Ecological Solutions, Solomon Islands (ESSI)                   
 

Remote Rainforest Expedition on Choiseul

By David Boseto, Photographs by Tyrone Lavery and Patrick Pikacha 

Ecological Solutions - Solomon Islands (ESSI), a local organization in the month of October led a concerted expedition that carried out biological surveys between the lower reaches of the Kolobangara River to the top of Choiseul Island's central mountains. The expedtion was organized in collaboration with Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities, Choiseul Province Goverment, South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), international and national partners, local scientists, Solomon Islands National University (SINU) environment graduates, and landowners of tribes along the Kolobangara to Mt Maetambe strip. This was the first baseline biodiversity inventory of Mt Maetambe-Kolobangara River Corridor. 

The objective of the expedition was to document a baseline inventory of all the flora and fauna in this relatively untouched area. This was a major undertaking, given the large territory covered. This important survey was also part of Choiseul Province’s medium term development plan 2012-2014. This includes documentation of historical, cultural and ethnobiological data. The site is one of the last vestiges of intact tropical rainforest left in the entire province. For that matter, possibly one of the last large swaths of unbroken forests left in the entire country.


A team at Siporai camp, upper Kolobangara River. 

The purpose of the expedition was to document a baseline inventory of all the flora and fauna in this relatively untouched area. This was a major undertaking, given the large territory covered. This important survey was also part of Choiseul Province’s medium term development plan 2012-2014. This includes documentation of historical, cultural and ethnobiological data. The site is one of the last vestiges of intact tropical rainforest left in the entire province. For that matter, possibly one of the last large swaths of unbroken forests left in the entire country.

There were three teams that carried out biological surveys at five different sites along the reef to ridge corridor. Camp one was a few kilometers up the Kolobangara River from Sasamunqa village. The second camp was further upstream at Siporai. To get to the camp the scientists had to walk all day, before a boat was able to pick them up and take them upstream. Here they continued with the surveys of freshwater fishes, frogs, birds and mammals. A mid stream camp was made further inland from Siporai at Jito. Further upstream there was suppose to be a camp at Koloma, but due to the remoteness and insufficient time to access this site, we were not able to make it here. There was another site at Sarelate at the foothills of Mt Maetambe. This was perhaps one of the hardest and longest hikes to the campsite. Here the team was able to survey higher elevation forests. This survey gradient along an elevation translates to excellent sampling opportunities.

Hiking in the rainforest denotes a lot of things, and indeed managing water intake and dehydration was one. With the humidity almost continually reaching 100 percent, there was also heavy rainfall on a daily basis. Coping with foot infections from walking almost constantly in wet shoes was a challenge.

The participants included international groups from the French Museum in Paris and James Cook University working on freshwater fish and crustaceans, the US Geological Service (USGS) working on herpetofauna, University of Kansas working on herpetofauna and birds, and an expert on bats of Melanesia from the University of Queensland. There were also local scientists and students that collaborated with the experts from overseas. Each sampling team had specialists on them.

A team at camp 1, Sirebe Land, Upper Kolobangara River, Choiseul Island. 

A team at North Choiseul before climbing to Sarelata camp, Central Choiseul. 

 

Preliminary finds show that at least 10 species, from frogs and reptiles, freshwater fish and crustaceans are new to science. This shows that many species are still accounted for and perhaps there remain several species extant still. Freshwater sampling in the upper reaches of the Kolobangara River also found large and thriving populations of fish faunas rarely seen in other streams in the Solomon today. These populations are today extremely vulnerable to habitat degradation caused by logging. There was also a range extension of a new bat species, Pteropus mahaganus. Sarelata was also the site of monkey face bats. However on this trip we were unable to catch any. A few species of birds dominated the forest, including whistlers, monarchs, sunbirds, flycatchers, and myzomela. A pitta a ground bird found in tropical moist forest, and in Solomon Islands only discovered in intact forests was found at Sarelata. Today this species is threatened by habitat loss. The Choiseul ground pigeon, or kukuvojo was not sighted during this trip. It is likely this ground dwelling bird is extinct. We set a few camera traps and left these behind in the rainforest. After a few months it would be interesting to see what turns up in these cameras. A comprehensive report will be written and submitted in due course.

Stephens ground dove Gallicolumba stefani Black-faced Pitta Pitta anerythra Midget flower pecker Dicaeum aeneum

Batrachylodes sp. Platymantis sp.  Platymantis sp.

The vegetation of this landscape was characteristic of old growth forest, with large crown canopy trees overhead, and samplings and understory trees closer to the ground. Vegetation in the upper reaches of the island was covered in moss and there were many species of ground orchids.

However, the impact of severe deforestation was also evident with large swaths of forests being cleared, and the tragic consequence of extreme sediment loads washed down the lower Kolobangara River impacting fish and aquatic organisms and people who reside downstream. This tragic scenario was also evident on north Choiseul, and was particularly obvious on our way through Taro, the provincial centre. Here we discovered that there was at least 30 timber right hearings were currently taking place, for logging concessions around the island. A stark reminder of present forest exploitation and community challenges both environmental and social.

 

Fishing in the Kolobangara River.

There is a critical need of forest management across the Solomon Islands. Our surveys highlighted the seriousness of working closely with tribes and communities to better manage forest resources. Hence, by understanding what is there, the values of unpolluted clear streams, access to water, fish, wilderness and forest, wood products, and biodiversity assets, and managing that based on conservation and economic models is important. But more so, enabling communities to utilize resources in a less destructive way that encourages and supports education and training, and improves simple standards of living.

 

 

 


 

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