By Lindsay Brubaker, Blue Parks Intern
Featured Image: Arnavon Community Marine Park, © Robert Taupongi
What does conservation look like without women? Research demonstrates that conservation efforts are more likely to succeed when women are involved, but in Melanesia, men are traditionally seen as the head of the household and as decision makers, so for years the Arnavon Community Marine Park was run only by male rangers. The uninhabited Arnavon Islands are the largest nesting ground in the South Pacific for the Hawksbill sea turtle, with 2000 nests every year, so the rangers’ main duty is taking turns spending a month at a time on the islands to protect the endangered turtles [1, 2]. During this time, the rangers watch over their nests to prevent the eggs and hatchlings from being preyed on by natural predators, and to prevent nesting turtles from being taken by poachers, who value the hawksbill for their beautiful shells and turtle meat for protein.
Before the Arnavon Community Marine Park was established, the islands were traditionally fishing grounds for men. When it became an MPA in 1995, all the rangers were men, and for the first 20 years after the park’s establishment, few women set foot on its islands.
All this changed in 2016, when Marilyn Gedi—the first female police officer in the Solomon Islands—decided the status quo was not acceptable. Together with Robyn James from The Nature Conservancy, she founded the KAWAKI Women’s Network, a cross-island community group, to empower women and give them the chance to be active in the conservation and culture of their communities. The name KAWAKI comes from the names of the three local indigenous island communities that created and manage the Arnavon Community Marine Park; KA in KAWAKI stands for the community of Katupkia, WA for Waghena, and KI for Gedi’s remote home island of Kia. Each community sends rangers to patrol the MPA and protect turtle nests from poachers while making decisions together. Gedi brought women together from all three communities, and they have created conservation education programs for local schools, are working on a community conservation center and ecotourism for the area, and now protect the hawksbill nests just like the men. Without women, these community efforts may never have happened. KAWAKI brings to the table what government or NGO-run MPAs may not – a stronger focus on culture and community, which is essential for conservation success, as conservation efforts do much better when indigenous needs and values are met . In fact, this is a requirement for an MPA to become a Blue Park.
In 2019, Marine Conservation Institute awarded the Arnavon Islands with a Blue Park Award for their outstanding community-led protection of the local marine ecosystem and species, including the hawksbill sea turtle. KAWAKI plays a huge role in conserving the hawksbill and contributes greatly to the community effort. Now not only are the turtles protected by rangers, the whole community is involved and invested in protecting these endangered turtles – children are taught the importance of protecting the turtles, and women are active on the islands for the first time, watching the nests and guiding hatchlings to the sea .
- Green, A., et al., eds. (2006) Solomon Islands Marine Assessment. TNC Pacific Island Countries Report No 1/06, pp. ix, 424.
- Hausheer, J.E. (2017) New Protections & Tagged Turtles Provide Hope for the Solomon Islands. Cool Green Science. Retrieved April 2021 from https://blog.nature.org/science/2017/08/01/new-protections-tagged-turtles-provide-hope-for-the-arnavon-islands/
- Walter R. and R. Hamilton (2014). A cultural landscape approach to community-based conservation in Solomon Islands. Ecology and Society 19(4): 41. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06646-190441
- People Not Poaching (2020). The KAWAKI Women’s Group: Turtle Advocates. Retrieved April 2021 from https://www.peoplenotpoaching.org/kawaki-womens-group-turtle-advocates