Melanesia is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, with unique species found from the world’s largest and highest tropical island, through one of the most biologically rich oceanic archipelagos on Earth, to isolated oceanic islands with outstanding proportions of unique species. Among its many biological assets, Melanesia hosts one of largest remaining rainforest areas in the world in Papua New Guinea, where an estimated 7% of global terrestrial biodiversity occurs in less than 1% of global land area. Melanesian cultures dictate a strong duty to care for the environment from the top of the mountains to the seas, and recognize that the persistence of cultural practices depends on healthy resources built on the foundations of rich Melanesian biodiversity.
Where We Work
In Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Solomon Islands, WCS works at key locations within the Bismarck Solomon Seas Ecoregion, a cornerstone of the Coral Triangle, which contains an estimated 75% of known coral species and over 3,000 species of reef-associated fish. We also work in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape in Fiji, which has recorded levels of fish biomass and site-level fish diversity comparable to the some of the most outstanding Coral Triangle locations.
On land, WCS works in the Bismarck Forest Corridor, an important intact forest landscape, and protects remnant patches of highly sensitive and threatened cloud forests (Kolombangara Island, Solomon Islands) and rainforests (Great Central Manus Forest, PNG, and Kilaka Forest Conservation Area, Fiji) that are connected to important downstream marine ecosystems.
We lead conservation programs in the following countries:
Melanesia is characterized by rapidly growing and modernizing populations that have an increasing need to enter the cash economy. Most of Melanesia’s wealth is driven by extraction of the region’s natural resources. The combination of resource commercialization and loss of traditional practice have weakened customary management systems, resulting in unsustainable farming, hunting, and fishing practices.
Melanesian countries are characterized by low employment rates, poorly distributed economies and poor public sector capacity. Central governments have been unable or unwilling to regulate accelerated trade, fueled by direct foreign investment and the global boom for commodities. Corruption levels are often high, with funds diverted to support interests that favor clans in power.
With a high proportion of land and sea under customary tenure, conflict can easily erupt over decisions to establish protection zones, with conservation programs upended if benefits are not perceived to be equitably shared. Climate change presents a further unprecedented challenge through impacts on biodiversity and livelihoods from floods, droughts, sea level rise, tropical cyclones, and coral bleaching.
WCS Melanesia's programs integrate community engagement, science-based conservation, outreach and link successful local conservation initiatives to regional and national policies. We take a “boots on the ground” approach, spending time living and working with local communities to collaboratively solve the pressing conservation challenges of habitat loss and degradation, overexploitation and climate-change adaptation through innovative applications of community-based resource management (CBRM).
Three outstanding examples of various CBRM approaches applied across Melanesia include:
Ridge-to-reef management: In Fiji and Solomon Islands, WCS works with local communities to collectively manage at the scale of ecosystems processes that provide important services, such as clean water, food security, and human health.
Locally-managed marine areas: Across all our Melanesian programs, WCS assists local communities in choosing management strategies to implement in their LMMAs to best achieve their local objectives (focused on sustainable fisheries, livelihoods and maintenance of cultural practice).
Conservation agreements: In PNG and Fiji, WCS has brokered formal agreements with communities to facilitate CBRM for forests and reefs through incentives such as community development projects and access fees.
Measuring Our Effectiveness
marine programs in Fiji, PNG, and Solomon Islands are implementing monitoring
programs using core biological,
socioeconomic, and governance indicators under WCS’s global coral reef social
and ecological systems monitoring framework. By amassing a large database from
coral reef communities around the world, we are able to better understand what
drives successful outcomes for coral reef conservation and human well-being.
Our PNG program is measuring terrestrial wildlife populations (birds and mammals) using camera traps, distance transects and timed counts. The data are analyzed via occupancy measures, distance sampling and generalized linear modeling methodologies. On land, we are aiming for our interventions to translate into harvesting rates that ensure stable population sizes (to be determined based on species models) that are still able to support customary use.
Across Melanesia, we expect that over the long term our marine interventions will allow coral reef fish population recovery such that total fish biomass approaches or exceeds 500 kg/ha and fishers are able to land at least 2 kg per fisher per hour.
New findings uncovered by researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Queensland (UQ) demonstrate that logging activity in Solomon Islands is associated with lower coral cover and structural complexity on adjacent...