One of biodiversity’s hidden jewels is a small island in the South Pacific, and its fate depends heavily on people who do not live on the island.
Tetepare Island in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific. How did it get that way?
Legends and records suggest that the entire population left in the mid-1800s due to an outbreak of disease and headhunting occurrences among tribes.
Whatever the reason, with the exception of a small coconut plantation along its western shore and a few small overgrown, temporary gardens, the vast majority of Tetepare’s 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) of rainforest have remained uncleared for more than a century.
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Tetepare has been recognized internationally for its conservation significance and archaeological value. The island harbors thriving rainforests, coral reefs and mangrove swamps, complete with nesting beaches for three species of turtle, including the Critically Endangered leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea).
Other species inhabiting the island and surrounding waters include the dugong (Dugong dugon), the world’s largest skink (Corucia zebrata), the endemic Tetepare White-eye (Zosterops tetepari) and three known freshwater goboid fish sub-species including a possible new genus, hornbills, pygmy parrots, huge bump-headed parrot fish, schools of barracuda and pods of inquisitive dolphins.
A Legacy Preserved
Descendants of the original inhabitants of Tetepare are now settled throughout the Western Province, and many of these people make regular trips to the island for fishing, hunting and artisanal resource harvesting. For Tetepare’s landowners, the island and surrounding waters represent an important cultural legacy and a potential sustainable source of income from the rational harvesting of renewable resources.
“We still think the island is wild and sacred to us. We believe that our ancestor spirits are still on the island,” says Allen Tippet Bero, Program Coordinator for the Tetepare Descendants’ Association (TDA).
However, the aggressive logging that has decimated the Solomon Island’s forests has proven a persistent threat, with all of the country’s commercial timber predicted to be gone in the next few years.
The logging has failed to benefit most landowners while causing social disruption and a loss of resources with cultural and economic importance.
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In 2002, to avoid imminent commercial logging on the island, the landowners formed the TDA, which now has over 3,000 members and is legally recognized by the national government as recognizing the legitimate owners of Tetepare.
The TDA constitution pledges conservation and sustainable management of resources. “After an extensive awareness program, all the resource users of Tetepare have understood and are starting to respect what we have set up for the island,” says Bero.
Conservation Fuels Education
With support from several outside organizations, TDA conducts patrols (policing the island) and carries out both terrestrial and marine biological monitoring.
To make conservation attractive to its members in light of persistent cash offers from loggers, TDA has initiated projects – such as a community ecolodge on Tetepare and provision of scholarships to schoolchildren.
As a result of these activities, Tetepare remains one of the last major refuges for plant and wildlife species found nowhere else, and one of the few places in the entire Pacific where communities have successfully resisted commercial loggers.
These activities are funded directly by outside donor organizations, researchers and the ecolodge. The European Union has committed to funding most of the operating costs of the TDA through 2010. This commitment includes the TDA scholarship program, which is central to the association’s mission to protect the island through providing benefits to its members.
Katherine Moseby and John Read, scientists who have worked with TDA for a decade, note that the “educational scholarships continue to be the most sought after and recognizable benefit to TDA members.”
To address the need for more sustainable financing, Conservation International (CI) is working with TDA to establish and capitalize a trust fund for TDA core costs, including management activities and the scholarship program.
This trust fund would make Tetepare the first endowed community conservation project in the region and provide critical backing to help make TDA’s conservation and sustainable development successes sustainable.
TDA's conservation model is one which CI, working with TDA and other partners, believes can help catalyze conservation of many of the remaining intact forests in the Solomon Islands, to the long term benefit of landowners.
The model, in which landowners choose conservation over destructive commercial resource extraction in favor of sustainable resource use and direct benefits, such as scholarships requires both national capacity building and increased, focused international support. CI has made these goals the focus of its efforts in the country.
“[Now] people understand what it means to have a permanent protected area – because it gives a chance for [species] to breed and multiply,” says TDA Hospitality Coordinator Mary Bea.
IN DEPTH: CI works with communities all around the world. Read about some of our most successful partnerships.