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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Gizo, Ghizo

My last post was mainly about life in Honiara, the highlights and the daily grind. Nothing to be envious of, in other words. I think it’s fair to say that this post is going to change all that…

Sunrise over Kolumbanggara Island, near Gizo

Sunrise over Kolumbanggara Island, near Gizo

Last week I flew to Gizo for meetings with stakeholders to talk about protected areas. I’ve been to Gizo before, so I knew what to expect, but it was still pretty awesome.

Kolumbanggara Island

I flew out on Sunday in a Dash-8; the views from the window were amazing. You really get a sense of how many islands there are when you see the country from the air.

Guadalcanal (left) and Nusatupe (right) from the air

Guadalcanal (left) and Nusatupe (right) from the air

I was seated next to a lady and her gorgeous little girl – who kept trying to resist sleep to stare at me with big wide eyes.

Wide-eyed pikinini

Wide-eyed pikinini

On arrival at Nusatupe (the island where the plane lands), I was picked up by the dive boat and taken to dive the Toa Maru and Grand Central Station with one of the volunteers based in Gizo. Honestly, neither of the sites was outstanding (Komodo you have spoiled me!) although GCS had the potential to be a great dive. The Toa Maru was quite interesting as wrecks go – it’s a WWII Japanese transport ship with lots of artefacts including saki bottles – but didn’t have outstanding marine life as I’ve seen elsewhere (let’s face it, I’m a marine biologist – I see wrecks as substrates for colonisation!).

We spent our surface interval on Njari Island with a group of friends, where we were served a freshly-cooked lunch of yellowfin tuna, salad and roasted vegetables served on leaves, followed by fresh fruit.

The beautiful beach at Njari Island

The beautiful beach at Njari Island

Lunch was cooked on site

Lunch was cooked on site

Lunch! Fresh yellowfin tuna, roasted veges and rice

Lunch! Fresh yellowfin tuna, roasted veges and rice

Then it was back to Gizo (town) for a refreshing ale overlooking the harbour, then a delicious crayfish dinner with my colleagues from NSW Environmental Defender’s Office, who are sponsoring my volunteer assignment.

Racing dugouts

Racing dugouts

Gizo harbour

Gizo harbour

Yum - crayfish!

Yum – crayfish!

The next few days were taken up with stakeholder meetings and site visits. I felt really honoured to meet such a range of Solomon Islanders who are passionate about protecting their natural resources and preserving their culture and customs – we had people there from Malaita, Isabel and Munda as well as locals from Ghizo (island) and nearby Kolumbanggara.

Our site visits were to two communities living close to Ghizo who want to protect their local environment and manage their marine resources effectively. The boat ride was tough.

Some of the views from the boat ride

Some of the views from the boat ride

I also got to visit one of the nicest places to stay in the area – Oravae Cottage. It’s an eco-resort run by an Australian-Solomon Islander couple, and it’s just gorgeous. It’s definitely going on the bucket list!

View from one of the Oravae Cottage bungalows at Sepo Island

View from one of the Oravae Cottage bungalows at Sepo Island

I was also lucky enough to meet the good folks over at the Worldfish Centre on Nusatupe. While there I snuck in a snorkel to check out the giant clams they have been growing out and was followed around by a curious black tip reef shark.

The jetty at the Worldfish Centre, Nusatupe

The jetty at the Worldfish Centre, Nusatupe

All together I spent 5 days in Gizo and am already planning my next trip back. I’ve made some firm friends there, and was well looked after by everyone.

Moonrise over Gizo harbour

Moonrise over Gizo harbour

And just to prove it wasn’t all a tropical island paradise… the roads are even worse than Honiara 🙂

More pothole than road, Gizo

More pothole than road, Gizo