February 24, 2009

OceansWatch Brings Reef Check to Papua New Guinea


Visitors to Magic Roundabout


Community leaders and OceansWatch meeting, Marangis village on Karkar Island


Nonovaul Island Reef Check survey team


Nonovaul Island Reef Check survey

By Jane Pares of OceansWatch

OceansWatch has partnered with Reef Check to offer training and surveys in the western Pacific.


Magic Roundabout, OceansWatch lead boat, spent August – October 2008 in Papua New Guinea successfully building relationships with coastal communities and government departments, visiting schools, raising awareness of marine issues, and conducting Reef Check surveys. The team included Chris Bone, Irene Llabres-Pohl, Leila Cara and Jeges Nuttall.

Growing numbers of coastal communities in PNG understand the need for sustainable fisheries management and the team on Magic Roundabout was interested to discover a non-governmental organization based at Kavieng on New Ireland called Ailan Awareness – a community-based management approach to conserving marine resources. “The important aspect is that villagers take ownership of the project,” says John Aini, head of Ailan Awareness. “Our role is to facilitate and support, but the program is conducted at the village’s pace.”

The OceansWatch team was fortunate to be briefed by John Aini about their next port of call, Nonovaul Island, where a marine reserve has been in place for three years. During the survey at the reserve, the team was very pleased to note several species like the Barramundi Cod, which are becoming rarer in the Pacific. A site outside the reserve was also surveyed and the lack of Reef Check indicator species was noted, even though the reef itself had a lot of healthy coral. The team was helped on this survey by Keithson, from Moussau Island in the St Matthias group, where the villagers are Seventh Day Adventists and so do not harvest fish for personal consumption. A member of the Nonovaul Fisheries Management Committee also helped, resourcefully using a mask made from an old inner tube, discarded glass, and a large pipe clip!

After the survey, canoes started visiting the boat. At one stage, Magic Roundabout had 14 canoes alongside with 26 visitors! On board, the team was very encouraged to hear that school children had collected 86 batteries off a local reef after the team had talked at the school earlier that day. During the school visit, the teachers shared their stories of what the reef was like 20 years ago and, as in every community the team visited, they told of how the fishing was getting harder every year. 

At the suggestion of The New Ireland Provincial Fisheries Department, the OceansWatch team also conducted Reef Check surveys on Nussa and Nago Islands, where the government plans to establish a marine research facility. The OceansWatch team then spent several days at Kimbe Bay on the northern side of the volcanic island of New Britain. Kimbe Bay was the first MPA (Marine Protected Area) in Melanesia and one of the first in the world to incorporate both human needs and principals of coral reef resilience to withstand impacts from climate change. The Nature Conservancy has been working for more than a decade with partners and local communities to protect Kimbe Bay’s rich ecosystem. Now a local NGO, Mahonia Na Dari (‘Guardians of the Sea’), has very successfully taken over the role of raising awareness of marine conservation issues throughout the Bay. The OceansWatch team conducted Reef Check surveys and gained first-hand knowledge of the workings of MPAs – valuable information that OceansWatch hopes to pass on to other coastal communities wishing to set up their own MPAs.
By becoming certified Reef Check EcoDivers, Oceanwatch staff and participants have been able to reach out to the local people in each of these communities and offer to help them with marine education and provision of monitoring results so that they can better adjust how they fish. In coastal communities in PNG sustainable use of marine resources is not just a matter of recreation, but an issue of survival.

For more information on OceansWatch, please visit http://www.oceanswatch.org/