Three students and one professor from the University of Kansas, USA, arrived in Honiara the first week of June and prepared for an adventure into the Solomon Island bush.
The research team, led by Dr. Robert G. Moyle, came to the islands to conduct a biodiversity survey of Malaita.
The terrestrial vertebrate diversity on Malaita remains poorly understood, so research of this nature is very important for scientific advancement and informing conservation decisions throughout the Solomon Islands.
Other members of the team included Solomon Islands local field biologists, David Boseto; two expert bird researchers, Luke Campillo and Luke Klicka; and one novice snake, lizard and frog biologist, Scott Travers.
After meeting with the Director of the Department of Environment and Conservation of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology and with local community conservation coordinators from West Are’are in Honiara, the team boarded the Pelican bound for Auki.
Upon reaching Auki, the team met with Felix Naitoro, the Managing Director for the Wai-Hau Conservation Area.
The research team stocked up on supplies, hired a truck, and headed to the end of the road in West Are’are.
Waiting at the end of the road, the kind people of Waisurione village met the team and helped them carry all their gear to the newly erected Wai Hau Conservation Center, which would be their temporary home.
After surveying the surrounding area for nine days, the bird researchers collected 10 different species and observed roughly 30 species.
One species, Red-Vested Myzomela (Myzomela malaitae), which an endemic species to Malaita Island was collected at 100 meters, this is a new distributional record for the bird previously thought to only live above 800 meters.
Scott and his local guides were able to collect 23 species of herps (herps is short for herpetology, which is the study of all snakes, frogs and lizards).
Following the completion of surveys at Wai Hau Conservation Area, the expedition took an OBM to the Waisisi area.
Here the team met with their primary contact, Edgar Pollard, and shared story with the Hahorarumu tribe to convey the importance of their biodiversity surveys for scientific research and conservation efforts.
Then the expedition moved to the conservation center that was recently completed at an elevation of 600 meters along a ridgeline deep within the tribal lands of Hahorarumu uru.
Surveys at this site did not add large numbers of specimens to the bird collection, but the few samples collected were very important.
The most exciting of these findings was the discovery of a bird never before recoded on Malaita, the Blue-Faced Parrotfinch.
The herpetology research was equally as exciting from Hahorarumu uru, potentially discovering a new species of bamboo frog in the genus Litoria.
The team completed their work in Hahorarumu uru, hiked down to the village and awaited transport via OBM to Hauhui where a truck picked them up and returned them to Auki for a night of rest and a chance to restock on rice and tuna.
The team hired a truck the following morning and headed to West Kwaio to meet with members of the Goufou tribe.
Once the team got settled at the Namubuubuu Cultural Center, they met with the tribe and had story to talk about the previous two sites and convey their excitement to be working on the Goufou land.
After a tough hike, the team and their local guides arrived at an abandoned old village known as Nunubala.
The bird team had a lot of success in the hills of West Kwaio, adding four new species to the collection, brining the total to 17.
The herpetology team was also able to add a few new species to their collection, including the Prehensile-tailed Skink. After completing a successful trip, the team again returned to Auki, only to have all travel plans delayed by the cyclone. When the weather finally cleared, the team parted ways.
Scott and David took a cargo ship back to Honiara while The Lukes waited for a 360 Flyer to take them to Tulagi.
Scott returned to USA the first week of July and proposed to his longtime girlfriend on a beach in California. The next time Scott returns to the Solomon Islands he will be a married man. Congratulations Scott and Karen! David spent a week in Fiji attending the IUCN Species Forum.
The Lukes finally got to Tulagi after a bit of engine trouble on the 360 Flyer and met with the Central Province Premier, Hon. Selwyn Mapuli.
They discussed the research in Malaita Province and arranged for permission to conduct similar research in Central Province next year.
After getting a letter of permission, The Lukes excitedly returned to Honiara to reunite with David.
The whole research team is very excited about their findings on Malaita, grateful to the wonderful people who allowed them to conduct surveys on their tribal lands, and thankful to those who provided invaluable local expertise.
The team would also like to acknowledge the support from the Premier of Malaita Province Hon. Peter Ramohia and Director and Staffs of the Department of Environment for assisting the team obtain research permits and export permit to ship the specimens collected back to the University of Kansas in USA.
Under the advisement of Dr. Robert G. Moyle, and University of Kansas biodiversity research team looks forward to continuing to collaborate on research projects and conservation efforts with the great people of the Solomon Islands!