the wilderness lodge
solomon islands

biodiversity & conservation

reef and rainforest

Gatokae Island is home to exceptional examples of both of planet Earth's great storehouses of biodiversity - coral reefs and tropical rainforest.

In 2004 The Nature Conservancy funded a five week marine REA survey of the main Solomons island chain including Gatokae which resulted in 'the Coral Triangle' - the area of global extreme coral reef biodiversity - being extended to include the Solomon Islands, and this was just the beginning of scientific exploration of Solomons reefs.

Gatokae, as is most of the Solomons, is covered in luxuriant tropical rainforest right down to the coral, and this represents one of the least studied and poorly understood ecosystems on Earth. Wilderness is gradually accumulating a reference library of what has so far been documented, refer to the 'Reference Library' link at left.

The proximity of these two incredibly rich ecosystems provides a staggering array of marine and terrestrial species, unique habitats, and unequalled natural scenery. In addition, the oceanic aspect of Gatokae, minimal population pressure, and the absence of feral pigs - unique amongst the large islands of the Solomons archipelago - make for a very intact environment. Extremely high rates of endemism, great variation between neighboring island populations, unique evolutionary traits and niches, and great numbers of unrecorded species all make for a stunning natural classroom and labratory. The Wilderness Lodge is working with leading field biologists to assist in identfying this biological heritage in order to learn how best to ensure it's viability in the 21st century.

external pressures

Due to unregulated logging activity by foreign corporations however, both of these globally-critical ecosystems are threatened, and the scope of pressures these ecosystems face is rapidly expanding as globalisation impacts on indigenous people's lifestyles and development aspirations. The logging has produced alarmingly few benefits for the people of nearby Marovo Lagoon - after many years and millions of cubic metres of tropical hardwood being extracted there is still not one single doctor to care for the region's twelve thoughusand people for example - and the environmental, cultural, and social impacts of the logging have already proven to be disastrous. Gold and mineral exploration at several sites in the watershed of Marovo Lagoon on nearby Vangunu and New Georgia Islands underlines the urgent need to strengthen environmental management capacity in a country that lacks even basic National Parks legislation.

safeguarding the environment

To help redress this situation on Gatokae, The Wilderness Lodge was established in 2002 to provide sustainable income alternatives to the indigenous people of southeatern Gatokae and establish an example of environmentally and socially sustainable business in what is a very challenging and fragile environment. The Lodge's day-to-day operation involves many measures to promote resource conservation, both through direct actions and by providing sustainable incomes to the indigenous owners of these lands and reefs through a diverse range of ecotourism income specifically structured to enhance natural and cultural integrity.

As a result of the scale of the external environmental threats faced and the rate at which habitat degradation has proceeded on neighbouring islands, Wilderness has embarked on developing conservation strategies with local communities to help broaden the reach and increase the scale of benefits accruing to the broader Gatokae community and beyond. If additional realistic, practical, and readily-implementable income alternatives are not realised, indigenous resource owners face no choice but to accede to logging and mining agreements in order to meet livelihood essentials such as food, school fees, and medical assistance.

partnering for the long term

Already the interest for carefully targeted and implemeted conservation measures has been heartening, both from within the indigenous Gatokae community and from the international conservation and scientific communities. We have been fortunate enough to engage with several eminently qualified conservation biologists and organisations. These include Patrick Pikacha, biologist and conservation champion from Marovo Lagoon who heads Conservation International in the Solomons and publishes Melanesian Geo magazine; Dr James Udy and Simon Albert of the University of Queensland's 'Conserving the Marine Biodiversity of Marovo Lagoon' Project; Dr Chris Filardi of the AMNH Centre for Biodiversity & Conservation, veteran Solomons field biologist and grassroots conservation trojan; David Leeming, designer and technical adviser of the ground-breaking DLCP and PFnet rural communications and e-learning networks which will enable delivery of conservation awareness and capacity-building directly to rural communities. Please check out the links below for background on these dedicated people and organisations. The range of information accessible via this page will increase as the conservation initiative develops (and as fieldwork allows!).

For grassroots relevancy to balance this formal capacity and expertise we rely on Wilderness's long-established working relationship with Gatokae communities (the Lodge is located in Peava Village) and the individual stakeholders of Gatokae's natural heritage. We believe that by linking the local capacity, need and desire for sustainability with the conservation expertise and resources available we can work to halt the rapid decline of biodiversity and cultural integrity that we are now experiencing. Through these unique alliances we can develop strategy that will help protect this and other threatened tropical island ecosystems.

Another aspect of the conservation picture for Gatokae and Marovo is the unrivalled knowledge and interactions the indigenous people have with their natural environment (refer to Edvard Hviding's Marovo Environmental Dictionary and 'Guardians of Marovo' for an idea of the scope of this knowledge). These traditional ecological knowledge systems need be preserved not only for succeeding generations to benefit from, but also fully integrated into conservation planning if conservation is to work in an environment where the traditional owners still exercise full control over, and access to, their lands and reefs.

the work

Wilderness continues to work with the above partners to develop these conservation initiatives, combining awareness and education work in Gatokae communities with intense field trips to inventory fauna and flora and exchange biodiversity and ecosystem knowledge with indigenous stakeholders.

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