Art Illustrates Myth and Value of Dugong and Seagrass in the Solomon Islands

May 07, 2017

Dugongs through time have acquired a shroud of mystery. Perhaps its their scarcity. We rarely encounter it. Maybe its their odd appearance. Who knows? Explaining this odd and intriguing creature sometimes turns to myth. One interesting myth originates in Lau Lagoon in the Solomon Islands where it is forbidden to kill or eat dugongs.

In fact, people living in the area trace their ancestry to a woman who ‘metamorphosed’ into a dugong. The woman was being badly treated by her mother-in-law. One day she asked her husband and young son to meet her the next day at noon on a remote beach. She then dived and disappeared into the ocean. The next day the father and son waited for the women on the beach. At noon a dugong surfaced. It was the mother, who told them that she could no longer stand life in the village. She had become a dugong and from now on would live in the sea.

Woman Turning Into Dugong

This myth has protected dugongs in Lau Lagoon for generations. The story of the Lau Lagoon dugong is illustrated by John Limaito’o – a Solomon Island artist. His painting of the mother diving into the sea to escape her mother-in-law is displayed here.

John Limaito’o created other pieces for Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project in the Solomon Islands. And we have have the privilege to present some of these works to you in the space below.

John created this artwork of a dugong swimming in the sea.


Our project partners in Solomon Islands plan to use these artworks for outreach – each with its own conservation lesson.

Our project partners from WorldFish in the Solomon Islands commissioned John to create these beautiful tribal-like works of art. Their intent is to use the imagery for outreach. Each piece illustrates a conservation issue linked to dugong and seagrass. The artworks will be reproduced as posters and subsequently distributed among the local communities together with a conservation goal – to highlight the threats to dugong and seagrass and discuss with everyone the solutions to these issues.

Thumbprint Emperor

The Thumbprint emperor, locally called Suru, is the most important commercial fish in Lau Lagoon.

The Suru (Thumbprint emperor) is bartered at local markets for sweet potatoes and vegetables or sold in the markets of Auki and Honiara. The species is dependent on the seagrass beds in the Lau Lagoon. They eat the snails, worms and urchins that live in the sandy bottom of the lagoon. Emperors form spawning aggregations. The use of magnet nets in aggregation sites can be destructive. Our project partners say the best way to manage this important fishery is to temporarily ban fishing during their spawning/aggregation events.

Seagrass is not only important for the Thumbprint emperor and the fisherman who target them, but it is also important for farmers – in a way that is entirely unanticipated.


Watermelons are the most important agricultural commodity in Lau. Like the Thumbnail emperor, these are also dependent seagrass. But in a way that you would not anticipate. Farmers collect seagrass on the beach and then use it to enhance the soil and to conserve irrigation through mulching.

Farmers collect seagrass on the beach and use it to enrich the soil. This mulching technique improves soil fertility and leads to bigger melons.

Traditional Fisheries Management

In the past the chiefs and priests would close fishing for several months in a particular area by planting sticks. The system is still be practiced in Lau Lagoon. Our partners in Solomon Islands are working with communities to strengthen and improve this traditional fisheries management system.

We surely enjoyed these painting for the sake of their art. All have a tribal feel to them with their stunning colors and characterisations of local people and their culture. Through this local connection, we hope our partners are able to more effectively conduct their outreach and touch the hearts and minds of the people of the Solomon Islands for their environment and their well-being.