status last month.

The 92 plus man-made islets of Nan Madol, a ruined city in the north Pacific, are linked by canals

Nan Madol's 92-plus islets are linked by canals Photo: Pohnpei Historic Preservation Office/Emelither Kihleng

It is hoped the listing will bring millions of dollars in conservation help for Nan Madol and its 92-plus islets, which are linked by a network of canals in a lagoon on the south-east side of Pohnpei.

Nan Madol, which dates from 400AD to 500AD was the ceremonial centre of the Saudeleur dynasty, a vibrant period in Pacific Island culture.

FSM National Preservation Officer Augustine Kohler said the ancient city was still sacred for Pohnpeians.

"At the present all you find is this impressive architectural work of stone monuments, ceremonial centres etc, so these are where the elite of our society used to live," he said.

"The estimate is that it could hold up to about 2000 people. The boulders some of these weigh tonnes. That is a mystery."

Mr Kohler has been working for several years on attaining a World Heritage listing for the site.

He said the FSM planned to apply this year to UNESCO for funds and other help to conserve it.

The FSM government was also waiting for international technical experts to come and assess the remains, and the plan was to have locals trained up to be able to preserve and maintain it in future.

Mr Kohler said the biggest threat to Nan Madol was climate change, and he said rising sea levels were sure to have an impact as the islets went through the process of natural decay.

"The foundation of Nan Madol is relatively sound but some areas have collapsed and hence the 'In Danger' listing," he said.

"Additionally, the channels are silted, preventing the free flow of the waterways, and the encroaching mangroves are a problem too."

Pohnpei is the most developed and populous island among the FSM group, and work has already started on marketing Nan Madol as a drawcard for tourists.

Mr Kohler said while locals still regarded it as sacred, it was becoming more open to visitors.

"Definitely it's going to be probably the biggest drawcard for FSM at the moment but we also have to be conscious of the fact that it's an old site, so we do want to limit the number of people who are coming and how it's used to preserve it."