WWF is helping communities in Solomon Islands' Western Province to get legal protection for four marine areas of significance.
The communities of Saeraghi, Sepo Islands, Koquvalata and Nusatuva are now working with the NGO to register the sites under the Protected Areas Act.
If successful, they'll be the first to be protected under the act, which came into force in 2010.
Annell Husband reports:
WWF has described Solomon Islands as one of the most important eco-regions in the world. It has also acknowledged the country has the lowest level of legally protected land in the Pacific, at less than three percent. The NGO's marine programme manager says in the past there have many marine areas set aside for conservation, but the legislation protecting them has been very weak. Shannon Seeto says after a decade of collaboration between the communities and WWF it's hoped the four areas near the Western Province capital Gizo will come under the Protected Areas Act by the end of the month.
"SHANNON SEETO: It's good now that the national government has seen this and committed to developing stronger legislation for protected area conservation. It really does aim to empower local communities to manage their own traditional resource areas."
Shannon Seeto says the communities recognised years ago that fish were smaller and supplies of them dwindling. Three of the four new marine protected areas are fish spawning aggregation areas for species such as coral trout and Maori wrasse. But Mr Seeto says the new agreements will safeguard more than just the fisheries because the areas concerned are valuable for their coral and biodiversity.
SHANNON SEETO: There's numerous issues here with regards to the marine environment and like I said, you know, fisheries is one of them but there's also issues with regards to harvesting of corals for infrastructure. Communities use - take the corals and build jetties and so forth.
Western Province is home to Solomon Islands' largest area of conservation land, 20-thousand hectares of forest on Kolombangara Island. It's land that is wanted by a local logging company, which is under injunction until it proves compliance with environmental legislation. The co-ordinator of the group that won the injunction, Kolombangara Island Biodiversity Association's Ferguson Vaghi, says marine protection will only be fully effective if land-based activities are controlled.
FERGUSON VAGHI: In order for the marine to be actually protected there must be a protection in the terrestrial forest. It's a real challenge on that but we are still working on ways and means to protect the forest so that the marine as well is protected.
But an Australian volunteer lawyer with the Public Solicitor's Office says questions also remain around how legislated marine protection will be enforced. Katrina Moore says the communities will be entitled to appoint a ranger.
KATRINA MOORE: I think that's going to be a big problem. I mean, we're saying to the communities, 'You can appoint a ranger and the ministry can appoint an inspector but we don't know how we're going to fund that.' I don't know how we're going to fund the training, I don't know how we'll fund these rangers to have a salary.
Katrina Moore says one of the options being considered is establishing an eco-lodge to fund the marine protection.