Research Case Study

Research-driven community resource management in the Solomon Islands

Delivering knowledge and information to those who rely on the dugong’s coastal ecosystem for their livelihood is an important means of facilitating marine conservation.

The importance of healthy seagrass meadows to the lives of coastal communities is often poorly, if at all, understood. Therefore, knowledge and awareness are vital to the process of creating locally-managed marine areas (LMMAs) that ensure the responsible use of marine resources and the protection of this vital habitat. However, public information and education programmes are seldom effective in the absence of good baseline data regarding the status of, and threats faced by, seagrasses. Establishing this data requires ongoing research, ideally conducted by local people themselves as part of their management of LMMAs.

Combined with policy advocacy and support, awareness and research make up the core components of the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project, and in the Solomon Islands the DSCP brought these aspects together in one project to protect local seagrass ecosystems.

MG4Project Facts
Title:Conserving Dugong and Seagrass Habitats in Northwest Vonavona Lagoon.
Project Type:Research.
Project IDSB6-2124A
ObjectivesRaising awareness and conservation of dugongs and seagrass habitats in the north-western region of Vonavona Lagoon through a network of locally managed marine areas.
Country:Solomon Islands.
Lead Partner:Coastal Marine Management.
Supporting Partners:Wildlife Conservation Society.
Implementation Period:December 1, 2017–October 30, 2018.
GEF Funding:US $30,000.00.
Partners' Funding:cash, $2,200.
Leveraged funds:cash, $5,000.
Relevant global project components: Component 1 – Improved site-level management at globally important sites for dugongs and seagrasses.

A dynamic response

Conducted over ten months during 2018 in northwest Vonavona, in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands, this project sought to increase the level of awareness of dugongs and seagrass habitats; improve the management of seagrass habitats and resources found within the project area; and collect local baseline information on the status of dugongs and seagrass resources.

The focal point of the project, Vonavona lagoon, is made up of a complex network of mangroves, seagrass beds, sand flats and coral reef habitats. This shallow marine ecosystem has historically faced a number of threats, including from run-off from land-based activities, past hunting practices targeting dugongs, the relatively recent introduction of harmful modern fishing nets, and the ongoing expansion of the local population.

The vital seagrass ecosystems in this area therefore face an uncertain future and urgent measures to make people aware of importance of the lagoon environment and the need for active resource management are required.

Given the multi-faceted nature of the threats to seagrass habitat in Vonavona lagoon, the DSCP initiated an equally dynamic response involving awareness raising; gathering baseline information via surveys; mapping of coastal seagrass meadows; the establishment of a new LMMA; and local capacity building.

Project activities

As part of the awareness component of the project, information sessions were delivered within five communities and one school around the project site, as well as at the 2019 Roviana Lagoon Festival in Munda. Educational posters on dugong and seagrass were also produced for use in the awareness sessions and to provide information to make the general public aware of a recently introduced nationwide ban on dugong harvesting. Together, these activities reached around 500 people, 40% of whom were women.

The awareness sessions resulted in a coastline clean-up drive, initiated by the Vurana Community to coincide with World Oceans Day. The clean-up removed waste plastic, batteries and other non-degradable rubbish from the beach and intertidal seagrass areas of the coastline.

The dugong awareness poster produced by the project.

The project also mapped coastal seagrass meadows adjacent to the Vurana and Rarumana communities – identifying eight of the ten species of seagrass known to exist in the Solomon Islands – and collected baseline data on dugongs and seagrass using standardised methods taken from Seagrass Watch and the CMS Dugong Survey. The results of these surveys and questionnaires have been publicised within local communities and integrated into the management regimes being applied in the LMMA.

Community discussions on the formation of a new locally managed marine area resulted in the establishment of the Suitonami LMMA. A draft management plan was also agreed upon for this new marine area, which is only the second of its kind in this area of the lagoon.

The LMMA is also now being supported by community rangers, trained by the DSCP in Seagrass-Watch methods. Other capacity-building activities included training for partner staff on CMS survey data entry to support the broader efforts of the DSCP in the Solomon Islands.

Lasting impacts

By adopting a dynamic approach to overcoming the various threats faced by dugongs and seagrass meadows in the north-western Vonavona lagoon area, the DSCP has succeeded in cultivating a genuine interest in better managing the lagoon environment in the project area.

Importantly, valuable baseline data has been gathered concerning the status of the seagrass ecosystems in the region that has increased awareness among local populations and is now being applied in local resource management activities.

A resource management committee has been established for this purpose and a draft management plan produced for the Suitonami LMMA that will support local people in managing the long-term health and viability of their marine resources – and local seagrass meadows in particular.

The project serves as a successful example of local engagement that has paved the way toward achieving the long-term (5–10 year) goal of establishing a network of LMMAs throughout this part of the lagoon.

This local engagement is key to the longevity of the new LMMA. As in many of the other countries in which the DSCP has operated over the past four years, national-level legislation is rarely effectively enforced by central authorities; rather it is the regional, tribal or traditional village-level authorities that most often take direct responsibility for local fisheries and resource management activities.

Building a strong constituency and knowledge base at the local level is therefore critical, as is the process of spreading awareness and building capacities for local resource management and species monitoring – all of which were achieved by just one DSCP project in the north-western Vonavona lagoon.