Thursday, September 25, 2008
One may wonder how I get to post these blog entries from such a remote country as the Solomons Islands? Well, what a wonderful way to win your own carbon credits by going to the internet by kayak!!
The European Union has funded a small number of internet base stations throughout the country. These are called distance learning centers. These satellite links are completely independent from the unreliable Solomon island Telekom company. They employ their own IT technicians. One such school at BekaBeka is located 5 miles away from the Peava anchorage so an easy day trip with a purpose, 45 minutes each way on a good day. The hard bit is to paddle back into a 35 knots squall wind
Along with the Distance Learning Centers, which have internet connections, some good education initiatives are being carried out in the area. Morovo lagoon is the test area for a new education initiative called OLPC: One Laptop per Child. 100$ labtop conceived for developing countries, making computing and internet accessible as a learning tool. Despite being small and looking like a toy, the Linux based OLPC labtop has all the wireless connectivity from standard labtops – and more - and is rugged for the wet and dusty environment. Really, I’d like one for the boat!!!!! The children are absorbing computer technology rapidly and teach eachother and many more teaching materials are accessed through the labtop, as it is a lot easier and cheaper to move files than books in this country.
The satellite based internet link for Morovo needs continued support from the EU. Having more and more users is the best way to justify applying for continued technical support and funding. Along with the spread of DVD technology in the villages, internet and computer are viable ways to convey important conservation principles amongst younger generations and help the inhabitants of Morovo lagoon manage their resources sustainably. There is a long way to go but many dynamic players keep chipping at it. For example, the conservation DVD project involving the KUNA has good hope to receive enough interest and raise funding.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Another place visited to gather nice nature images for the DVD (see previous post on Morovo lagoon) was the rainforest. The solomon islands rainforests yield very high biodiversity, supporting a large number of endemic species and there is a strong need for conservation initiatives to protect them, project that the country itself can barely support, so a number of NGOs are involved.
Going along with Patrick Pikacha, a local conservation scientist who works for the NGO Conservation International, it was easy to take up a bushwalking trip to the top of Ngatokae mountain, Mt Mariu, to photograph the many frogs species that inhabit the forested slopes of the mountain.
Patrick works for Conservation International and is the founder and editor of Melanesian Geographic, the Geo equivalent publication for the Solomons/PNG
Ngatokae is an old volcano, now extinct, and its summit culminates at about 885m.
It is not a high mountain but because it is so close to the open ocean, the vegetation gradient is remarkably compressed from the tall lowland rainforest to the misty cloud forest, Species that would be found elsewhere at 2000m are found here at 600m here! This makes for Ngatokae high conservation values.
The first morning led us along an old logging road, now eroded into ferralitic soils and covered by the bush reclaiming its grounds.
The lower parts of the island have been logged ten years ago. The forest has now recovered to a lower canopy called secondary forest. Some of it remained cleared for the gardens exploited by the villagers.
Gardens are nested in the clearings
The secondary forest can sometimes a better habitat supporting a more diverse range of bird species than the primary forest. In some of the remaining tall trees, Eclectus parrot can be spotted. The female is red and from the throne of her nest, in a large tree hole, she monitors a crowd of green males who brings her food. This female eclectus was shy but I managed to “creep” her and take a shot
Female eclectus parrot, high in her tree
Up at 200m elevation, we enter the dark shade of the primary rainforest forest. Meandering amongst the tall trees, the tracks becomes softer and less slippery, the soil is covered in a thick layer of leaves and its very quiet.
We descend back towards the valley of the Kavolavata river which drops from the upper ridges of Mount Mariu. Beautiful volcanic rock pools and and relief to refresh when we arrive at the camp in a curve near the creek.
Robert is cooking up a feed of rice and 2 min noodle with onion and capsicum on the fire: breakfast, lunch and dinner!!
A Hennessy Hammock is once again a must in the rain forest!
The evening is spent looking for frogs. Patrick has a nice sigma 150mm macro lens that he’s lent me to take close ups. The frogs are found easily: as soon as it gets dark, especially after the bucketing rain, they start singing very loudly, though so small!
Many species can be found on the tree trunks under leaves or inside the small water pools formed by the epiphytes.
eyelash frog, an endemic species from the Solomons-
The next day, a walk up to the 600m elevation mark took us through a fast transition to a sparser ridge forest with large pandani and later through the cloud forest, where short trees covered in mosses intricately mix with smaller species of pandani (not unlike Tasmanian ones) and ferns. Higher on the ridges, with a shorter canopy,
there are also a lot of orchids
The internet repeater is located on a clearing at 600m, and the only place where a sweeping view of Morovo lagoon can be enjoyed, and a rare sight as the summit is often in cloud!
Morovo lagoon and its many islands
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Morovo is accessible by yacht but a good reccie was worthwhile before going in with the KUNA. I will give sailing and anchoring details later.
The purpose of this trip was also to gather some visual material for a conservation DVD. Many DVD players are found in villages and Solomon islanders watch whatever they can find! A good means of educating people about conservation values for their country appeared to spread a natural history DVD around, distributing it for free! This is only a project at this stage but hopefully will find its shape !
In Morovo lagoon, the effect of logging have been dramatic, due to erosion of ferralitic soils into the lagoon, covering corals with a deep layer of sediment in some places. Vangunu, the large volcanic island in the middle of the lagoon was clear felled up to 800m on most faces.
muddy waters in the lagoon
once the forest is gone, ferralitic soils quickly erode away, here behind an old logging camp
The lagoon was submitted for World Heritage Area in the 90’s but never won the status due to politicians who prefer getting the benefits of corruption money from the Malaysian or Taiwanese logging companies.
Interestingly, the neat villages shores of Ngatokae are bordered by fairly large houses built out of timbers. All are a fair demonstration of the large cash inflow that logging brought into the island ten years ago. The benefits of the cash introduced in the villages were transient and many unfinished abandoned buildings can be seen around the villages. Rarely, the cash from logging benefited communities either, but more the corrupted individuals who managed to sell the land of all and allow the destructive fleets of machinery to come in, fell and leave before the naïve villagers realize, too late, the extent of the damage.
a neat house, contrasting with the small coconut huts of other solomon places (see Tikopia)
This canoe attests of the large rainforest trees that were available to boat builders
Morovo is one of the few lagoons in the world surrounded by an inner and outer barrier.
On the way from the main town Batuna, to the outer barrier, we catch dinner: a school of bonito is pointed out by some excited noddies.
guide Robert brings in the bonito!!
On many lower limestone outer islands, the remnants of logging camps attest of past damages too. The mainly intact rainforest trees find a hard time to grown in amongst the bare limestone.
The outer islands, such as Porepore, host a large Goanna who generally gets attracted by the smell of fish cooking on the fire. They were easy to spot and photograph with that lure! The goanna is a special creature in Morovo. Being taboo, they are safe from the local’s voracity and a feature animal for a conservation DVD we’re making!
On the way to Porepore, we stopped at Patrik’s grandparent’s place, near Batuna on the main island of Vangunu, to drop of a bag of rice
Solomon rice 10kg bags can be turned into a hand bag and provide with map of the islands, in case you get lost –
Patrick’s grand parents are very healthy: at 90 years old, they still jump in the canoe and paddle to go to their garden and crouch like teenagers.
At 90 also, they have seen large transformations in their customs: less than forty years ago, headhunters coming from other islands were threatening people from Vangunu, killing them, eating some of them or capturing the chidren and raising them to later eat them. The upper ridges of the island are full of taboo sites with the skulls gathered by the headhunters. In some places, such as Biche village, people built fortified villages up into the forest to protect themselves from the head hunters. In those times, the Solomon island population was small and remained so with the many kills.
Patrick with his grand parents
They gave us large bags of Gnahli nuts to eat on the way, a delicious local nut in season from Sept to Nov-December. Removed from their fruit and shell, the Gnahli are roasted to get the best of their taste, a delicacy!
Monday, September 1, 2008
At the other end of the lagoon, is the wharf and shop of Solomon Dive Adventures ( check www.solomondiveadventures.com ).
It is probably the best community integrated dive operation in the Solomon Islands. The business manager Lisa Choquette has 30 years of experience diving and came from Hawaii.
Lisa in dive boat
She made every effort to train 5 local villagers to the Divemaster’s level at her own cost, so they can later take on running the dive business themselves in the future. Those five divemasters are boys, but she also certified four ladies, who unfortunately did not go any further but open water, some for getting pregnant… Shame, more ladies should take on diving in the Solomons.
Along with the dive business, Lisa opened a library for the community bringing a variety of books and DVDs, along with a kindergarten,
The kids from the headstart program
Lisa regularly organizes educational shows setting up the projector in the open area near the church. She is also often called upon for medical help, fixing bushknife cuts, or helping some kids to elocution, etc, etc.. Recently, she organised a big campaign to keep the village clean, teaching the local to pick up the rubbish and now, several beautifully painted 44 gallon drums ornament the main road! Rubbish is sorted, some recycled, paper and plastics are burnt. Another main campaign concerned smoking, another alcohol! Slowly, the messages spread through, with the added support of church sermons and the help of her divemasters…
60 something, Lisa is very active woman who is doing a lot for the community and educating the villagers about conserving their marine resources to a sustainable level through diving. A small marine reserve has been created as a community initiative to keep fish near the wharf so visitors can look at tame fish. No spearing allowed there!!
A juvenile batfish pretends to be a dead leaf
I forgot to mention, yes the diving in the area is worth it and the team know where to the most obscure species in the dive sites surrounding Peava! My underwater camera has broken down unfortunately so no good pictures! Mbulo Island, 3 miles across from Peava, has some sheer drop off on the Northern side, all protected from the SE swells. After a week, the plankton bloom had gone down and the visibility was up to 30m. beautiful caves and coral gardens with large gorgonian fans make for some nice landscape down deep at 25-35m.
A dusk dive in Peava lagoon passage did bring some amazing nudibranchs, cuttle fishes and the famous flasher wrasses, which court by rapidly raising and lowering their dorsal fin at dusk. The lagoons warm waters host to many animals, gropers, turtles, puffer fish, rays, razorfish, painted flutemouth, and many surgeonfishes, and despite being a bit murky, are my daily swim, worth exploring again and again!