By Jimmy Kereseka
I never thought I would be working with fishing communities to help them protect their oceans and coasts against the threats of climate change. But everything changed a few years ago when I decided to change my life course. Back in 2006, working as a schoolteacher in the Solomon Islands’ Western Province, I saw an advertisement for a job with The Nature Conservancy in Choiseul Province, where I was born. Without giving it a second thought, I applied, despite not necessarily having the required qualifications.
Why? Certainly, Choiseul needs teachers. But we may need the ocean — the foundation of our way of life — even more. And the Conservancy has played a vital role in uniting local people to protect the waters, coral reefs and natural resources that surround Choiseul and keep our communities healthy.
Climate change is posing very real threats to local marine systems. Rising sea levels and harsher storms are striking our shores.
These new threats require new solutions. By re-charting my own course and committing to a career with the Conservancy, I’ve helped develop ways to protect some of the world’s most important reefs — and, by extension, the homes and livelihoods of my family, my neighbors and hopefully marine communities around the globe. There’s new hope for our oceans, here, thanks in part to a groundbreaking partnership, far-reaching conservation projects and — oddly enough — a 3D, papier-mâché map.
In the Solomon Islands — and in other island nations around the world — the ocean seeps into nearly every aspect of daily life. Fishing is essential for both our economy and our diets. Each day in Choiseul, women paddle two hours or more in order to reach the shellfish and other resources they need to feed their families. Children spend their days diving local coral reefs, just as I did growing up here.
Today, a big part of my job is partnering with the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community, a group of local chiefs and elders who help determine how local lands are managed.
Our collaboration has resulted in grassroots support for conservation in Choiseul, and is now guiding the creation of an ambitious and extensive network of terrestrial and marine protected areas. It’s been a fruitful partnership, and a microcosm of the alliance we’ve joined as part of the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security — a six-nation commitment to protect the marine resources that sustain the region’s communities and economies.
We’re also working with AusAID (the Australian government’s overseas aid program) and their International Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, which is helping Pacific island nations develop and share new ways of adapting to the growing threats of climate change.
In the Solomon Islands, that help has taken a number of forms, including studying local climate change impacts, assessing how ecotourism like scuba diving can provide locals with sustainable jobs and creating a documentary filmed and edited locally by people already experiencing climate change impacts.
It also gave me the unexpected opportunity to use a medium associated more with teachers than conservationists: papier-mâché.
Mapping the Way Forward
To truly protect the lands and waters local people rely upon for survival, I knew we had to tap into their deep-rooted knowledge of our natural surroundings.
Using papier-mâché, we worked with Choiseul’s Boe Boe community to build a 3-D map that identifies the natural resources that have been vital to local livelihoods for many generations.
It took three days to construct the map, but in the end its amazing accuracy
left villagers visibly moved. Ellen Taqevala, a 74-year-old resident of Boe Boe, became emotional as she pointed out the route that, more than six decades earlier, villagers had taken when World War II operations reached the shores of Choiseul and forced the community to abandon their village.
The model was a way for local people to identify current impacts of climate change (like saltwater intrusion ruining nearby freshwater gardens and forcing the village’s women to paddle even farther for food) and discuss ways to deal with such impacts (like establishing new protected areas for buffering mangroves).
The map spoke to my past life as a teacher and made me realize how fortunate I am now to work with such dedicated conservationists. Re-charting my course has helped me to re-chart Choiseul’s. Choiseul’s commitment to protecting our oceans against climate change continues to grow, as does our hope for our future.