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Marovo - Tetepare Complex

Date of Submission: 23/12/2008
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development
State, Province or Region:
Solomon Islands, Western Province
Ref.: 5414

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The property is a mixed natural and cultural site encompassing the marine areas of the Marovo Lagoon and selected terrestrial areas of Vangunu and Gatokae Islands, the uninhabited island of Tetepare and its associated coastal marine areas, the marine and coastal areas of the southern tip and southwest coast of Rendova Island and the uninhabited barrier islands of Hele. The Marovo-Tetepare Complex encompasses more than 1600km2 of terrestrial and marine ecosystems. It is a landscape of dormant volcanoes, rugged interior ranges, extensive lagoon systems and numerous islands. Encompassing some of the best examples of all the Pacific biomes - coral reefs, estuarine and island complexes, mangrove forests, and sea grass beds, as well as a great diversity of forests types including montane forests and some of the last remaining tracts of lowland rainforest, the area is home to globally outstanding marine biodiversity.

The area is part of the Bismarck Solomon Seas Ecoregion, a WWF Global 200 ecoregion and is part of the Coral Triangle - the global centre of coral diversity. It is also included in BirdLife International's Solomon Group Endemic Bird Area (EBA) and, along with New Guinea, is considered a Centre of Plant Diversity.

Marovo Lagoon is the world's largest and best defined double barrier enclosed lagoon system. It has been suggested that "the coral seas afford no finer exemplification of Darwin's theory of barrier reef formation than is shown here" (Davis, 1938). Due to tectonic, reef building and island arc system processes, the double barrier lagoon is a result of volcanism of the Pliocene and later Pleistocene, with volcanic activity continuing at Kavachi submarine volcano 25km offshore to the southwest. The lagoon is bounded to the north and east by a chain of barrier islands that has formed from elevated reefs from sea level to 25m above sea-level. At the south eastern end, these islands form a double chain separated by water up to 170m deep. To the south and west, Marovo is fringed by three large volcanic islands (Gatokae, Vangunu and New Georgia) and is dotted with hundreds of smaller raised reefs that have formed rainforest covered islands fringed by mangroves and coral reefs. The mix of oceanic, coral reef, seagrass, estuarine and soft bottom habitats makes Marovo a particularly productive and diverse ecosystem of international significance. A Rapid Ecological Assessment conducted by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2004 resulted in its inclusion in the Coral Triangle - global centre of marine biodiversity. The Solomon Islands, including the Marovo Lagoon, has one of the highest levels of coral diversity in the world comparable only to Raja Ampat in Indonesia, and one of the world's richest concentrations of fish species (1019 species). High levels of seagrass biodiversity occur, and almost 40% of the world's mangrove species are represented. The TNC report suggests "By World Heritage criteria the Solomon Islands rates high....Reef condition, the diversity of marine life, the attractiveness of rainforest dominated islands, combine to create old-world settings that are seldom seen in today's overpopulated and overexploited world."

Tetepare Island, to the east of the Marovo Lagoon, is the largest uninhabited island in the South Pacific. Of reef limestone and volcanic origin, it is home to several endemic and IUCN Red List species, and is of critical importance for subsistence of local communities who are highly dependant on the rich reef and rainforest ecosystems. Tetepare is a complete lowland rainforest ecosystem, covered in primary forest and uninhabited for more than 150 years. It contains some of the last remaining intact lowland rainforest areas in the Solomon Islands and the wider Pacific oceanic region. The island is rugged and steeply sloped on the southern windward side with its highest point at 357m, and more gentle sloping topography to the leeward side with fringing reefs and diverse inshore marine areas.

The island's original inhabitants lived in scattered villages throughout the island and spoke a distinct language (now largely disappeared), and maintained unique spiritual and cultural practices. While oral tradition indicates malevolent spiritual influences resulting in widespread death of the original population, this has been interpreted by some as the result of large scale sickness and disease. Today Tetepare continues to play an important role in cultural and spiritual lives of people throughout Rendova and Marovo, as far as the Roviana Lagoon and the wider Western Province.

The Marovo-Tetepare Complex includes a full ecological transition, from the mossy montane forests of the highest peaks of Vangunu caldera (1008m) to the coastal shoreline. One of the key features of interest of the property is the high degree of compression in forest zones compared to other big mountain ranges in nearby New Guinea. On Vangunu, mossy forest occurs at elevations as low as 700m, whereas in New Guinea this vegetation zone begins at 2000m.

The proposed property supports a range of endemic species, some critically endangered, including a new Monkey-Faced Flying Fox (Ptetralopex sp.) which has been recorded on Vangunu and on New Georgia islands. The critically endangered leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) nests throughout the proposed property in significant numbers on Tetepare and south-west Rendova. Two other species of marine turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) are known to feed in seagrass areas throughout the proposed property. The vulnerable Dugong (Dugong dugon) and saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are also present although in low numbers.

The Marovo-Tetepare Complex is located within BirdLife International's Solomon Group Endemic Bird Area (EBA) which is recognized for its globally outstanding avian endemism. On an area basis, this EBA has more endemic bird species than anywhere else on earth, and the New Georgia Island group in particular is one of the highest priorities for conservation within the Solomon Group EBA, due to its high proportion of restricted range species. Jared Diamond's early work on the endemic White-eye birds (Zosterops sp.) of the New Georgia group has resulted is a classic textbook example of speciation and island biogeography.

There are several endemic amphibians, reptiles and insects throughout the proposed property, including the endemic prehensile-tailed skink (Corucia zebrata). The Solomon Islands unique history of isolation, speciation and dispersal likely means that further survey will reveal many more endemic species. Recent discoveries of new endemic freshwater fish species and genera, as well as a potential new gobioid fish family on the island of Tetepare illustrate the area's significant potential for new species and future contributions to biodiversity study.

The human history of the proposed property is approximately 30,000 years old. Today the area supports a human population of nearly 11,000 people distributed throughout more than 50 villages throughout the Marovo Lagoon, as well as several villages on nearby southwest Rendova Island, who are the traditional landowners of the area. Highly dependant on the rich marine and forest ecosystems for subsistence and livelihoods, these Melanesian landowners have a detailed traditional knowledge of the area. The rich marine areas and rainforests act as natural storehouses for food, housing materials, medicinal plants and raw materials for house construction and canoes. These maritime and forest environments also play definitive roles in the cultural identity and spiritual lives of the people and their communities.

Land throughout the proposed property is held under customary ownership.

Protection and Management:

The traditional owners of the proposed property have historically exercised their customary ownership to ensure effective sustainable management of these important marine and terrestrial ecosystems. However, in recent decades, a range of extractive industries have infringed on these traditional management systems and in some cases led to unsustainable use of resources. To assist local communities in the face of these contemporary resource pressures, several community-based organizations and international conservation organizations are active in working in partnership with local communities to develop more sustainable resource management practices. The Tetepare Descendants' Association, a community-based landowners' organization has developed a management plan for Tetepare Island and has established the second largest community-managed protected area in the country. Financial and technical support from WWF and Conservation International has led to the establishment of a long-term endowment fund to ensure the continued operation of the protected area and support a staff of rangers to ensure its appropriate management. A conservation agreement with the University of Queensland has been signed with the communities on Gatokae to protect the remaining rainforest areas, and there is community interest to expand this to the unlogged southern section of Vangunu. There are also several smaller community-managed areas throughout the Marovo Lagoon, some of which have support from University of Queensland, WWF, Conservation International and the American Museum of Natural History. The Nature Conservancy is also engaged in marine survey work of the area, and works to establish community-managed marine protected areas. Legislative protection for many of these areas is being pursued through provincial ordinances that support customary management, although the country's lack of national protected areas legislation remains an impediment to supporting these efforts at the community and land-owning unit levels. World Heritage listing of this area will provide a cohesive link between these initiatives and greatly improve the conservation outcomes of local and global communities alike.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The property is of sufficient size to maintain natural system functioning. It encompasses a complete island ecosystem of primary lowland rainforest on the island of Tetepare, including all features that are necessary to sustain ecosystem functioning. It remains one of the last unlogged areas of lowland rainforest in the New Georgia group and the wider Solomon Islands.

The other major terrestrial areas of the proposed property, notably the south-west area Vangunu and parts of Gatokae, include some of the last unlogged transitional zones from montane forest to coastal areas in the New Georgia Island group. Parts of Vangunu and Gatokae Islands have been logged with some impacts from sedimentary runoff into the lagoon. Recent research suggests that the marine areas are still in good condition, in particular the outer barrier reefs which maintain high biodiversity value. Most critically, the logging on Vangunu and Gatokae has not yet resulted in large-scale conversion of logged forest to agriculture, although there is some oil palm plantation development in the southeast. Opportunities now exist to allow natural forest recovery in conjunction with control of invasive plant species.

The Hele Islands provide functional ecosystem linkages between Tetepare Island and Vangunu Island and the Marovo Lagoon. These barrier islands are important migratory corridors and nesting sites for several species of seabirds. The Hele Islands are the only known Solomon Islands nesting site of the near threatened Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), and are also a significant nesting site for over 5000 Island Imperial Pigeons (Ducula pistrinaria). Both these pigeons feed in the adjacent lowland forests of Tetepare and Vangunu. Hawksbill and green turtles nest on several of the Hele Islands and other beaches within the proposed property. Endangered leatherback turtles nest on the south-west weather coast of Rendova, the beaches of Tetepare and the south-west side of Vangunu and are likely part of the same population.

To the south-east of the property, at a distance of 65km from Gatokae Island, is the tiny island of Mborokua, which plays an important role in the history and cultural traditions of Marovo people, and which was an important stopover point during headhunting raids of the past. A complete volcanic island ecosystem, its lack of inhabitants and its remote location ensure an undisturbed system whose ecological processes are intact and which is seldom visited. There are possibilities of extending the property to include this island.

Comparison with other similar properties

At the national level Marovo-Tetepare Complex is significantly different in terms of its size and complexity of its geography and geomorphology, its flora and fauna, its avian endemism, its people and their customary management systems and cultures, than the existing World Heritage Site at East Rennell in the Solomon Islands which is owned and managed by the Rennell people of Polynesian ancestry. While Rennell-Bellona province's extraordinary avian endemism results in its designation as an EBA unto itself, Tetepare-Marovo Complex includes more diverse terrestrial and marine habitats. And although Tetepare is also a raised limestone island, its forest ecosystem is different and uninhabited.

At the regional level, the proposed property is also significantly different to Henderson Island, a UK territory in the Udvardy Southeastern Polynesian biogeographic province. Although Henderson, like Tetepare, is uninhabited Tetepare is significantly different in terms of vegetation structure, endemics, its cultural history, and its important functional linkages to surrounding areas on the southwest coastal areas of Rendova, the Hele Islands, Vangunu and Gatokae Islands. Closer to the Solomon Islands are the existing WH sites of the Lord Howe Group (LHG) and the Great Barrier Reef. The LHG lies within the New Caledonian biogeographic province, comprised of volcanic islands, reefs and ocean area covering approximately 1,400 km². There are major differences in the terrestrial biota and the vegetation has affinities with sub-tropical and temperate rain forests in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia. The LHG also lacks the large enclosed lagoon of the Marovo-Tetepare Complex. Within the region comparisons will inevitably be made with the existing Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) WH area in the Queensland Coastal biogeographic province of the Udvardy Australian Realm. The scale, geographic scope and components of the geology are vastly different from the proposed Marovo-Tetepare Complex site. Nevertheless, one comparison is worth mentioning: the record of 1,019 fish species recorded for the 1600 km² Marovo-Tetepare Complex compares well with the 1,500 fish species for the almost 400,000 km² GBRMP WHA.

Also within the region lies the New Caledonian barrier reef, the second longest double barrier reef in the world, at 1,500 kilometres. This barrier reef is of outstanding biogeographical interest and serves as a regional centre of endemism in the South Pacific and has been nominated to the WH List by France. However, it is representative of the New Caledonian biogeographic province and there are elements that differ between the two properties, including the terrestrial components of the Marovo-Tetepare Complex site - it is understood that the New Caledonian nomination only relates to marine areas.

The Marovo Lagoon is the largest saltwater lagoon in the world. The area is an exceptional part of the Coral Triangle, in particular for its high coral and fish diversity which is only comparable to Raja Ampat in Indonesia. One of its most distinguishing features is its double barrier reef and island formations. In addition to the intact forest ecosystems on the large islands of Vangunu and Tetepare, the chain of small double barrier islands that surround the eastern portion of the Marovo-Tetepare Complex also support extensive rainforest, increasing the ecological and landscape diversity, and biodiversity values, of the property. Although not common, double barrier reefs exist in other parts of the world, including the Bohol in the Philippines, and Mayotte and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. However, none have the same level of combined marine and terrestrial diversity as Marovo Tetepare Complex. High levels of species endemism and marine diversity are found at Cocos Island National Park (Costa Rica) and Coiba National Park (Panama) but not the same geophysical attributes. The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere (250 km), with offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. The system's seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile. However, the fish diversity, at over 500 species, is much lower than the Marovo-Tetepare Complex.

In terms of tropical coastal geomorphology, habitat diversity and endangered species conservation the Marovo-Tetepare Complex clearly has outstanding universal value. There are currently no other WH sites in the Udvardy Papuan biogeographic province or the WWF Bismarck-Solomons Global 200 Ecoregion. Papua-New Guinea has placed the Milne Bay Seascape on its Tentative List but, again, key values are different between the two sites, not least the geomorphological features of the Marovo-Tetepare Complex. The Marovo Lagoon is one of seven Pacific sites, including New Caledonia and Milne Bay, recommended for WH listing by experts at the Workshop on World Heritage and Biodiversity Conservation in Tropical Coastal, Marine and Small Island Ecosystems in 2002 (Phillips 2002).