Nestled in the Solomon Islands—itself an archipelago of nearly 1,000 islands—lie the Arnavon Islands. This cluster of three large islands represents one of the Pacific’s most important biodiversity hotspots—and one of its greatest conservation successes.
Started with help from the Conservancy in 1995, the Arnavons Community Marine Conservation Area (ACMCA) is a Marine Protected Area (MPA) run by an improbable cast of characters, including reformed arsonists, poachers and former turtle eaters.
Since its establishment, the ACMCA has united once-confrontational communities around a shared mission of conservation. That mission has created increased socioeconomic opportunities for local people. And, since its formation, the number of hawksbill turtle nests that are laid annually in the Arnavons— one of the world’s most crucial sea turtle hatching areas—has doubled.
At the heart of the project are three communities: Katupika and Kia (both with ownership claims), and then Wagina (a community originally from the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati that was relocated to the Solomons by the British Government in the early 1960s). These communities lie in Choiseul and Isabel provinces, which are both a short boat journey away from the Arnavons.
Their proximity led to disputes over territory and to a severe decline in the populations of local marine species, including the Hawksbill sea turtles that nest in the Arnavons. Efforts to reconcile the communities’ competing claims went nowhere, and for decades, the Arnavons’ resources deterioriated.
As the documentary Home for Hawksbill demonstrates, conflict reigned, and when the government attempted to ban the export and trade of sea turtles, communities around the Arnavons bristled. That’s when locals reached out to The Nature Conservancy and asked us to help broker a truce.
The Conservancy worked to get all of the concerned communities on board with a conservation program that would both protect the Arnavons and provide new livelihood opportunities. The result was the ACMCA.
The ACMCA instituted new management guidelines that included zoning and monitoring protocols to protect and patrol the Arnavons. To ensure equity between the three communities, the ACMCA determined that the Arnavons should always have three conservation officers—one from each community—on-site, patrolling local waters and leading the sea turtle recovery program.
Meanwhile, the Conservancy worked to replace the income that would be lost from fishing, creating fishery centers, sustainable seaweed harvesting opportunities and an endowment to guarantee the ACMCA’s long-term financial stability.
Since the ACMCA’s foundation, the Arnavons have experienced a remarkable recovery. The number of hawksbill turtle nests that are laid annually at the Arnavons has doubled and biological surveys show that other species, such as giant clams and trochus, are also thriving.
The ACMCA has inspired similar action, both in the Solomon Islands and throughout the world. It helped convince the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Community, a local organization of more than 100 chiefs, to work with the Conservancy on creating protected areas throughout the region. And in 2008, the ACMCA won the Equator Prize at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, earning recognition for its efforts to alleviate poverty through conservation.
In 2011, the Conservancy formally stepped aside to allow the ACMCA Management Committee Trust Board to lead conservation efforts in the Arnavons. The Conservancy will continue to advise the ACMCA and play a role in expanding its already-tremendous legacy of conservation success.
You can help play a role, too. Support the Arnavons and do your part to help save Hawksbill sea turtles.
Click on the image above to see some of the spectacular underwater species found in the Coral Triangle.
Watch as conservationists help Hawksbill sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea!