Tag Archives: Gizo

The Coral Triangle: Saving the Amazing Undersea World of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste

Nearly one year after we started working intensively on the book it is finally published and available for sale.  My co-author, Eric Madeja, and I traveled to Indonesia, Timor Leste, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines as we collected stories and images for the book.  We met some really wonderful people along the way and had incalculable support and assistance from friends and loved ones.

Front cover of The Coral Triangle book

Front cover of The Coral Triangle book

Writing this book was an adventure.  It turns out that I enjoy writing but it is a painful process!  Who would have guessed that it would be that hard.

You can download and read some excerpts from the book below and find more about the book and the Coral Triangle at http://www.coraltriangle.org

The Coral Triangle Contents The Coral Triangle Preface The Coral Triangle Foreword The Coral Triangle Credits The Coral Triangle Sample

Impressions of the Solomon Islands

I first met a Solomon Islander in Fiji in 2000.  We were at a WWF workshop together and had a nice long chat over sunset drinks.  I had no clue about the Solomon Islands back then and had no idea what kind of horrible events were unfolding in his country at the time.  They were experiencing ethnic tensions between natives from two islands clashing over land in the capital.  By the time I met some more people from the Solomons, a few years later, I knew a bit more about the place and it captured my imagination.  But it took me another 12 years before I finally got there.

Eric and I arrived in Honiara on a sunny morning.  The flight from Brisbane had offered spectacular views of the Coral Sea and some of its islets, reefs, and wide expanse of blue water.  The first glimpse of the Solomon Islands was Bellona Island, just north of the World Heritage Rennell and Indispensible Reefs.  We were then treated to a cloudless flight over the width of Guadalcanal – replete with unbroken rainforests.

The single immigration officer, without the benefit of a computer, for a plane load of visitors was the first clue to the poor state of the country.  The second clue came when neither of our phones could connect to a local network – as we waited our turn at the immigration desk.  But the officer was friendly and greeted us with a warm welcome and a betel nut-stained smile – the first of many to come in the Solomon Islands.

Honiara greeted us with a traffic jam.  The single roundabout at the entrance to town causes a perpetual back up along the main road.  It gave us a welcome chance to chat with our fellow van passenger.  The young Australian was in Honiara to present an Environmental Impact Assessment report to the Department of Environment for his company’s plan to install a geothermal power plant and provide power to Honiara.  The project would provide Solomon Islands with its first home-produced power.  Currently all the electricity in the country comes from diesel driven generators, but that is just for the lucky areas that have electricity. Many islands and villages lack any power.

We had booked a room at the Chester Rest House.  It turned out to be run by the Melanesian Chester Mission and staffed by the brothers of the order.  We were very happy to find it welcoming and very clean.  The high points were the immaculate shower and the long verandah offering views of Honiara and Iron Bottom Sound – the site of one of WWII’s legendary naval battles.  Otherwise, Honiara did not have much to offer.

We visited a few local markets and found the “smashed tuna” for sale disturbing.  The massive American, Taiwanese and Japanese tuna boats sell the badly damaged fish to locals.  The broken jaws and swollen bodies looked horrifying and were apparently illegal to sell locally but commonly found in the markets.  It was fun to find other fish including huge mangrove mud crabs and a Mola mola head.

We managed to get in a few interviews, made ourselves some dinner in the Chester kitchen and prepared for our next flight to Gizo – Solomon Islands’ second city and the capital of Western Province.  We were scheduled for 7 days in Gizo with complimentary diving from Dive Gizo and a few days looking for spawning groupers with WWF.

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The Dash-8 flight to Gizo traveled low and offered spectacular views of forested islands, blue waters, azure reefs and deep lagoons.  It was thrilling.  Until the rain came and the pilot announced some strong winds in Gizo.  The final approach into Gizo, towards the narrow runway built on top of a reef, through the driving rain, involved an impossibly steep turn and quick drop onto the tarmac.  We had to dash from the plane to the tiny building that makes up the terminal building.  After waiting for the next passengers to board and the plane to take off again, we walked across the runway to a little beach where several boats waited to ferry us to the main island.

The rain didn’t stop for 5 days.  Eric dove for two days in the rain but gave up after a few days.  I stayed in town and tried to get as much information and writing done as I could but the rain really prevented us from doing much.  Our rest house was not as clean and nice as the Chester and we seriously considered moving.  We overcame the issue of not having running water but the bath rooms weren’t clean and the mattresses smelled musty.  It didn’t help that the place filled up with other people who were stranded in Gizo while waiting for the weather to clear enough for them to catch a tiny boat back to their home island.

Gizo may be the Solomons’ second city but you wouldn’t guess it if you didn’t already know.  There is only one paved road and it is less than 1 kilometer long.  The nicest building is the brand new, Japanese-donated, hospital.  The current construction boom may have 5 or 6 buildings going up, but only one of them has a crane to help ease the process.  The new buildings may be part of the process to rebuild after the devastating 8.1 earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2007.

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Eric and I managed to get a few days of diving with less rain but the conditions were less than ideal.  Every day was cloudy and the water was too turbid for good photos.  To make matters worse, we had not expected the devastation of the corals from the earthquake.  Some areas looked like a war zone – but the fish life was intact and some sites had more fish than I had seen anywhere else.  With only 550,000 people in the whole country, the chances of overfishing are much lower than in Southeast Asia but people are still worried about the effects.

Gizo underwater

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Our final two days in Gizo were sunny and fine weather.  We managed to squeeze in a few more dives and some photo ops.  The flight back to Honiara offered spectacular views of Morovo Lagoon, the world’s largest marine lagoon with a double barrier reef system.  Unfortunately, they say that the logging on the islands within the lagoon has spoiled much of the reefs but the outer reefs should still be okay.  And after one last night at the Chester, we bit farewell to Solomon Islands, but I hope to get back for a longer stay some day.

Action Asia articles

As part of the project to write a book about the Coral Triangle, Eric Madeja and I are publishing a series of articles in Action Asia magazine.  The first two have appeared:

November 2013: Pearls in Shells about sea turtles in Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia (038-39 Env)

January 2014: Growing pains: Entering its second decade, the young nation of Timor-Leste is trying to forge an identity that melds sustainability with the need to develop its economy (032-33 Environment Jan14)

March 2014: Fresh fish, same old problems: Like so many places in the Coral Triangle, Palawan is struggling to find ways to make the valuable live reef food fish trade more sustainable (036-38 Environment Mar14)

May 2014: In palm oil’s uncertain grip: The growth of the industry in Papua New Guinea helped lead to the discovery of Kimbe Bay’s rich reefs, but it is also one of the threats to those same reefs (034-36 Environment May14)

July 2014: Divided islands, shared fate? Uncertainty about climate and about communities’ ability to manage their impacts clouds the future of the beautiful Solomon Islands (coming soon)

Another marathon trip……

The writing for the Coral Triangle book is coming along pretty well, but I wish it were moving faster.  I have cleared almost all my other professional side projects and am now down to just this last big one.  To wrap it up, Eric and I will be making a marathon push to Melanesia later this month.  In total we will take 13 flights, over 12,000 miles and visit 3 major field sites in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

Flights from KL, to Brisbane, to Honiara, to Gizo, to Honiara, to Port Moresby, to Lae, to Kimbe Bay, to Rabaul, to Kavieng, to Port Moresby, to Brisbane and back to KL. 20,000 km.

Flights from KL, to Brisbane, to Honiara, to Gizo, to Honiara, to Port Moresby, to Lae, to Kimbe Bay, to Rabaul, to Kavieng, to Port Moresby, to Brisbane and back to KL. 20,000 km.

We will make longer stops in Gizo, Kimbe Bay and Kavieng.

We will make longer stops in Gizo, Kimbe Bay and Kavieng.

We will be visiting WWF projects in Solomon Islands, particularly around Gizo Island.  I have wanted to visit Gizo since 2002 and thought I might never get the chance.  Hopefully the reefs are as stunning as they were described to me 10 years ago.

Thats a lot of reefs

Thats a lot of reefs

Check out the location of the airport!  Air strip?  Air coral reef?

How do you get to the airport???

How do you get to the airport???

In PNG we will visit Kimbe Bay, where The Nature Conservancy worked for many years to establish a network of marine protected areas.  We’ll visit a local NGO, an oil palm plantation and a dive resort.

Kimbe Bay.  The deep waters are home to Sperm whales.

Kimbe Bay. The deep waters are home to Sperm whales.

Our last stop will be at Kavieng. I visited this place in 2002 on a side trip during a workshop.  The diving opens up to the Pacific Ocean and the chances to see really big fish is high.  We’ll visit the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Aquaculture Research Centre.

Kavieng is at the western tip of New Ireland island.

Kavieng is at the western tip of New Ireland island.

We’ll be thanking many partners along the way, but so far we have great support from WWF-Solomon Islands, WCS Papua New Guinea, New Britain Palm Oil Company, The PNG National Aquaculture Research Centre, Walindi Resort and Lissenung Island Resort.

We depart on 17 February and return to KL on 21 March.  Whew!

And for those who have asked….. the currently erupting volcano in Indonesia is 5,600 km away at its nearest.  I am closer in KL than I will be on that trip.  🙂  So no worries.