I’ve just returned from 2 weeks in Manus, Papua New Guinea conducting a research training and cetacean survey in partnership with the PNG Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). This work is a follow-up from the workshop we ran in late 2007. The current project was funded through the Australian Government Indo-Pacific Cetacean Conservation and Research fund.
Specific objectives for this work included:
(1) Undertake the first line-transect and acoustic field surveys on cetacean diversity within the waters of Manus, PNG.
(2) Increase the research field skills of in-country staff and researchers using practical training during boat-based field surveys.
(3) Build awareness and profile of cetacean conservation in PNG
(4) Drafting of the framework, essential components, action plan, and necessary steps forward to establish a national cetacean management plan for PNG.
(5) Implement regional whale and dolphin action plans – in particular the CMS Pacific Cetaceans MoU.
Brief summary of major achievements for this project:
• 8 days of line-transect surveys undertaken from the south side of Manus Island down to the latitude of Mbuke. Coverage of approximately 1,200 km2 previously unsurveyed waters.
• Survey design also encompassed photo-identification, video and acoustic recordings in conjunction with each sighting. Acoustic listening stations were also set up regardless of sightings approx. every 2 hours.
• Concentrated research training and capacity building experience for a small research team, including: 1 PNG DEC staff member (leader of the marine ecosystems division), 2 recent biology graduates from the University of PNG, a locally placed WWF staff member working on numerous conservation projects in Mbuke area, a (very smart) Grade 10 student from Lorengau (Manus Island) with previous experience with the DEC, head of the Environment Committee of Mbuke Island, and 4 villagers (recent high school graduates) from Mbuke selected due to interest and aptitude for conservation research.
• Species seen: spinner dolphins, sperm whales, short-finned pilot whales and melon-headed whales. Additional species documented through interviews included orcas, large baleen whales and numerous other species of dolphins and small whales.
• Evening information and awareness session (conducted in pidgin by research team members)
• ½ day of surveys with 12 school children onboard to raise awareness and community engagement
• In-depth interviews with village fishermen gathering information about previous cetacean sightings, interactions and legends (conducted in pidgin by research team members)
The marine environment in Manus Province is stunning … yet the logistics for these types of surveys are quite difficult. Mbuke has no running water, electricity or phone coverage. Cultural and customary practices are an ongoing and important consideration, and English was not the first language of the research crew although they understand and speak it very well - this is lucky as my pidgin is very poor. Lastly, the rat that served as my room-mate on this trip was not too friendly!
However, in summary, the DEC team and myself were very pleased with the outcomes of this project and we are already in discussions to expand and build on this work to develop a long-term and ongoing partnership.