I am really excited to be aboard the M/Y Golden Shadow for the second half of the Living Oceans Foundation’s (LOF) Solomon Islands mission. I have joined the LOF education team and I am representing a partner organization, OceansWatch. OceansWatch is a small, New Zealand registered NGO that has been working in the South Pacific for the past 7 years. Founded in 2007 by ex-Greenpeace skipper, Chris Bone, OceansWatch uses sailing yachts to access remote and isolated island communities. This year, I led their marine program and team of volunteers throughout the Temotu Province in the Solomon Islands. We worked in Vanikoro and the Reef Islands for two and half months. I even got the chance to live in a traditional village and learn about village life.
This year OceansWatch ran a wide range of marine projects in local communities including programs regarding their coral reefs. A big part of my field season included seagrass and coral reef monitoring. This data is collected each year and added to OceansWatch’s long-term dataset. The in-depth data that the LOF collects is invaluable here because this region has never had a full marine assessment! This in-depth information in collaboration with OceansWatch’s long-term data can be used to help create marine protected areas in key areas. It can also provide us with an idea of the state of the reefs here in Temotu and how we can work with the local communities to better manage them.
While in the communities, I ran educational sessions about coral reef, seagrass and mangrove ecology and workshops on crown-of-thorns starfish (COTs). COTs are a predator of coral, and when juvenile survival rate increases, the COTs will eat coral faster than it can grow. They have been causing havoc in Vanuatu this year. To prevent a similar story here in Temotu, both OceansWatch and the LOF have taught local communities what to look for and how to remove them if an outbreak arises.
In all four communities we visited I also established Reef Guardian teams. These teams are made up of 10-12 villagers who are particularly interested in conserving their marine environments. We understand the strong tradition of customary fisheries and marine management here in the Solomon Islands, so this program is designed to fortify local traditions while increasing local awareness. I work with these groups to train them on monitoring key indicator species like parrotfish that graze on algae and keep it from overgrowing the coral, and fisheries data collection. This program has been really successful here in the Reef Islands, with one community in 2013 ceasing all sea cucumber harvesting even once national bans were lifted!
Working with communities to educate them on the importance of coral reefs and their conservation is incredibly important. These people have the power to create and change regulations regarding their marine environment. I am thrilled to have the chance to return to Temotu with LOF and to keep spreading the coral reef conservation message.
Photos: 1,4 OceansWatch; 2 Lucy Marcus; 3 Amy Heemsoth