David had assembled a group of our local ladies and we discussed the startup of our farming project. The news was warmly welcomed because this was their only source of income. In anticipation of my visit the ladies had recovered and salvaged some materials to start to grow some new corals.
After getting my feet wet in Tanapari, I spent the next few days in another area of Guadalcanal, on the eastern end, around Marau Sound. Years earlier, coral mariculture projects had started, but had been abandoned when the civil unrest flared up. The locals still had some materials on hand and were still quite familiar with the techniques needed to sustainably propagate corals, but without outside guidance and the ability to export their product the program ended.
Marau is an isolated remote part of Guadalcanal, inaccessible by roads and without electricity or any modern conveniences. Several small islands arranged in a horseshoe shape surround this area and form a lagoon with small openings between the islands allowing lots of current and flow to rush into the lagoon that is home to massive numbers of corals.
A three-hour bumpy ride in a small boat brought me to Marau Sound. My guide for this portion of my journey was Lincoln, a native Solomon Islander that works as a coral collector in another area around Guadalcanal. Halfway to our destination Lincoln jokingly pointed to a nearby sandbar and let me know that was our “rest stop” which made me begin to realize the remoteness of our destination.
Upon our arrival in Marau we were greeted by David, the local village chief, in a primitive dug-out canoe—the only means of local transportation. There are local chiefs that own the reef, village, and island and the permission and blessings of each are needed before any work could begin. David had assembled a group of our local ladies and we discussed the startup of our farming project. The news was warmly welcomed because this was their only source of income. In anticipation of my visit the ladies had recovered and salvaged some materials to start to grow some new corals.
In Marau Sound there is a vast array of Acropora, as many as you could imagine and so many you could look in every direction and see solid corals for as far as you can see in the clear waters. There are enough corals in this one location to supply the worldwide reef hobby for 20 or more years! There was no signs of bleaching or other problems. On these secluded islands of Marau Sound live our coral farmers, the ladies of Marau Sound.
"Before the civil unrest on the 1990s the women of the villages in Marau were trained on how to propagate corals. The unique communal social structure in this location dictates that the men help find the corals underwater, but only the women handle them once on the land. "
Before the civil unrest on the 1990s the women of the villages in Marau were trained on how to propagate corals. The unique communal social structure in this location dictates that the men help find the corals underwater, but only the women handle them once on the land. This group of skilled and dedicated women we affectionately call The Ladies of Marau! Unfortunately the nexus of the previous unrest had been in Marau and at the time the existing coral crops were destroyed and all mariculture work came to a halt. The one coral exporter lost access to the area and until the time I visited the hopes for starting the project again seemed as remote as the islands themselves. I was offered the opportunity to resurrect the program, but with the current unrest I had my doubts about any investment.
David, Lincoln, and I toured the area and found some brightly colored Acropora that were perfect candidates to restart our program. I would ask David where the bright blue Acros were located and he knew exactly where to find them, after all this is his backyard! We harvested many bright blue Staghorns, metallic pink millepora, and assorted colors of encrusting and plating Montipora. Once the corals were brought on land in water-filled shallow containers, the ladies formed an assembly line with each lady performing a different task. One would cut a few branches from the colony, the next would prepare the cement mount, and the next would attach the frag with fishing line in perfect positioning without any epoxy or glue. Another lady would put the mounted frags on a wire rack and secure it in place with more fishing line while another lady periodically splashed the frags with water to keep them moist and cool. Within just 15-20 minutes the rack was filled with frags and ready to put back in the ocean.
The men of the village surrounded us and watched with curiosity. David and Lincoln would return the rack filled with frags back in the ocean next to the parent colony that had just a few frags removed. The idea is that any endemic fish or inverts would still be present with the colony next to the frags and this would lessen the possibility of pest attacking the frags. Also, the frags and colony would be in the same location with the same lighting and flow and with 6 months the frags are well encrusted on the mounts and the original colony has regrown, this makes the process completely sustainable with no negative impact on the wild reefs. Bringing some income to the locals also gives them a greater aporeciation for their own natural resource and causes greater care of their reefs.
With enough frags growing they can be harvested weekly to take only those well encrusted and to begin the process over again with the parent colonies. Lincoln takes monthly trips to the area to collect the harvest and locals will bring some frags more frequently to the export facility in their dug-out canoes with the frags wrapped in banana leaves to keep them moist and protected during the slow trip.
I spent 10 days in the Solomons and saw many of amazing reefs filled with lots of beautiful corals. I was able to help get the propagation project up and running again and built some great relationships. Many of the reefs I visited were filled with remnants of planes and battleships sunk during WWII, a stark reminder of the tragic losses of war and a constant reminder to the Solomon Islanders that live with the effects of that war to this day.
Despite our best intentions and the beauty of the corals of the Solomon Islands, the project eventually died out after several years of production. With continued civil unrest and apprehension of outside investors to bring much need funding to the region there were not enough flights available to the area due to a lack of tourism. The lack of cargo space eventually prevented the project from continuing to this day. At present sadly no corals or fish are exported from the Solomons. The one exporter has gone out of business and the Ladies of Marau are without a regular source of income. Hopefully some day we can start up the project again and bring the amazing corals of the Solomons to the world again.