24 Jun 2013

Logging impacts Solomon Islands World Heritage site

5:29 pm on 24 June 2013

The Solomon Islands World Heritage area of East Rennell has been inscribed on a list of endangered sites by UNESCO because of the effect of logging on the island's ecosystem.

East Rennell is the world's largest raised coral atoll and UNESCO says its dense forest canopy is considered to be a natural laboratory for scientific study.

Jamie Tahana reports:

The deputy head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which brought East Rennell to the attention of the World Heritage Committee, says the heritage area faces a number of significant threats. Peter Shadies says the most concerning is the threat of logging on West Rennell, which is having an effect on the east side - the World Heritage area. He says when the IUCN sent a mission to East Rennell in October, they found many concerning things.

"PETER SHADIE: The mission report gave us a fairly serious assessment of impact from logging - logging which is happening on West Rennell which is seriously interrupting biodiversity. There's also concern about the arrival of rats and other invasive species. There's concerns, also, about climate change and salination and overfishing of the resource."

Peter Shadie says being on the heritage in danger list is a positive thing, which will awaken people to the danger East Rennell is in and hopefully bring some much needed help.

PETER SHADIE: Not a black mark, but an opportunity to focus attention on these places. We want to find constructive solutions and I think that there's been a number of examples around the world where we've been able to work through the danger listing process to get sites back in shape and get them off the danger list.

The UNESCO special projects manager, Marc Patry, says Rennell is a small island and any problems on the west side will also have an effect on the sensitive east side. He says the full impact is unclear and the committee has asked the Solomon Islands government to provide an impact assessment.

MARC PATRY: We have relatively little information on what kind of logging's taking place, the extent of it and how it's being done and until those questions are answered it's pretty difficult to say how serious this issue is. If they log 10 hectares and that will be it then perhaps it's not so serious. If they have plans to log 90 percent of the island, then that's a big deal and we need to know what that impact will be.

Marc Patry says the multi-governmental committee will be reviewing the situation on East Rennell annually to make sure it improves enough to move off the danger list, or it faces losing its World Heritage status.

MARC PATRY: Being a World Heritage area is like being allowed into an exclusive club. If you get in, that's great, you've met the standard. But once you're in you have to keep those standards. If you can't keep those standards of behaviour, then you get kicked out of the club. So it's entirely feasible that if the entire west side of the island is logged, or even if parts of it are logged, but by doing so it undermines the value of the eastern side of the island then it's not unfeasible that the site will be removed from the list of World Heritage.

Frank Wickham is the acting permanent secretary of the environment ministry. He says the government is taking East Rennall seriously and is already in discussions with donors to try and get the resources to support the island. He says the ministry is working out a management plan for logging on Rennell Island so that it can be done sustainably with little effect on the eastern area. He says the community on Rennall Island is key to solving the issue.

FRANK WICKHAM: It's customary land and leadership at the community level is going to be crucial in this stage now where they're having all these activities right at the border of the site and we do understand that it's now a big concern for the commission and we're trying our best to see how we can strengthen the commitment at the community level and also the government.

Frank Wickham says the situation on East Rennell is already starting to improve since the environment ministry took over management from the Ministry of Education.