Oceans Watch and Cat Knapp at work in the Pacific

Cat Knapp
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Cat Knapp, the sailing boat being used by Oceans Watch to assist in their goal of achieving Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Island Communities in the Pacific, has had a busy couple of months.

She sailed from New Zealand to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and in the near future is headed for Papua New Guinea. While Cat Knapp may lack some of the comforts found to day on many sailing boats (such as refrigeration) the crew write that 'It’s been an amazing adventure and we have been enjoying doing our part for marine conservation and community development in these remote parts of the world.

It’s exciting to be invited to new communities and to be developing good relationships with Solomon Islands’ authorities as word spreads about our marine conservation and community development work.'

So what have they been doing? Here are exerpts from their blog entries, just received by email:

Cat Knapp crew in 2011
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Tuo Village, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands:

We feel we may have arrived in paradise... Fenualoa Island is beautiful! Our entire stay, a steady stream of gifts of fruit and coconuts arrives delivered by possibly the cutest and happiest children I have ever met. The people of Tuo have seen some really positive changes since they decided to set aside a marine protected area, such as more fish, bigger schools of fish, and previously rare species beginning to return to the area.

We have a bad run of equipment malfunction in Tuo; however, with a sense of humor and our innovation we tackle these issues, and complete our Reefcheck survey as planned. If you are wondering what Reef Check is, it is an internationally recognized underwater surveying method assessing the health of coral reefs. It was observed that there were generally plenty of smaller fish and smaller coral colonies, which is encouraging given that their Marine Protected Area (MPA) is only one year old.

We all look forward to seeing what this reef is like in a few more years.

cat knapp - Reef guardians in the classroom
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We also conduct Reef Guardian’s training with a group of local volunteers. These ‘Reef Guardians’ will be the driving force behind monitoring the success of the MPA. Over several sessions we teach them more about local marine conservation practices.

The Reef Guardians will be conducting underwater surveys and sending regular updates on their reef to Oceanswatch, with the aim of the villagers being able to monitor and manage their marine resources independently in the future. We also conduct marine conservation education with the community and local school, and feedback from villagers showed that they are interested in implementing more sustainable practices.

If you scratch the surface you realize that the people of Tuo have some very basic needs that aren't being met. Food and water shortages are a yearly event for these people. Dry season means the villagers are often forced to drink brackish water from the wells, and there is a real need to source more tanks for the community. We test the wells for salinity and total dissolved solids so that Tuo has data to show that their water falls below the World Health Organisation’s standards for drinking water.

We also conduct a village survey based on SEM-Pasifika guidelines, which Oceanswatch and Tuo village may be able to use to assist in accessing funding and other forms of help. When we leave the community we are fare welled like kings, such amazing generosity from people who are in the middle of their yearly food shortage.

Word about the success of Tuo Village’s MPA has spread, and one of our most exciting pieces of news is that our president Chris Bone has had meetings with four additional villages on Fenualoa Island, as well with representatives of the close by Nifololi Island. The resounding message from all was that they are concerned about their marine resources and would like to work with OceansWatch in the future to establish MPA.

Abatai Village, Rennell Island, Solomon Islands:
cat knapp vanuatu
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At Abatai village we successfully complete a number of underwater Reefcheck surveys, as well as Rapid Assessment Surveys inside and outside the MPA which was set up last year. We receive feedback from the community that they are committed to respecting their MPA, and hold hope that it will play an important role in ensuring their reef is healthy in years to come.

A number of local men volunteer to be trained as Reef Guardians, and it’s great to see their underwater surveying skills, as well as their knowledge of sustainable fishing practices, develop over the course of the training. These men will be sending underwater survey results to OceansWatch throughout the year, as well as sharing the knowledge they have gained with their community members.

We also interview fishermen on the village’s use of their marine and coastal resources. This SEM-Pasifika survey information will be used to inform OceansWatch’s work with this community, and will be provided to the community via the Abatai report.

Chris also spends a day with the local fishermen, constructing a sailing canoe, which we saw out on the water for the remainder of our stay. We hope that sailing will enable more fishing in deep waters, without relying on petrol, and will lessen the impact on the reefs closer to shore.

The Abatai Women’s Club are very happy to hear that their crafts from last year have been sold at an average of twice the price they would have received locally. They provide a great selection of beautiful hand-woven bags and carvings for sale this year, with profits being returned directly to the community.

We also speak more with community members about the major problems facing their community. Like Tuo, Abatai experience a yearly water and food shortage around June to September, as many of the crops are not in season, and food deliveries and money are in short supply.

If the water in the tanks runs out, then people have to walk down the cliffs to the water springs at the beach to fetch buckets of poor quality water for the heavy trek back up to the village.

The local school has also closed which means that younger school-age children and those who have not been able to find breakfast usually stay home. Healthcare is another important problem in the community, with mothers sometimes carrying their children for 2-3 hours to the nearest clinic. Once again we are so touched by the warm thanks and farewell from these beautiful people, who live in such a stunning place.

For more information about how you can support OceansWatch please visit www.oceanswatch.org. (We would also appreciate any donations.)