Surviving the Solomon Islands

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After a total of 12 months in the Solomon Islands my PhD fieldwork is complete! The last stint was a rainy 8 months, but now safely back in the UK I am happy to say trench foot and washing in the river are behind me!

Walking between study sites

For those that haven’t been following Wills and Kate’s tour to the Pacific, the Solomon Islands are located east of Papua New Guinea. My study site was Makira, the most southerly of the 5 larger islands in the archipelago. The Kahua region of Makira has had no commercial logging: a fact which is sadly remarkable for the Solomons (at the current rate all viable logs are predicted to be extinguished within the next couple of years). The Solomon Islands are part of the East Melanesian Islands biodiversity hotpot and contain some of the highest species endemism and diversity in the world; with 26 out of the 47 endemic mammal species for this region and more restricted-range bird species (78) than any other Endemic Bird Area. However, despite their acknowledged biodiversity the Solomon Islands are desperately understudied. It’s a fascinating region undergoing rapid social and environmental change. My PhD takes an interdisciplinary approach to look at both these aspects and further understand the relationship between poverty, biodiversity and sustainability. There is currently little empirical evidence on the poverty-biodiversity relationship at a local scale, despite a growing need to understand these interactions to achieve conservation and development goals. I collected a mixture of biodiversity data (birds and bats) across different habitat types, representing different gradients of land-use, and socio-economic data on household use of forest resources, including wild foods, building materials and medicines. Each household was also assigned a wealth score based on locally identified asset indicators of poverty. A typical day involved a 5am start to open mist nets or complete a bird transect, return for lunch (boiled potatoes + cabbage) followed by household surveys, position the bat detector and finish off with dinner (boiled potatoes and cabbage).

Tammy and children in Toroa village

I also had a few camera traps in different habitat types which caught some cool photos of cryptic ground doves and an intriguing rat (is it the endemic Solomys or a big black rat??) Photos from the camera traps also went down really well with local communities – an important aspect, as land in the Solomons is all customary-owned. Therefore working well with the local communities was essential in order to continue to have access to the study site. I got additional funding for my fieldwork from Rufford Small Grants and as part of this produced a booklet on the local birds. The aim of this booklet was to help the local people learn more about their environment (there are 13 endemic birds on Makira alone) and why conservation is important. It was unveiled at the final cross-community workshop, before being distributed to all the local schools. It was a lot more work pulling it together than I anticipated, (obviously complicated by lack of electricity and internet), but it went down a storm with children and adults alike and was a great note to finish my fieldwork on. And now as I sit in front of my computer and the task of writing it all up looms, I’m starting to think that potatoes and trench foot perhaps weren’t too bad after all! By Tammy Davies.

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