EXPERT OPINION : Shannon Seeto, Head of Office, WWF Solomon Islands



Posted on 10 December 2013  | 
Shannon Seeto, Head of Office, WWF Solomon Islands
© Shanon SeetoEnlarge

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and how you got started in this profession.

I was born and raised in Papua New Guinea on the island of West New Britain Province, Kimbe Bay. My love for the outdoors and the ocean was influence by my father. Growing up in a local community was a very valuable experience and part of my life, where I learned and understood vast cultures, languages, and customs of the people of West New Britain.

I got my knowledge of the ocean not in a class room or at university, but by participating and interacting with daily activities that most communities are engaged in such as fishing, hunting, and gathering and by understanding the traditional fishing methods and knowledge which have been passed down from generation to generation.

Growing up with the elders, I learned various ways to catch fish, the best times of the year or sea conditions or seasons to fish (when a particular tree leaf turned a different color), and the different moon phases relevant to fishing. Traditional knowledge in Melanesia is still a vital component of conservation and we should listen more closely to what communities know and experience. We have so much to learn from them.

Like fish spawning aggregation areas, we did not know what they were called that at that time, but we knew a lot about these areas—what time of the month to fish, or what specific species would come in large numbers. It’s only in the last 10 years or so that we have come to know them as “spawning aggregation sites.”

In 1997, I was approached by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and asked if I was interested in helping the organization to construct a research facility (this was a challenge as I had no building skills). My task was to construct one main research building and five research accommodations.

Once the construction of the facility was completed, I was asked by TNC to look into creating a local NGO (again, I had no experience establishing an NGO). It was named by my father: Mahonia Na Dari (which means guardian of the sea). I was the director, and focused on environmental education and awareness. Mahonia now reaches over 25,000 students a year and visits all major provinces in Papua New Guinea.

In 2003, I was again engaged by TNC to be the Kimbe Bay Project Manager. I was tasked to develop and coordinate the first scientifically-designed Marine Protected Area (MPA)—the Kimbe Bay Marine Protected Area.

I was involved with working with all the communities on the island and the provincial government until 2010.

It was in late 2012 that the WWF Western Melanesia Program Office (WMPO) contacted me (while I was on a boat in the river guiding fisherman in the jungle rivers of West New Britain). I was asked if I would join WWF Solomon Island as the Marine Project Manager to support Gizo staff in coordinating and implementing the US-funded Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) activities.

WWF and the Coral Triangle Support Partnership (CTSP) recently conducted a workshop in Gizo in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands to propose Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) sites. What were the key outcomes of this workshop?

There have been a number of workshops that were carried out. The three main workshops that I feel were important include:
  1. Gizo Environment Livelihoods and Conservation Association (GELCA) Workshop. This training workshop consisted of all GELCA committee members and conducted by WWF, with CTSP funding. The workshop looked into building capacity on organizational development among members of the association. 

    GELCA is the umbrella association consisting of members from each of the five community zones we work in. The aim is that one day GELCA will be self sufficient and capable of managing the Gizo Marine Conservation area as WWF hopes in the near future to expand its work throughout the Solomon Islands.
     
  2. MPA Governance Workshop. This workshop consisted of all the communities that are in the process of registering their MPA under the new Protected Areas (PA) Act. The workshop was held to inform and support communities to understand what is required and needed with regard to managing MPAs. Most importantly, the workshop built understanding around the new PA Act legislation and how it will help support communities manage their MPA.
     
  3. Community Biological Monitoring Training Workshop. This workshop consisted of training selected community members from each MPA. The standard SIMMA monitoring protocol guidelines were used to keep a uniform standard in community data collection and method.

    As part of the monitoring process, communities are encouraged to participate and monitor their own MPAs. This gives the community a sense of ownership and allows them to see firsthand the changes occurring over time, which they would report back to the entire community.

How close is Gizo to registering under the Protected Area Act of the country? What are the next crucial steps that need to be taken to achieve this win?

WWF has helped communities develop the necessary information required under the PA Act. Community management plans have been developed and community MPA boundaries identified and agreed by adjacent communities. All community applications and management plans have been submitted to the Ministry of Environment for approval. From the project level, everything has been completed and submitted. The government is still currently looking into the process regarding approval of applications, hence the delay.

WWF and the CTSP have been working closely with communities in Gizo in establishing community-based management plans. Can you tell us more about these plans, how they were developed, and what have been the outcomes so far?

WWF has been working very closely with the communities in establishing their own management plan. This is one of the major requirements for communities to be able to register their MPAs. These plans consist of rules and regulations for enforcement and also how the MPA will be managed by communities (e.g., no take areas and seasonal closures).

It also consists of the committee members, map of the area under conservation management, and many others. All community management plans have been finalized. So far, two management plans have already been submitted (WWF is waiting to receive two final management plans in the next week for submitting to the Ministry of Environment).

Community-based management has been around for a long time. Communities have always been involved in some form of conservation or resource management activities. These are in the form of traditional practices like closing off areas if there is a death in the family or high ranking member such as chiefs, closing off areas if there is a feast being planned, or just traditional tambu areas set by chiefs for traditional beliefs. These are all forms of traditional management.

How important are MPAs and what are their benefits to the communities living in the Western Province?

MPAs are very important to communities especially here in Gizo where the dependence on marine resources is very high. Mainly through fishing, income that is generated supports people’s basic living expenses, but more so, the education of their children.

Also, as population increases every year, the dependence on marine resources also increases. Fish and other marine products are sold locally at the Gizo Market or shipped to the capital where communities fetch higher prices.

Currently, marine resource use is not sustainable and if we continue in this direction, communities will experience further hardship and difficulties sustaining a normal daily life. Such difficulties are already occurring as communities themselves have identified catching fish is not as easy as it used to be.

This is why communities are interested and driven to look into other methods that will enable them to better manage their marine resources and at the same time be able to use these resources in a sustainable manner, to continue to supporting their livelihoods now and hopefully into the future.

How significant is keeping Gizo’s natural resources intact for food security and livelihoods in Solomon Islands?

Our natural resources must be intact for food security and livelihoods upon which communities heavily depend for long term survival and day-to-day living. The environment and communities go hand in hand, one cannot do without the other and communities understand this and the importance of maintaining a harmonious balance with the environment.

What advice would you give for those seeking to create community-based management plans for MPAs? What are the key concerns of communities that should be addressed and how?

My advice for those seeking to create community- based management plans are:
  1. The community must show interest and WANT to develop and establish their MPA.
  2. Most communities will lack the capacity to develop a good clear management plan. This means that communities will need a lot of support in writing their management plan.
  3. Working with communities to development management plans is very time consuming. From our experience, you would require a dedicated person for this task depending on how many MPAs you are working with. The process WWF Solomon Islands just went through has taken approximately four months, which was still short and a little rushed as we needed to stick to deadlines.
  4. There should be no influence from NGOs or other external parties supporting the development of the management plan. This is a COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT PLAN and they should take ownership of it. Our role is to help facilitate the process of obtaining the information and providing guidance.
Shannon Seeto, Head of Office, WWF Solomon Islands
© Shanon Seeto Enlarge

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