Last weekend Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI) had our inaugural visit to Panaeati Island. The people of Panaeati and Panapompom islands have been hunting turtles at the Conflict Islands for generations. The hunting of turtles as food and for sale is an old tradition and an important part of life at Panaeati.
Panaeati is a small island, with one school, a church and a basic medical center. There are no shops and limited access to running water and electricity, as a result people rely on fishing for food and as a source of income.
During our trip we met with the Councillors of East and West Panaeati to listen to their concerns and discuss conservation, sustainability and food security.
We discussed our turtle conservation program, explaining our turtle hatchery and nursery as well as how we can get the local people involved in our Conservation Internship. In addition to the hiring and training of staff, we will be conducting community education projects with the kids at these neighbouring island groups. Volunteers participating in our internship program will have the opportunity to assist in this community education.
The beche-de-mer fishing season is reopening in Papua New Guinea on April 1st 2017. This industry is heavily relied upon as a source of income for the island groups neighbouring the Conflict Islands. The Conflicts is a major fishing site for the beche-de-mer, unfortunately the last time that the season was opened the area became dangerously over-fished. Now, years later the area has finally recovered large numbers of sea cucumbers. One of our main concerns about the season reopening is that the area will become over-fished again, resulting in the whole reef becoming unhealthy.
We discussed the idea of having our own fishing quotas during the beche-de-mer season, but ultimately decided the best option for us and the people of Panaeati is aquaculture. It is possible to raise sea cucumbers in sea pens and create a sea cucumber breeding farm. This will assist us to repopulate the area after this coming beche-de-mer season and if this is successful we will be assisting Panaeati to create their own beche-de-mer aquaculture. Through education and training we hope to create an industry for the people of Panaeati as well as taking the pressure off the Conflict Islands.
Using aquaculture, not just of sea cucumber but other industries such as sea weed farming, can provide jobs and income to areas that rely on the ocean. This method also provides food security for these areas and allows existing fishing grounds, like the Conflict Islands to recover and be conserved.
If the Conflict Islands are protected and kept pristine, this will have spill over effects. The areas surrounding the Conflict Islands will experience an increase in the number and size of fish available, creating a sustainable future for people living in this area.
We hope that this is the start of a great relationship with Panaeati and Panapompom islands and with regular communication we can work together to conserve this beautiful area and ensure its sustainability for generations to come.