Ia man! – Awareness Part 2

OK, OK, dear readers I know I’ve been really bad this time. I am overdue on writing this blog post by ummm 5 months… In my defence, I have been sooooo busy since I did the trip that is the subject of this post – what with wrapping up my life in Solo, attending the World Parks Congress in Sydney, a whirlwind trip to Canberra and unpacking/reorganising/repacking to move to another country (in a record 5 days), then moving to said country with all that it entails… phew! Then in January I took the course to become a SCUBA diving instructor (only 1 month or so of my life) and in February squeezed in a trip to see family overseas. Do I have your forgiveness now? I do hope so 🙂

So, moving right along, this post follows on from my previous one (Awareness Part 1), in which your faithful correspondent – along with Ministry colleagues – took part in a program to raise awareness about protected areas in Isabel and Choiseul provinces as well as Wagina and the Arnavon Islands, Solomon Islands. The second phase of our awareness program involved communities in Marovo Lagoon, Roviana Lagoon, Tetepare Island and Western Province (New Georgia and Ghizo). My itinerary went something like this: Seghe-Chea-Tetepare-Munda-Kolombangara-Munda-Gizo-Sepo Island-Saeraghi-Honiara. If you can’t remember where all these places are, you can refer to this map from an earlier post, and below is a more detailed map of the Marovo Lagoon area.

Map of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands, showing New Georgia and Tetepare Island, courtesy http://www.siartc.org.sb

Awareness program

Over about a two week period we met with communities, community leaders, individual families, conservation organisations, rangers and scientists. At each proposed site we did a preliminary visual assessment, including on snorkel, to get an idea of conservation value. It was really useful to see first-hand what various communities wanted to protect and hear about the reasons behind it, as well as to compare sites.

It was also a rare opportunity for communities and individuals to talk face-to-face to Ministry staff about other issues and concerns they are facing (unregulated logging, pollution and poaching amongst them) and to find out what they can do about it. It was clear that many communities and traditional owners don’t know what their legal rights are and despite the great work of the Landholder Advocacy Legal Support Unit of the Solomon Islands Public Solicitor’s Office (LALSU), there are many communities falling through the gaps and LALSU doesn’t have the capacity to address these.

Here is the photographic record of our journey…

A big thanks to Salome Topo and the staff at Worldwide Fund for Nature‘s Gizo office, who kindly helped us out with our meetings on Ghizo (the island, not the town).

A note on a few off-the-beaten-path gems…

I was so excited to get the opportunity to travel to Tetepare Island on this trip, and it truly is a spectacular sight. In the end we only had a heart-breakingly brief day and a half there, but it was enough to leave me salivating for more… Tetepare is the largest unlogged island in the Pacific, and it has a wonderful bunch of passionate rangers, community leaders and biologists working hard to keep it that way. We were lucky to meet the rangers and caretakers, as well as John and Katherine Read, who have played a huge part in driving the conservation of the island until now.

On Tetepare, me and my Ministry collagues with Tetepare rangers and seagrass girls

On Tetepare Island, me and my Ministry colleagues with Tetepare rangers and seagrass girls (photo courtesy MECDM)

Educational posters in English and Pidgin, Tetepare Island (photo courtesy MECDM)

Educational posters in English and Pidgin, Tetepare Island (photo courtesy MECDM)

This reef is regularly surveyed, along with other areas, to feed into the Tetepare Island Management Plan (photo courtesy MECDM)

This reef is regularly surveyed, along with other areas, to feed into the Tetepare Island Management Plan (photo courtesy MECDM)

If you’d like to learn more about Tetepare, and/or how you can visit, their website is very informative. You can read about the fight to save Tetepare in John and Katherine’s book, “The Last Wild Island: Saving Tetepare“.

Another group of communities working hard to conserve and manage their resources sustainably is those on Kolombangara Island, through the Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Conservation Association (KIBCA). You can support their work by visiting the Imbu Rano Lodge, which we visited as guests of KIBCA. Sadly our schedule didn’t allow us to stay overnight but it is a great place to get back to nature and hike the high mountains of Solomon Islands.

Imbu Rano Lodge, Kolombanggara

Imbu Rano Lodge, Kolombangara

The view from the verandah at the Imbu Rano Lodge to the high peaks of Kolombanggara is spectactular (untouched virgin forests), even in the mist

The view from the verandah at the Imbu Rano Lodge to the high peaks of Kolombangara is spectactular (untouched virgin forests), even in the mist

Diving

Thankfully it wasn’t all work and I managed to fit in a few dives as well 😉 While hanging around Seghe I met Lisa Choquette for the first time and checked out Solomon Dive Adventures‘ new operation near Chea (Marovo Lagoon). Later, while loitering in Munda, I squeezed in a few cheeky dives with Jen and Graeme at Dive Munda. Diving in both places was outstanding and my hosts could not have been more accommodating, fun and knowledgeable. Both are highly recommended!

Marovo Lagoon

The indomitable Lisa Choquette, at Kahaini

The indomitable Lisa Choquette, at Kahaini

Lisa is mad keen about fish (and as a fishy person that made me very happy!) and she happily took me for a snorkel around the tiny island of Kahaini where SDA is now based to show off what it has to offer.

All I can say is WOW. I don’t remember ever seeing such diversity in such a small area. There are six different habitat types and such an astounding number of different varieties of organisms that I thought my head was going to start spinning – I didn’t know where to look next… and don’t get me started on the dive sites!

Suffice it to say that if you are the sort of person who doesn’t like 5-star resorts and wants to identify all the critters you’ve seen after every dive, you need to meet Lisa. For the record, my first dive with her started like this:

And my last dive ended with this:

Munda

Sharks, amazing healthy coral gardens, walls, sharks, rays, bumphead parrotfish, tuna, Napolean (Maori) wrasse, nudibranchs, barracuda and did I mention the sharks? Destination diving at its best – really. I was very impressed by my dives at Munda. If anyone is interested in which sites I dived I will dig out my logbook but it definitely included Shark Point and Cave of the Kastom Shark. Let my video speak for itself. Sadly the hammerhead I saw on my first dive was too shy so I didn’t get him/her on video, but here are the rest of the best bits.

It was a huge trip and I was pretty exhausted after all those hours in tiny tinnies and all the heavy Solomon Islands food, but I feel very privileged to have been able to see parts of the Sollies that others don’t have access to. That and my amazing counterpart Agnetha, and the rest of my team at MECDM, without whom my time in country wouldn’t have been what it was.

Mi tangiu tumas fo evrisamting an mi barava missim iufala evriwan brata an sista blo mi lo Solo xx

And ending with a gratuitous money shot – from a fabulously relaxing afternoon of snorkelling, crayfish and soothing music at Fatboys Resort, a short boat ride from Gizo.

Always a tough way to spend an afternoon - Fatboys Resort and Restaurant

Always a tough way to spend an afternoon – Fatboys Resort and Restaurant, near Gizo

The running joke in our office - we are all totally addicted to Bongos (for the Aussies, they are as close as you can get to Cheezels in Solo) (photo courtesy MECDM)

The running joke in our office – we are all totally addicted to Bongos (for the Aussies, they are as close as you can get to Cheezels in Solo) (photo courtesy MECDM)

Suffer in your jocks!

Lxx

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Arnavon Adventures – Awareness Part 1

After an extremely busy past couple of months I have finally had time to post about my adventures travelling through the Solomons with my workmates from the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, conducting awareness about the protected areas work we have been doing. I have split this into two posts, one for Isabel-Arnavons-Wagina-Choiseul and one for Western Province. Picture-heavy content coming up…

In September and October, I – along with various colleagues – travelled to the provinces of Isabel, Choiseul (including the Arnavon Islands and Wagina) and Western Province. Our primary purpose was to talk with local communities, non-government organisations (and partners) and provincial governments about how they can protect and sustainably manage their land, sea and resources, as well as to hear from them about some of the issues they are facing.

Many small boat trips, several plane rides and multiple compressed vertebrae later, here is the story in pictures. Enjoy!

If you want to experience the excitement of baby green turtles hatching, this is your lucky day – because I videoed it 😉

To learn more about the Arnavon Islands, check out the Arnavon Islands website and TNC’s website. There are links on the latter if you’d like to make a donation to support TNC’s conservation work.

Part 2 on Western Province coming soon…

Lxx

 

Choice Choiseul, Lush Lauru

Before you ask, yes I have been associating with far too many of our brothers and sisters across the Tasman. Bat, hem fitim…

I was recently lucky enough to join staff from The Nature Conservancy on a field visit to Choiseul Province, in the north-western Solomon Islands. Choiseul – unpopulated, densely forested, ringed by beautiful white sand, remote – you probably never knew it existed. Funny name for a Pacific Island too and just where the heck is it again? Well, it turns out that the French had explorers too, and patriotic ones at that (the local name for Choiseul is Lauru). As for where it is, put it this way – you can see Bougainville from the provincial capital, Taro…

Map of the Solomon Islands, courtesy www.mappery.com

Map of the Solomon Islands, courtesy http://www.mappery.com

Visiting Choiseul is, in a lot of ways, like stepping back in time. It’s the real Solomon Islands – the place I came to explore. After a few months in Honiara, one can sometimes forget that it is nothing like the rest of the country…

The view from the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities/TNC office ain’t half bad

Our visit to Choiseul took us to three villages – Zinoa, Nukiki and Poroporo. The aim of the trip was for TNC to finalise some protected areas applications and to help communities assess the stocks of trochus inside two locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs).

Choiseul map, courtesy Google Maps

Choiseul map, courtesy Google Maps

Our trip started at dawn, with a flight from Honiara to Taro stopping over at Gizo. We then travelled by ray boat to the various villages, the furthest around 1.5 hours from Taro.

For the first three days, Seno from TNC and I visited the villages of Zinoa, Nukiki and Poroporo to talk about protected areas. Over the second three days I joined other TNC staff and local communities on trochus surveys. We had a really warm welcome at every village we went to; our lovely hosts at Nukiki even boiled some water for my shower! Our accommodations were very comfortable – at Zinoa we stayed in the guest house on a separate island, in Nukiki we stayed with one of the local ladies, and at Poroporo we were settled in at nearby Perama Lodge.

Zinoa village has protected a large area of sea around two small islands, one of which is completely uninhabited and for which you must seek permission to visit. It is virtually impenetrable and is home to coconut crabs, among other wildlife. The other of the two islands is the site of the comfortable guest house.

The LMMA at Zinoa

The LMMA at Zinoa

Exploring the Zinoa LMMA

Exploring the Zinoa LMMA

Nukiki village’s LMMA (Redman) is at Paspasbarego Island close to Taro, and has a small house on site. We had a good tour of the island and I later snorkelled the surrounding waters as part of the trochus stock assessment surveys inside and outside the LMMA.

Stori taem, Paspasbarego Island

Paspasbarego Island near Taro, Choiseul

Our final destination was Poroporo and Perama LMMA, which comprises the waters around Perama Island. The LMMA at Perama is really nice, and has wonderful snorkelling. Nearby there is some great spearfishing to be done – and just to ensure the trip wasn’t too unexciting we managed to get caught in a lightning storm (forked, not sheet – one hit the beach right in front of us – eek!).

Anemone fish, Perama LMMA

Anemone fish, Perama LMMA

Trochus survey, Perama LMMA

Trochus survey, Perama LMMA

Measuring trochus, Perama LMMA

Measuring trochus, Perama LMMA

Nearby Poroporo village is well known for delicious mud crabs, and I was lucky enough to score a few as a gift from the community.

They were delicious.

Speaking of food, we were fortunate to have the fabulous Mary Kereseka cooking for us, along with the ladies from the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities (LLCTC). We were treated to amazing local food, including fresh squid, crayfish and fish. We were even included in Mary’s daughter Alice’s birthday celebration feast. Very special.

Choiseul string bags

While in Choiseul I was very keen to track down a few kastom string bags (or “kuza“), after hearing a lot about them from my friends and colleagues in Honiara. Luckily I found some! These bags are in demand from Solomon Island ladies because they are light and strong and can hold a lot. They are also completely organic!

Choiseul kastom string bag, or "kuza"

Choiseul kastom string bag, or “kuza”

A lot of work goes into these bags, as I discovered after speaking with a few of the ladies who make them… They are made from the bark of the tulip tree, sheets of which are soaked in seawater and then dried in the sun. Once dry, the bark is separated into fibres, which are rolled on the thigh to make twine. It is this process that takes all the time – a simple market bag (diagonal mesh) can take up to one month to make, and a more detailed “bubuzai” type bag (square mesh, reinforced) can take 3-4 months.

Generally the women charge around $50 for a basic market bag and $100-200 for a more complicated design or a larger bag. It may seem a lot, but next time you think about haggling, remember how long they have taken to make!

All in all, it was a fantastic experience visiting Choiseul and the communities there. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who would like to go further off the beaten track in the Solomon Islands, you won’t be disappointed 🙂

Lxx

Sunset from Perama Lodge

Sunset from Perama Lodge