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HONIARA – Communities along the coastline of Malaita Province have transformed degraded natural environments in recent years – and have improved their access to local foods as a consequence.
People in this most populous province of Solomon Islands have depended for their livelihoods directly on what nature provides: roots, fruit from forest trees, and fish and other marine animals and plants.
But these natural resources have been under increasing pressure. As in many other places in the world, the resources here were carelessly managed in the face of growing human populations and increasing need to harvest them for food and other uses.
To turn this situation around, several communities have worked with WorldFish Solomon Islands, a fisheries NGO, which has done most of the work in setting up the conservation sites. The provincial government’s fisheries division has also helped.
Now the Malaitan people are benefiting from the conservation of local sea resources, and discovering that the “modern” conservation techniques they’ve been introduced to are the same practices that were used in the past.
The Fumamato’o success story
Manaoba Island is located on the north-eastern part of Malaita. It is the home of the Fumamato’o community, which lives along the Lau Lagoon.
The community decided to protect its marine resources in 2013, and has already benefited greatly from its efforts. Before, this island community was a victim to overharvesting of fish, trochus, sea cucumbers, clam shells, and many other sea creatures.
But now, overharvesting is a thing of the past, thanks to chair of the Manaoba Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA), Mr Dominick Tuita, and his team.
During an interview with the Malaita Star magazine, Mr Tuita said Fumamato’o was like any other coastal community in Malaita Province.
“The people depend heavily on their sea for income and food,” Mr Tuita said.
The island of Manaoba is well known to the Tobaita people, Mbaelelea people and Baegu people as the main provider of fish and other seafood. But Mr Tuita said that the overharvest of marine resources had taken a toll.
In 2013, the people of Manaoba realised that they needed to change as they observed that resources were running out. They formed a committee to set up an LMMA.
“There are two areas where we restricted fishing: one is a total marine protected area and the other is open-and-close area,” Mr Tuita explained.
In the protected area, fishing is banned. In the close-and-open area, harvesting is allowed once a month.
“We usually open it at the end of each month to allow villagers to fish for income or for community gatherings. When we open the open-and-close area, we invite fishermen from nearby communities to come and fish. During harvest day, everyone is welcome to fish,” Mr Tuita said.
As a result of close management, fish were now present in greater numbers and larger sizes.
Some fish species that they thought were extinct had returned to the fishing ground.
“The marine protected area and the open-and-close area made a big difference,” Mr Tuita stated.
The women of Fumamato’o also benefit greatly from the locally managed marine area.
Betty Koidi, in an interview with the Malaita Star, said that fish was now available in big number and large sizes, which greatly helped in the marketing of the fish.
Mrs Koidi said the women of Fumamato’o could sell one fish for SBD$10.00 (US$1.20) and above. Before the locally managed marine area was set up, they struggled, as there was not enough fish and the fish they did catch were small.
“We women will strive and work together with the men and youths of this community to maintain the open-and-close area for our benefit,” Mrs Koidi said.
Mr Tuita said the Manaoba LMMA operated under clear rules.
“If we find you fishing in the marine protected area, you will pay a fine of SBD$500 (US$61.00),” he said.
A group caught fishing illegally in the area at the beginning of the year paid a fine of $500 and a live pig.
He said the surrounding communities knew about the rules and were working with Fumamato’o.
“At first other communities found it hard to accept, but as they learn about the benefits of the marine protected area, they start to work together with us”, he said.
Sea resources protected on a taboo site at Mararo
The Mararo Community Based Organization in East Are’Are has taken steps to conserve its marine resources at the Puriasi Management Area.
The area is a unique place that also contains traditional taboo sites.
According to Tony Atitete, the community put rules in place to safeguard the area from being exploited and to scare away potential intruders.
Mr Atitete told the Malaita Star that the area was important for their tribe for the taboo site that their ancestors used to conduct their traditional form of worship.
Because the site was being managed to honour culture and to protect the natural resources, it was becoming a breeding area for marine life.
He said the community aimed to preserve the marine resources for future generations. Rules prohibit the catching of certain animals and from some fishing methods for three years, and ban the collection of mangrove trees for firewood, and the “unnecessary” cutting of trees.
After the three years, the taboo area would be opened only for one week for any special occasion, and then closed again.
Anyone found to have breached the rules would face fines of up to SBD$500 (US$61.00).
Mr Atitete said the management plan had been developed and endorsed by surrounding communities.
Although the hillsides of the Puriasi Management Area is covered with thick virgin forest, and its shoreline with mangroves, there was a persistent threat from a logging operation nearby. Mr Atitete said he feared that the Puriasi Management Area would be disturbed if the logging company went into full-scale operation.
Conservation an ancient practice in East Kwaio
Marine conservation has been regarded as a longstanding part of the East Kwaio culture.
East Kwaio man Tome Arika said during a recent meeting with WorldFish and Malaita Province government officials that the “modern” conservation technique they were being taught was similar to the traditional conservation practices of Kwaio people.
“Personally, I find this concept blends in well with our traditional setting,” Mr Arika said.
“Before, we restricted these fishing grounds only for feast days. At that time this place was full of fish and turtles.
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But today people overharvest fish and shells.”
Mr Arika, who holds onto the ancient Kwaio way of worshipping, said the increase in the coastal human population had put much pressure on the sea resources.
“Today you will hardly find fish in the fishing grounds, which were formerly conserved by our forefathers. There are fish, but they are small in size and less in numbers.
“I think we are all in support of looking after marine resources because we want to make life easy for ourselves,” he said.