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Empowering Papua New Guinean Women to be reef guardians

The Conflict Islands will be the host venue for a two-week long program that starts in early September through to the 13th of September.

Aerial view of the sands pit on Panasesa Island, Conflict Atolls

The Sea Women of Melanesia Program – Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative, in collaboration with the Coral Sea Foundation is running a program to help not only the marine environment but empowering local Papua New Guinea women to be custodians of their local reefs.

Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea is the biggest maritime province and not to mention a diverse area made up of many smaller islands spread over a wide distance. The income of the islands is low, so most island communities and villages support themselves through using the most abundant natural resource available, the marine environment. Fishing for the village is commonplace, but it’s the illegal side of fishing that is causing the problem. To make extra money, some fishermen have resorted to shark finning and/ or turtle poaching. This is causing decimation of local species as it’s not done in any sustainable way. The other part of this is the coral reef. It’s so diverse in this area that losing it would be catastrophic. The protection of the coral will ensure that there is abundant fish life for the villages to survive in the future.

To protect and conserve these pristine island waters, the Conflict Islands set up the Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI). The goal is the effective protection, and conservation of the marine ecosystems, as well as the species within the Conflict Island Atolls, through sustainable ecological and economic management.

General Manageress, Hayley Versace says engaging the surrounding island communities is one step for the best.

Underwater imaging of how alive the underworld is

“I only want the best for our neighboring island communities. They are so kind and generous even when they have nothing. It seems they have been abandoned by the government of the day and the rest of the world with global climate change and access to reliable resources becoming increasingly harder. Becoming a Hope Spot will help us to mange the oceans natural resources for the future. This will be for the betterment of our neighbors and surrounding oceans as a whole. The ocean has given me so much over my lifetime, it is time I start giving something back,” Hayley Versace (BSc).

The Coral Sea Foundation aims to raise awareness of the ecological and social value, as well as being proactive in its sustainable management, of what Coral Sea & the Eastern Coral Triangle has to offer. These areas contain the last great reservoir of ultra-diverse coral reef in the world. Due to the remoteness, it’s very rarely visited and off the main radar of everyone’s awareness, but it’s for this reason that its in urgent need of our assistance.

The combination of these two organizations has led to the program – The Sea Women of Melanesia.

Local kids paddling in there canoe stop for a photo shoot.

The goal of the Sea Women of Melanesia (SWoM) Program, is to train, educate and to promote awareness within their island communities, about Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA’s) and their benefits. As well as to continue to support the SWoM on their journey to becoming diving professionals and marine advocates for PNG, especially the Milne Bay Province.

Through the course, the women will learn how to identify areas that need protection, learn about how to work within their communities and neighboring communities, and to become advocates for marine conservation. These tools and skills acquired are a combination of science, ecotourism, and sustainability, which in turn will help them develop marine reserves that will enhance fisheries and ecotourism resources while improving the basic quality of people in the far-flung rural areas.

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