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:

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Drivers of Change

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.

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Photo Credit: © David Doubilet/National Geographic Creative

Strategic Approach

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:

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Photo Credit: © Norbert Wu/Minden Pictures/National Geographic Creative

Measuring Our Effectiveness

Our 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.

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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.

Recent Publications

Social–environmental drivers inform strategic management of coral reefs in the Anthropocene

The largest study ever conducted of its kind identified where and how to save coral reef communities in the Indo-Pacific. It outlines three viable strategies that can be quickly enacted to help save coral reefs that are threatened by climate change and human impacts.

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Infrastructure expansion challenges sustainable development in Papua New Guinea

Using fine-scale biophysical and environmental data, researchers assessed a plan that calls for doubling PNG’s road network over the next three years. The team found that roads would dissect more than 50 of PNG’s critical habitats home to rare species as Goodfellow’s and Matchie’s tree kangaroos and several birds of paradise

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Community-based management fails to halt declines of bumphead parrotfish and humphead wrasse in Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands

The probable causes of these declines are sustained fishing pressure, poor enforcement of community-based management measures, and loss of fish nursery habitats due to logging, and suggest urgent co-management of the ridge-to-reef system is needed.

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A guide to modelling priorities for managing land‐based impacts on coastal ecosystems

A team of researchers examined the approaches used for land-sea planning, with particular focus on the models currently used to estimate the impacts of land-use change on water quality and fisheries.

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Read more:
WCS Fiji
WCS Papua New Guinea
The Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme


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