In the Solomon Islands, a remote Pacific archipelago located southeast of Papua New Guinea, there’s a lot of land—and sea—for conservationists to cover.
In 2004, a Conservancy-led scientific assessment showed that the Solomon Islands rank as one of the world’s top-five countries in terms of fish and coral diversity. These results led scientists to extend the boundary of the Coral Triangle to include the Solomons archipelago.
And on land, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands have the greatest diversity of terrestrial vertebrate species of all Pacific Island nations. That’s why the Conservancy is working with the people of Solomon Islands to help communities conserve their incredible natural resources.
Like other emerging Pacific Island nations with fast-growing populations, the resources of the Solomon Islands are disappearing fast. Logging, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices have taken their toll, leveling forests and leaving some of the world’s richest coral reefs in danger.
To address the short- and long-term needs of the Solomon Islands people and their natural resources, the Conservancy is working closely with the Solomon Islands Government, the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Chiefs (LLCTC), the Isabel Council of Chiefs (ICC) and local communities to protect the marine and terrestrial resources of Choiseul and Isabel Provinces.
The Conservancy is also working with the Solomon Islands government toward national legislation and policies that will protect the country’s natural resources and ensure lasting food security for the people of the Solomon Islands.
We’ve helped Isabel and Choiseul provinces create Reef-to-Ridges plans that, through the rigorous gathering of local and scientific data and stakeholder involvement in planning, will help local actors chart the way toward long, healthy, sustainable futures for communities and nature alike.
These plans were created using crucial information provided by the communities themselves. Through participatory 3D mapping processes hosted with help from the Conservancy, other NGOs and AusAID (Australia’s foreign aid department), Solomon Islanders identified the natural resources that were most important to their daily lives and most in need of protection.
They then worked with Conservancy scientists and staffers to churn the data through computer modeling programs. The resulting information is helping communities in Choiseul and Isabel Provinces develop smart use plans that will help local people use resources more sustainably, from nearshore coral reefs up to the forests lining the ridges of islands. Those plans, along with environmental leadership training we’ve provided to groups such as the Mothers’ Union in Isabel Province, are contributing to the growth of burgeoning conservation efforts throughout Solomon Islands.
We’ve also helped inspire a community-based sea change in the Arnavon Islands region. A small chain of islands lying between Choiseul and Isabel Provinces, the Arnavons are are the most important nesting grounds for the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles in the South Pacific. But, they had become hotly contested by local tribes who overhunted sea turtles to supply global markets over the past two centuries.
In 1992, local leaders recognized the need for change and reached out to the Conservancy, which worked with local governments and the communities that had formerly contested the ownership of the Arnavons and assisted them to form the Arnavon Community Marine Conservation Area (ACMCA) in 1995. The ACMCA became the Pacific’s first community-based marine protected area, uniting the once-fractious communities behind a shared commitment to keeping the Arnavons off-limits to fishing and protecting the islands’ threatened sea turtle populations.
As a result, local people are now finding employment as conservation officers and the number of Hawksbill sea turtle nests that are laid annually in the Arnavons has doubled. Populations of giant clams, sea cucumbers and oysters have also risen. In 2011, the Conservancy formally passed the ACMCA management torch over to a board composed of local community members, signaling the self-sufficiency of the protected area and the success of one of the region’s great recovery stories.