Since 2004, WCS has been working in New Ireland which is located on the northern arc of the Bismarck Sea and forms part of the Coral Triangle – a region encompassing the world’s highest marine biodiversity. With a diverse range of marine and coastal habitats including relatively healthy reefs and mangroves, New Ireland remains a high priority for marine conservation in the Pacific region. However, and similar to many maritime regions throughout Melanesia, New Ireland’s rich ecosystems are under threat from a fast growing human population that is highly dependent on marine and coastal resources for food and livelihood opportunities. The region is also under threat from a lack of environmental governance and is highly vulnerable to realized and anticipated climate change impacts. All of these threats have dire implications for the future food security of New Ireland’s fast growing population and there is a general lack of local capacity and technical knowledge to understand, mitigate and adapt to these threats.
WCS New Ireland is working with various stakeholders, from local communities to the provincial government, to undertake projects focused on the sustainable utilization and management of natural resources and dependent livelihoods. Initially concerned with community based fisheries monitoring and management, the New Ireland program has expanded to include mangrove restoration and management, capacity building of governance institutions and climate change education and outreach. With eight full time staff including biologists and community engagement specialists, we are well equipped to inform local actions for the safeguarding of marine and coastal ecosystems by integrating scientific and technical knowledge with traditional knowledge from local communities. We recognize that to be successful, we need to engage and inspire our partners at all levels. As such, we invest heavily in building social capital with all our projects, from providing environmental education through schools to providing marine monitoring training to government officers. To this end, we operate within strict community engagement protocols and employ and train villagers (Community Facilitators) to liaise between WCS and the communities we engage.
For many of our projects, particularly those seeking to implement or inform natural resource management, we invest heavily in assessing and monitoring natural (i.e. the resource) and human (i.e. resource users) dimensions. For example, our community based fisheries and mangrove management projects entail the collection of socio-economic data to understand people’s dependence on fish and mangrove resources in addition to biological studies to assess resource health. We are also conducting surveys to understand the ecosystems services value of mangroves to individual communities.
Some key initiatives we are currently working on include:
Community-based Fisheries Management (CBFM): Our CBFM program has been in operation for ten years with the overarching goal of building capacity within coastal communities to sustainably manage their marine resources. We do this through a range of information sharing activities, including surveys, workshops and training exercises, culminating in the development of fisheries management plans and village-level capacity to administer them effectively. We are continually expanding on our CBFM work to encompass more communities, a broader suite of management initiatives and the implementation of additional initiatives to ‘value-add’ fisheries management options. The latter include a ‘gillnet-exchange program’ where villagers can trade in old small-meshed gillnets in exchange for new larger-meshed nets, in an effort to reduce the proportion of immature fish in catches. A further initiative is the deployment of Inshore Fish Aggregating Devices (IFADS) to transfer fishing pressure from vulnerable reef fish to less vulnerable pelagic stocks such as tunas. We are also in the process of developing fisheries management linkages between communities we engage in recognition of reciprocal fishing access between some villages and of greater management outcomes when managing fisheries on a larger scale.
Building Fisheries Management Capacity within the New Ireland Provincial Government (NIPG): We are working with the NIPG to draft a fisheries management and development policy which will provide the foundation for the development of provincial-level fisheries legislation and potentially, strengthened legal recognition of CBFM plans. We are also collaborating with the NIPG to train fisheries officers to collect, analyze and interpret fisheries data.
Developing Marine Zoning in New Ireland: We are working with the NIPG to establish zoning schemes in coastal waters within 3 nautical miles (nm) of New Ireland. Zoning will be developed through a broad scale stakeholder consultation process and is likely to include protection of customary artisanal rights within the 3 nm boundary, as well as special protection for sensitive habitat and fisheries areas.
Local adaption to Climate change impacts through mangrove management and Conservation
Local impacts of climate change in low-lying New Ireland include coastal flooding. To confront this, we are focussing on adaptation actions that are applicable in the community context for mangrove associated villages. As such, we are supporting community conservation actions for mangrove management by conducting workshops to enable locals to have the understanding and skills to better manage their mangrove areas. Further, we also assist communities to build nurseries to raise seedlings of overharvested mangrove species for replanting.
Education to inspire and empower local and future leaders towards resource management
We have also been reaching out to local communities and school children through an education and outreach program that uses puppet shows to relay conservation messages. We are also able to connect with primary school children through a Climate Change Education Resource Centre at the Kavieng office which has resources available to enhance understanding and knowledge of conservation and climate change related issues. The goal is for local people to be better informed to make the right choices to enable a sustainable livelihood for future generations.
We are also reaching out to the future generations through our school outreach program. So far, we have worked with over 90 schools in New Ireland to deliver teachers resource books and other educational materials. Through our multi-faceted approach to education and awareness, we will continue to instill core environmental values to influence change in attitudes and behavior for the future leaders of New Ireland.
CCDA (Adaptation Fund)
WCS MPA Fund
Paul M Angell Family Foundation
Sven Frijlink and Annisah Sapul