THE Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership (SICCP) is currently partnering with community-based organisations to manage a set of linked protected areas across Western Province.
This network includes some of the most vibrant coral reef to ridgeline systems in the western Pacific.
As part of efforts to update and improve understanding about the status of marine resources at key sites within this network, SICCP has been collaborating with the Waitt Institute to conduct coral reef assessments at four locations (Gatokae, Vangunu Tetepare and Kolombangara) that have active community-based resource management programs.
The assessment team, led by SICCP’s Marine Conservation Coordinator, Alec Hughes, was made up of four national and two international researchers.
The team collected a range of baseline data that will contribute to the goal of better understanding the status of fish, invertebrate, and coral species throughout Western Province.
“The data collected as part of the marine assessment provides critical baselines for long-term resource monitoring efforts in Western Province,” said Expedition Lead and SICCP Marine Conservation Coordinator, Alec Hughes.
“Because we plan to store data in a central database housed with the Ministry of Fisheries, as more standardized data is collected by SICCP and others, it will be accessible to local resource and conservation managers, strengthening informed decision-making about the state of their marine environment,” he added.
Overall, surveys focused on useable information for management at the community level and were comprised of two basic components.
The first component was focused on collecting information on key fisheries species at each of the four locations while the second component involved the collection of high-resolution imagery of the benthic (sea bottom) community.
At each site, the team met with community members currently engaged in, or in the process of establishing, community-based resource management initiatives.
The interest and support shown by communities was instrumental in ensuring that the 10-day assessment achieved its objectives of gathering new information on reef systems critical to the well-being of the Solomon Islands and to strengthen community-driven resource management.
These rural communities have therefore played an integral role in this assessment and deserve much recognition for their interest, cooperation, and foresight.
“With the realisation that the Solomon Islands has an incredibly high number of species and endemism, the highest in the insular Pacific, SICCP started as an organisation to tackle the pressing conservation issues of the terrestrial environment,” said SICCP Conservation Fellow, Dr Patrick Pikacha.
“What’s fascinating about the terrestrial environment however, does not always lie with the science and evolutionary processes that occur, but also the ecological linkages between land and sea and resilience of life to environmental alterations.”
The final site for the expedition was the remote Mborokua Island.
A terrestrial team co-led by SICCP Conservation Fellow, Patrick Pikacha, along with long-time expeditioners Jackson Pae, and Taska Sasamara, joined the expedition for this work.
The island is a popular dive destination, and fishermen from Russell islands and Gatokae Island in the Western Province sometimes fish its remote waters.
However, little is known of the island’s terrestrial biodiversity. On the island, the team surveyed birds, reptiles, and frogs.
The diversity of birds was not high, but Mborokua was surprisingly more like a large island with an abundance of hornbills, pigeons, forest hawks, ospreys, and the endemic Solomon sea eagle.
Unexpectedly the Islet Monarch that occurs off the islands of Isabel was found as opposed to one of the species of monarch found on closer islands to the east in Pavuvu or Gatokae to the west.
This record reflects the isolation and young volcanic geology of Mborokua.
On a dry night of spotlighting, two species of frogs and two species of geckos were found on the upraised fringing reef flats on the leeward side of the island.
One species of frog was the endemic Solomon eyelash frog and the other a Platymantis species resembling a common Solomon Islands endemic.
Both seemed to be hardy species able to survive in dry exposed coralline forests.
A blind snake and numerous skinks were also encountered, not to mention more than 12 species of butterflies, including one nocturnal species.
For a small-upraised volcanic island, Mborokua presents an opportunity to investigate what happens to species when they reach remote islands.
And to think about why island populations are so critical to our understanding of evolution, and help us make informed conservation decisions.
“These surveys present an opportunity to not only link the science with conservation management, but also strengthen land tenure systems by realizing how integral the innate connections of humans are to their environment,” says SICCP’s David Boseto.