Today we returned to the capital of Manus Province, Lorengau. We spent five days on Ahus Island, a small coral cay a short distance off the northern coast of Manus. Arriving on the island, it was easy to see why our project partner Josh Cinner has been returning to this area several times since his first visit in 2001. The whole island was very neat, with well-kept walkways, small gardens, and incredibly warm and energetic people. Education is given a high priority here, as we could see for ourselves during the graduation ceremony of the local school that took place while we visited. As a long-standing acquaintance of the community and having reached a high position at an Australian university, Josh was invited to address the graduating students, which he did with a passionate speech encouraging the students to follow their interests, ask critical questions, and value education.
Regarding the use of marine resources, we learned that the locally-imposed taboo areas around Ahus were no longer fully functional, and we saw people spearfishing in the formerly closed areas. On neighboring Andra however, we were surprised to find out that a new taboo area had been established. This island is well known in the area for its production of high-quality lime, used in the ubiquitous chewing of betel nut, from corals harvested in the surrounding reefs. A walk around the island brought a number of other interesting observations, such as a small project to plant mangroves in order to reduce erosion, and the widespread use of solar panels by island households. Noticeable on both Ahus and Andra was the frequent reference to climate change as a factor responsible for observed changes and a threat to island livelihoods. Whether this phenomenon is a reflection of the increasing exposure to dominant outside discourses, of own experiences with the natural environment, or both, remains to be seen.
The changing patterns of marine resource use and management certainly provide an interesting starting point for our investigations over the next years. One event that had heavily impacted the island communities and the reefs in the area was a strong ‘King Tide’ about five years ago that brought an unusually high tidal range, exposed and destroyed the shallower areas of the reefs, and inundated and eroded coastal land. During our snorkeling visits to the reefs, we could observe the widespread damage caused by that event. Fortunately, healthy regrowth of coral was visible in several parts of the reef.