Overall, protected area coverage in the East Melanesian Islands is almost non-existent. Although there are officially 24 protected areas covering six percent of the land area of the hotspot, only eight are currently classified in IUCN categories I-VI. These eight protected areas (none of which are in the higher protection categories) cover just one percent of the land.
Formal land protection is limited in the hotspot principally because the three nations respect local customary land tenure. Rather than legally codifying land ownership, these customs rely on a system of land dispute hearings to settle conflicting claims over land ownership or usage rights. Given the lack of clearly defined legal land title and widespread and severe rural poverty throughout the hotspot, the most common conservation strategy has been community-managed protection associated with community development activities.
International and local NGOs have played the main role in conservation in the region, often in partnership with government conservation agencies. The Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), a multi-governmental conservation and environmental organization, works closely with member governments and has developed community-based conservation projects in the hotspot.
To highlight a few projects in the hotpot, The Nature Conservancy has worked in the Kimbe region of New Britain since 1994, collaborating with Mahonia na Dari to develop a network of locally managed marine protected areas, encouraging community-based conservation and resource management, and helping to establish a locally managed research and conservation center. The World Wide Fund for Nature has been working in partnership with a local group in Western Province, Solomon Islands, to develop a community resource conservation and development project on Tetepare Island, which is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific and is celebrated for its natural and archaeological value.
Conservation International and its partners have been active in parts of the region for more than a decade, resulting in the designation of the Klampun Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in 2003 (with the neighboring Tiemtop WMA, which is still in process of designation) in East New Britain. Work to establish a conservation area in the Bauro Highlands of Makira Island, in the Solomon Islands is also underway, with the aim of having the area collectively managed by landowning groups and recognized by the government. The Solomon Islands government has developed a community-based conservation project in Komaridi, on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, leading to the creation of a local conservation area of lowland and montane rainforest. Unfortunately, the ecotoursim component of this project, supported by SPREP, was terminated in 2000 due to unrest and enthic tension in the region.
In Vanuatu, the New Zealand Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, the Vanuatu Protected Areas Initiative and the Vanuatu Environment Unit have established a conservation project at Vatthe on Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. The Vatthe project has focused on conservation of the largest tract of remaining lowland rainforest on Espiritu Santo by means of a community-based project.
Because of the current lack of large-scale conservation action in the East Melanesian Islands, the region is in urgent need of increased conservation attention and investment. Priorities are to address the difficulties of conservation on uncodified customary land, to develop successful and mutually beneficial partnerships with local communities, to address the threat of alien invasive species, and to promote the establishment of healthy and secure protected areas.