THE ocean is very important to the livelihood of all islanders because that’s where they get their food, income and a place to have fun and relax.
Visit any of our islands and you will see many black and white sandy beaches which offers a space for recreational activities such as picnicking.
But human activities, development, pollution and rising sea temperature continues to bring so much change to our ocean making it looking unattractive and flirty.
The ocean is also home to both marine and coral species.
As a country we are so blessed with the vast Pacific ocean.
However, the sad reality is, our coastlines and seas are also being used as a dumping ground.
Today many careless and irresponsible people and companies continue to dump and discharge their wastes and garbage into the ocean.
They do not care about the environment more so the ocean out there.
The country sits at the eastern half of the Coral Triangle, a region in the Western Pacific that is home to more than 500 coral species.
With about 2,239 square miles (5,800 square kilometers) of reefs, 507 documented coral species, and 1,371 documented fish species, our marine diversity is extraordinary and its something we can be proud of.
Nearly 80 percent of our people are living in the rural areas and they depend heavily on fish for food and nutrition. Many of them are fishermen who depend on the ocean to earn their income to support their livelihood.
As islanders, most of them are connected to the ocean. And for ages its their home.
However, ongoing changes to the sea temperature and pollution are contributing to problems associated with our ocean.
There are many reasons why.
In March 2021 a global conservation organisation told Australia’s Pacific Beat that warmer sea temperatures caused by climate change is killing pristine underwater ecosystems in the country.
Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have identified widespread coral bleaching on the western coast of Vangunu Island and New Georgia Island in Western Province.
Alec Hughes, the WCS Solomon Islands program manager, said at that time surveys conducted by community rangers found between 40-60 percent of corals have been damaged at their monitoring sites at Marovo Lagoon.
“It’s not just limited to Marovo itself. We know it’s happening on reefs around Tetepare Island and along the southern coastline of the New Georgia archipelago and I’m sure that will be the case in other parts of the country,” he told Pacific Beat.
Mr Hughes said, it was too early to determine the full impact of the bleaching event.
“If this coral bleaching leads on to a mass mortality of the corals, then what normally follows is an increase of algae cover on the reef that in turn can drive a change in species combination on the reefs which could result in a reduction in the fish that fishers prefer to catch for food.”
According to climatehotmap.org we host an extraordinarily high level of coral diversity, with more than 500 documented species.
However, warming ocean temperatures are threatening the health of these phenomenal marine ecosystems as well as the people that depend on them for dietary and economic sustenance. Studies and reports have revealed that;
- Since 1955, ocean surface temperatures around the Solomon Islands have warmed by 0.5 to 1.4° F (0.3 to 0.8° C).
- Warmer temperatures make corals more susceptible to bleaching and death.
- Fish protein accounts for about one–third of the average diet in the Solomon Islands obtained primarily through subsistence fishing. As coral cover declines, so does the availability of fish species targeted by fishers.
This means all the healthy coral reefs are critical to subsistence fishing in this country. As coral cover declines, so does the biomass of targeted fish because healthy corals provide habitats for reef fish, it was reported.
According to reports, natural temperature cycles, combined with a long–term rise in average sea surface temperatures, can cause coral bleaching. When corals bleach, they are more susceptible to disease and may lead to death.
Apart from rising temperatures, coastal reefs are vulnerable to overfishing, tropical cyclones, and tectonic movements.
Bad practices like bomb fishing and over fishing also played a part to poor reef health.
In 2007, a magnitude 8.1 earthquake near Gizo, Western Province lifted many reefs completely out of the water.
The island of Ranoggah is notable victim which saw the island raised to about a metre. Today, the island remains at the position.
And most of the reefs along the coast especially at the northern tip of the island were shaken and damaged.
Since then fishermen were unable to fish along the reefs because they have vanished. But as the reefs slowly recover, the warming temperature further impacted the reefs.
And this had forced many of the fishermen to travel further out to nearby islands to fish.
Logging is a major, yet often overlooked, threat to coral reefs in the country.
I was at Malasova in South Vella, Western Province recently where logging once operates and their only once clean river and reefs are affected.
Overfishing is particularly problematic on narrow fringe reefs in densely populated areas. Around Gizo Island and surrounding reefs, daily fishing activities by local fishermen to sell at the Gizo market has left most of the reefs stressed out.
And as a result, it had forced many fishermen to sell undersized fish at the Gizo market each day which had in recent received criticism from customers.
Scientists have warned that due to ongoing practices of burning coal, oil, gas, and trees it would lead to production of more heat–trapping emissions, temperatures in this country are expected to continue to warm.
Thermal stress in the archipelago, leading to coral bleaching, is projected to surge, it was revealed.
It was highlighted that the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) cannot protect the archipelago’s reefs from rising temperatures, but it can lessen the impact of stresses such as overfishing.
Last June the International UN World’s Oceans Day celebration was held in Gizo. It was celebrated on the theme; ‘Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean.’
At the occasion, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Gizo Officer, Salome Topo, Sustainable Livelihood Officer, WWF-Solomon Islands Programme based in Gizo stressed that its important use the sea and its resource for sustainable economic developments.
“We should be focusing on a sustainable blue economy to help the economic development of the ocean which includes protecting the health of the oceans so that it contributes to true prosperity for all people, today and long into the future.”
She further added, the ability of the marine environment to provide jobs and nutrition over the long term is already under pressure from human economic activities.
“And it is being further threatened by human action such as over fishing, habitat destruction, pollution, unattainable development and by impacts of climate change.”
Western Provincial Fisheries Officer Simeon Baeto during that celebration also highlighted that its important for everyone to work together at the provincial, community and national level to protect the ocean and its resources through initiatives that will continue to support the sustainability of the resources for the betterment of today and future generation.
He said in Solomon Islands only 2% is covered by landmass and 98% of our country is the ocean itself.
“This is the reason why the Solomon Islands rely much on the ocean and its resources.
“It is estimated that there are 4000 plus coastal communities to which the ocean provide food, livelihood and economy benefits that requires us to reflect on the theme,” Mr. Simeon said.
Because of this, for the benefit for our ocean and our future generation lets continue to highlight the importance of conserving and looking after our seas and marine resources.
There’s no better time to act than now.
By MOFFAT MAMU