By Toktaem with Moffat Mamu

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, March 2) – The Solomon Islands is a scattered archipelago of six large mountainous islands and 990 low lying coral atolls with reefs stretching in a southeasterly direction from Papua New Guinea.

A majority of the 450,000 people in the Solomon Islands are living solely on subsistence lifestyle with minimal access to economic development.

These rural Solomon Islanders are rich in terms of access to natural resources.

It is these rich manna and territorial ecosystems that supported the population since the islands were first colonised.

In coastal areas, marine resources provide the majority of food resources. The importance of marine resources to livelihoods has led to these resources being guarded through a complex system of marine tenure.

However many communities have been forced to interact with a number of unprecedented environmental changes including large scale logging of coastal rain-forests leading to pollution of near environments, efficient commercial fishing of marine resources and global climate change.

In many cases these changes are occurring at a rate beyond the time frames necessary for adequate local understanding of cause and effect relationships.

Marovo Lagoon is a large (15 x 40km) double barrier lagoon system in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and provides an interesting case study of the role and limitations of science in a community management framework.

Marovo Lagoon had been dubbed one of the natural wonders with its blue and stretch out lagoons.

It had been a host to many small beautiful islands, marine species and bird species.

As such tourists have been attracted to the lagoon because of the scenic beauty it is blessed with.

The lagoon also play host to a number of resorts and eco-tourism attractions and with the frequent transportation services by boat and air, the flow of tourist after the social unrest remains steady.

Sadly enough Marovo Lagoon is also playing double standard with a number of logging operations in the area which had ripped off the forests in the two islands of Gatokae and Vangunu.

Apart from logging, the Oil Palm Project is taking shape and had progressed over the years.

But logging had been at the top of discussions in everyday talk by Marovo people because it had caused so much problems related to land dispute and environmental destruction.

Pollution from logging operations and over harvesting of reef fish have been the focus of many projects and study being conducted in the area which draws a lot interests from environmental concern group.

Despite that, communities continue to nod with approval for logging companies to operate on their land because of fast cash.

A number of communities have already reaped the negative consequences of such operations in the lagoon.

Logging operation is indeed disastrous because look at what such large scale operation had done and then left says Telina man Jerry Oreilly in an interview with Toktaem at his home at Buroku on Vangunu in Marovo Lagoon recently.

He said the quest for fast money had forced people to give in when loggers came in with attractive packages and lure them into allowing their land for large-scale operation.

Jerry said that there are ways for locals to get money rather than destroying their resources.

"It is disheartening to see locals take the easy path which in turn cause so much problem to them socially and environmentally."

He pointed out that logging has changed the lives of many villagers and landowners because within a snap of time they are pocket full with royalty payments and within the twist of time it all vanished.

"Today resource owners are crying foul with the bare and infertile land that has been left behind with lack of development to sustain them and their future generations," the local villager said.

He pointed out that like others he had faced the consequences of the operation in Vangunu.

Jerry said life was unlike in the past where things are easy to get.

"Fish are easy to catch with gardens just close by.

"Today distance matters a lot for the locals because they had to travel a little extra to catch fish and make their gardens," he said.

What they produce and catch is being consumed while the surplus are either sold or shared to close relatives.

But with the tales of negative impact left behind by the operation to the Buroku community it had been a learning lesson for the locals.

For Jerry the lesson learnt has urged him to work extra harder with the little resources left in his area.

And one thing that has now dawn on him is a dream to establish an eco-tourism in the area.

As part of fulfilling his dreams he had secured a spot tucked away beneath the mangrove coastline where his home has been constructed.

Already with a two-bedroom lodge built of local materials and timber he had started to realise his dream is turning into reality because some visitors have enjoyed the little hospitality he had offered.

Situated along the mangrove coastline with the peaceful view of the lagoon coupled with the surrounding islands his recently established location is sure to attract interested visitors to experience a relaxing life out from the busy city life.

"It’s a dream I’m working hard on to make sure I have visitors to attract."

He had no hesitation because of the reliable transport to the area as well as proper communication he had with some of his friends, relatives and children.

"I see the potential in this business because of the attraction Marovo Lagoon had to offer to interested tourists.

"Because there are tabu sites to visit, bush walking, village visits, snorkelling and other attractions that are on offer on requests.

"Other locals within Marovo Lagoon benefited from this operation therefore I see no reason why I cannot do it."

Jerry was in with the idea of earning revenue through attraction rather than destruction of the environment.

"I want eco-tourism because tourists just came to watch, see and visit the attractions without destroying the local environment and its ecosystems.

"In that way I can earn money depending on the flow of the tourists," he said.

For now Jerry is hoping that other communities and landowners are turning their mistake into a more productive means to help themselves and their families by setting up such small income generating operations.

When asked what he is going to call his soon to establish lodge, he said "Mangrove Lodge because it is situated beside mangroves."

March 3, 2006

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