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OceansWatch returns to Papua New Guinea

by Jane Pares on 26 Feb 2009
1. Nonovaul Island Reef Check survey - OceansWatch returns to Papua New Guinea Chris Bone
In close co-operation with the world’s sailors, divers and academics, OceansWatch undertakes marine conservation projects and offers humanitarian aid to coastal communities in developing countries.

Magic Roundabout, OceansWatch lead boat, spent August - October 2008 in Papua New Guinea successfully building relationships with coastal communities and government departments, visiting schools, raising awareness of marine issues and doing Reef Check surveys (www.reefcheck.org).

Growing numbers of coastal communities in PNG understand the need for sustainable fisheries management and the team on Magic Roundabout were interested to discover an NGO based at Kavieng on New Ireland called Ailan Awareness - a community-based management approach to conserving marine resources. 'The important aspect is that villagers take ownership of the project,' says John Aini, head of Ailan Awareness. 'Our role is to facilitate and support, but the program is conducted at the village's pace.'


The OW team were fortunate to be briefed by John Aini about their next port of call, Nonovaul Island, where a marine reserve has been in place for three years and during the reef survey, the team were very pleased to note several species like the Barramundi Cod which are becoming rarer in the Pacific. A site outside the reserve was also surveyed and the lack of Reef Check indicator species was noted even though the reef itself had lots of healthy coral. Our team was helped on this survey by Keithson, from Moussau Island in the St Matthias group, where the villagers are Seventh Day Adventists so do not harvest fish for personal consumption. A member of the Nonovaul Fisheries Management Committee also helped, resourcefully using a mask made from an old inner tube, glass he had found thrown away and a large pipe clip!

After the survey the canoes started visiting and at one stage Magic Roundabout had 14 alongside with 26 visitors! On board, they were very encouraged to hear that the school kids had collected 86 batteries off their reef after the team had talked at the school earlier that day. During the school visit the teachers shared their stories of what the reef was like 20 years ago, and as in every community the team visited, they told of how the fishing was getting harder every year.


At the suggestion of The New Ireland Provincial Fisheries Department, the OW team also conducted Reef Check surveys on Nussa and Nago Islands, where the government plan to establish a marine research facility.

The OceansWatch team then spent several days at Kimbe Bay, on the northern side of the volcanic island of New Britain, the first MPA (Marine Protected Area) in Melanesia and one of the first in the world to incorporate both human needs and principals of coral reef resilience to withstand impacts from climate change (http://www.reefresilience.org/Toolkit_Coral/C8_Kimbe.html). The Nature Conservancy has been working for more than a decade with partners and local communities to protect Kimbe Bay’s rich ecosystem and now a local NGO, Mahonia Na Dari (‘Guardians of the Sea’), has very successfully taken over the role of raising awareness of marine conservation issues throughout the Bay. The OceansWatch team (Chris Bone, Irene Llabres-Pohl, Leila Cara and Jeges Nuttall) conducted some Reef Check surveys and gained first hand knowledge of the workings of MPA’s – valuable information which OceansWatch hopes to pass on to other coastal communities wishing to set up their own MPA’s.


In early September the team sailed on to Garove Island, where they encountered some of the friendliest people in the South Pacific living around the edges of a flooded caldera. The village has a fresh water well and a pretty, well-kept school which was delighted to receive coloured pencils, exercise books and local language marine conservation books. With school costing about NZ$175 a year, many parents can’t afford to send their children. OceansWatch are developing a program to support schools in developing countries by linking them with interested schools in the Western world. The cost of sending one child to a private school in the UK for a year is the same as sending 389 children in PNG! If any OceansWatch members want to help with this please get in touch with the Education Co-ordinator, julia@oceanswatch.org

Moving on to Madang on the north coast of PNG, the team had meetings with the WWF, The Nature Conservancy, The Provincial Fisheries Department and the LMMA (Local Marine Management Area) network before heading across to Karkar island (an active volcano that hasn’t blown since 1979, although it still smokes every few weeks!)


One of the main issues on Karkar Island is a fresh water supply, so in response to a request from three villages and a primary school, the OceansWatch team hiked for three hours across some very rugged terrain to inspect their water source, with a view to possibly assisting them to get a piped water supply. Currently 1600 people have no running water and no sanitation. The needs here are very basic, infant mortality is high and death comes early to many. The nearest hospital is in Madang, a three hour trip by boat and truck and the team met families that had lost children to snake bites and malaria.

Plans are now underway to put together a team of water engineers under the guidance of OceansWatch member Brian Barone, to install a pipe during 2009 together with taps in the villages.

The team was also shown round the only High School on the island by the Headmaster Ben, who explained that school needs include: a lab for each of the science subjects, a science teacher and basic resources such as paper, pens, pencils etc.


A Reef Check survey off Marangis village showed the outer reef to be in quite good condition with slightly bigger clams than usual and Humphead Wrass, while the inshore reef showed only a few varieties of coral, which might be due to the freshwater springs along the beach or frequent harvesting.

A meeting between OceansWatch marine biologist Irene, team leader Chris, the local elders and interested fishermen went well and OceansWatch was asked to come back to work alongside the villagers to help them ensure that their fishing is sustainable.

Before leaving Karkar Magic Roundabout hosted over 100 visitors in one day! The majority of them were men as women don’t use canoes, but the OceansWatch team ferried the women out in the dinghy and were showered with gifts of fruit and vegetables!


OceansWatch would like to thank everyone who has supported it during the past year, with particular thanks to Alice Sowerby for donating the use of Magic Roundabout.

Since late 2007 OceansWatch has grown into an organisation that has already made a difference, not only to the coastal environment, but also to the people who live there. The people of Marangis and Mater villages on Karkar Island have been inspired to work together with OceansWatch to conserve their marine environment and with luck, and some help from other OceansWatch members, will have a water supply before too long.


Throughout their visit to PNG the team distributed reading glasses kindly collected by Sandra Keefer and her team in San Diego, California.

During OceansWatch’s time in PNG it also noted the need for tools such as adzes, so if any OceansWatch members are interested in collecting useful tools for Pacific Island communities, then please get in touch with the 2009 Vanuatu and PNG Project Co-ordinator, Danika Tage

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