Exciting news from the Coral Sea Foundation, as a new PNG marine reserve is declared in Milne Bay. The Nua Marine Reserve Network in the waters of East Ferguson Island in the Milne Bay Province, is a direct result of the Foundation’s last expedition to PNG, and its ongoing program which mentors Melanesian Women to take care of PNG’s marine environment.
The Coral Sea Foundation’s Dr Andy Lewis shares a few details of their recent expedition which led to this happy conclusion.
“Our voyage was several months in the planning, and after flying into Alotau from Port Moresby, we travelled 100km by sea to Sebutuia Bay of Ferguson Island, which is the home of our trainee Lorie Pipiga and the extended Pipiga Family.
“Our team got straight to work, and over the next nine days we held landowner meetings at Ferguson, Sanaroa and Uama Islands to explain the benefits of the marine reserve concept and invite the local people to participate with the support and assistance of the Coral Sea Foundation. All the community leaders had their chance to speak, and I was overwhelmed at the positive response we got in all the villages.
“Everyone knew the fish catches had been going down over time, and they were keen to support any initiative that would help conserve the resource into the future and provide them with assets they could use to promote ecotourism.”
PNG’s former High Commissioner to Indonesia, Jeffrey Tolo’ube, a Ferguson local, also attended meetings to advocate for a marine reserve.
“There were grown men in tears as they realised they had to work smarter to manage their resources and give their kids a future.”
The meetings concluded with five different landowner groups pledging reef to the new Nua Marine Reserve Network, which was immediately mapped.
“Nua” means Coral in the local Dobu language, and the area chosen for protection at the eastern tip of the Coral Triangle contains some of the most biodiverse coral reef ecosystems in the world.
The team conducted site assessment surveys on all the designated reefs and collected more than one thousand monitoring images which has been compiled and delivered it to the Conservation and Environment Protection Authority of the PNG Government for formal recognition of the Nua Marine Reserve Network as a Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA).
“The jewel in the crown of the reserve network is the Lalai reef on Ferguson Island, which I discovered in 2006 while working on True North, and over the years I have managed to get back to this reef every single year and collect a set of monitoring images while guiding the True North guests over the spectacular coral gardens. It remains one of the most incredible reefs I have ever seen in any of my travels right around the Indo-Pacific, and the day after the meeting I swam for two hours over Lalai absolutely blown away by the condition of the corals and the fact that the landowners had all just agreed to preserve this incredible spot!”
Other reefs in the local area were also surveyed, including Uama and Sanaroa Islands, which revealed fantastic coral communities with amazing potential for snorkelling and diving.
“The whole area has such incredible ecotourism potential, in addition to the coral reefs there are 2km high mountains, lush tropical rainforests complete with waterfalls and endemic birds of paradise, fascinating indigenous cultures, and we even found a wave and a blue lagoon for the surfers and kiters.”
Lewis is hopeful that the Foundation has started the ball rolling in this region and the local people can halt the decline in their fisheries and start to generate sustainable ecotourism income.
“Pressures from Asian logging and commercial fishing companies are a real and present danger to the natural assets of this area, and we have seen only too often the damage they cause in Sebutuia Bay and elsewhere in Melanesia.”
Learn more about the Coral Sea Foundation here, and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign that supports the Nua Marine Reserve Network here, and the ongoing campaign to support the Sea Women of Melanesia here.