Melanesia

Journey to Tikopia: Conservation Challenges in Remote Melanesia

Rick Hamilton, The Nature Conservancy|February 16, 2017|Blog Post

This blog originally appeared on Conservancy Talkthe conservation blog of The Nature Conservancy. 

In November 2016, my wife Sarah and I found ourselves on a domestic flight from Honiara bound for the small coastal town of Gizo in the Western Province of Solomon Islands. I first traveled to the Western Solomon’s in 1996 as a young marine science student, eager to learn all I could about the ecology and culture of this breathtakingly beautiful region. Solomon Islands occupies a large part of my heart, and although I’d visited this nation of islands more than 50 times in the past two decades, this trip was going to be unique. We were about to join the Zegrahm Faces of Melanesia expedition upon the Caledonian Sky, and my levels of excitement were on par with my inaugural journey 20 years earlier.

I’m far more accustomed to traveling in 23-foot banana boats and living in leaf huts when I visit the Solomons. But this expedition would enable me to evaluate firsthand how tourists and rural Melanesians viewed each other, whilst allowing me to visit some of the most far-flung locations in Melanesia. It also presented an opportunity to share with my fellow travelers the ways in which The Nature Conservancy is partnering with local communities in Melanesia to conserve some of the most diverse and vulnerable places on our planet.

Over the next eight days we visited numerous remote and spectacular locations throughout Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, where we had the opportunity to view some of the most diverse coral reefs on Earth and obtain glimpses into communities’ lifestyles that were in stark contrast to the day-to-day realties for those of us upon the ship.

Bodaluna.rich-pagen.-20161124-9399Bodaluna Island, Papua New Guinea | Photo Credit: Rich Pagen

One of the most well-recognized benefits of tourism to these remote communities is much-needed revenue, but it quickly became apparent that our visit benefited them in other ways. Our arrival was a spectacle of great interest and much amusement wherever we traveled, providing a welcome change in pace to the day-to-day subsistence lifestyle. One elder at Utupua, in the Santa Cruz Islands, told me how the cultural dances that communities put on for us also provided his tribe with a reason to come together and celebrate their cultural heritage.

Of all the places we visited, the tiny and densely populated island of Tikopia left the largest impression on me. Located at the most southern extent of Solomon’s island arc, the inhabitants of Tikopia are of Polynesian origin. We had traveled from Utupua to Tikopia through the night, and in the morning I snorkeled through Tikopia’s fringing reefs. The reefs were devoid of large reef fish and dominated in places by macro algae, a stark contrast to the healthy reefs we had scuba dived on at the sparsely inhabited island of Utupua the day before.

Clearly, even at this extremely remote location the level of subsistence fishing pressure was sufficient to place this ecosystem under considerable stress. I ruminated over just how fragile life can be and considered some of the management measures that the communities might need to consider putting in place to give their reefs and their fish stocks a better chance of recovery.

tetepare.brad-climpson-20130130-0107007-2Diving off Tetepare in the Solomon Islands | Photo Credit: Brad Climpson

In other regions of Melanesia, such as Manus Province in Papua New Guinea and Choiseul Province in the Solomon Islands, the Conservancy is assisting communities and government partners with establishing ridges-to-reefs protected area networks. These protected area networks are helping to conserve biodiversity, enhance food security, and build communities' resilience to climate change.

That afternoon we went ashore to Tikopia. As I watched some of the cultural performances I struck up a conversation with one of the Tikopian men beside me, John, who was also enjoying the dances. He was surprised I spoke Solomon Pijin, and I was equally surprised to learn he had just returned from spending six months in my home country of New Zealand, where he had been picking apples. John told me how he had only recently returned to Tikopia in order to be there for Christmas. I really love it here, he told me, it’s my home. But the biggest problem we have is the remoteness, he said. It’s a three-day boat trip from the closest airport, and a boat only comes every one or two months.

Just then a new dance group came running out to perform. This is my group, John told me excitedly, and I want to show my relatives in Honiara their performance, and with that he whipped out an iPhone from his pocket and began to film the dance.

IMG_8438Ritual men’s dance on Ureparapara, Vanuatu | Photo Credit: Hugo King-Fretts

Later on that afternoon, when the custom dances had finished and while many of the guests were busy buying carvings, John took a small group of us on a walk around the island. At the halfway point we came to a section on the beach where the sea met the cliffs, where we had to scramble up and over a seawall. The community built this sea wall last year, John explained, as he stopped to help one of the guests navigate a particularly difficult patch. He went on to tell us how it had taken his community months of labor, but that they had to do something as sea levels rise and increased storm events from climate change had completely eroded the beach in recent years.

As we left Tikopia, I bought a wooden spear which I told the carvers I would hang upon my wall in my house to always remember them. Then I exchanged my contact details with John in case our paths should overlap in the future. Smiling faces and laughing children waved us goodbye as we took the Zodics back to the Caledonian Sky.

IMG_7905Playing Tika, a traditional spear-throwing game, on Tikopia in the Solomon Islands | Photo Credit: Hugo King-Fretts

I felt a pang of regret that I hadn’t been able to spend longer on Tikopia, to learn and share a little more. In the past decades I’ve had the privilege of visiting some of the most culturally and biologically diverse places in the Western Pacific. Observing the impacts of overfishing and climate change on the tiny outlier of Tikopia drove home to me that we have well and truly entered the Anthropocene, and conservation efforts at local and global scales are more critical than ever before.

Related Blog Posts

  • Micronesia
    Blog Post

    Bridging the Equator: Micronesia, 2010 Field Report

    March 23, 2017 | Blog Post

    Saturday, August 28, 2010 Guam

    Read More

    Island Sky
    Infographics
    Lanzarote, Canary Islands
    Blog Post

    2018 Travel Bucket List

    March 6, 2017 | Blog Post

    Where will your travel dreams take you in 2018? Here are just a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences Zegrahm can help you check off your bucket list next year.

     

    Read More

  • Polynesia
    Blog Post

    The Top 10 Polynesian Islands

    February 28, 2017 | Blog Post

    There are over 10,000 Polynesian islands in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The region is generally defined by a triangle stretching from Hawaii in the north, to Easter Island in the east and New Zealand in the west. The main groups of Polynesian islands include the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and various others.

    Read More

    Henderson Lorikeet
    Blog Post

    Endemic Birds of the Polynesian Islands

    February 28, 2017 | Blog Post

    Birds are probably not the first attraction most people think of when dreaming about visiting the Polynesian Islands. But once you get your fill of glistening waters in every possible shade of blue, grand landscapes that tower like skyscrapers, gregarious indigenous cultures, and gorgeous tropical sunsets, the islands’ forests are well worth exploring.

    Read More

    Tahiti, French Polynesia
    Blog Post

    Reading Up: Polynesia

    February 28, 2017 | Blog Post

    Polynesia draws visitors with the promise of its dazzling beaches, coral coves brimming with tropical fish, rich Tongan heritage, and warm hospitality.

    Read More

  • Polynesia
    Video

    The South Pacific

    February 28, 2017 | Video

    Scattered across the largest ocean basin on earth, the islands of the South Pacific have wooed adventurers and explorers for centuries. And it’s no wonder why—these remote paradises offer unparalleled beauty; a bounty of exotic flora, birds, and wildlife; some of the world’s most pristine marine environments; and communities where time-honored traditions remain unchanged.

    Read More

    Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
    Field Report

    Faces of Melanesia 2016 Field Report

    February 16, 2017 | Field Report

    Sunday, November 20, 2016 Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea / Embark Caledonian Sky

    Read More

    Kyoto, Japan
    Infographics

    2017: 34 Countries, 90 UNESCO World Heritage Sites [Infographic]

    February 14, 2017 | Infographics

    In 2017, Zegrahm will be visiting 90 amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in over 30 countries! The United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the UN that maintains a list of important natural or histroical sites, whose preservation and safe-keeping are deemed important for the world community.

    Read More

  • Bunaken National Marine Park, Indonesia
    Field Report

    Indonesia: Raja Ampat & Asmat Villages 2016 Field Report

    January 5, 2017 | Field Report

    Saturday - Monday, November 5 - 7, 2016Singapore, Singapore / Jakarta, Indonesia / Manado / Embark Caledonian Sky / Bunaken National Marine Park / Siladeng Island

    Read More

    Polynesian Girls
    Blog Post

    Putting Names to Faces

    January 3, 2017 | Blog Post

    When you’re considering an exotic expedition halfway around the world, it helps to hear firsthand accounts from fellow intrepid travelers.

    Read More

    Polynesian Tattoos | Dan & Micki Kaufman
    Blog Post

    Inked Up - The Lowdown on Polynesian Tattoos

    January 3, 2017 | Blog Post

    For at least 2,000 years, Polynesians have decorated their bodies with tattoos. Known variously as tatau, moku, patutiki , and uki, tattooing served as a form of communication among peoples across Oceania.

    Read More