Tetepare rises from the depths of the Pacific Ocean like a slumbering dragon. A long, rugged island cloaked in rainforest and fringed with biodiverse reefs, Tetepare is one of the conservation jewels of the Solomon Islands.
What makes this island truly extraordinary is that in a country where timber is the primary source of revenue and export earnings, Tetepare remains unlogged. In a country where swathes of forests have been decimated by commercial logging and fragile environments destroyed, Tetepare is real, tangible proof that there is a better way.
When the threat of logging loomed over Tetepare less than ten years ago, it was the descendants of the very people who fled the island who came together to save it. The thousands of descendants, spread out across the Western Province, formed an alliance to become the Tetepare Descendants’ Association, or TDA. Their goal was to protect and conserve the island for the benefit of all descendants and future generations.
Since it formed, the TDA has transformed from a fledgling landowners’ organisation, to a world-class community-based conservation organisation responsible for one of the largest integrated land and marine conservation initiatives in the country.
Now, we are expanding our conservation program with the help of international donors, and hoping to inspire communities across the Solomons and the Pacific to follow in our footsteps. The Tetepare project, supported by the Sustainable Forestry Conservation Project of the European Union, the WWF and Australian Volunteers International, is a leading example of how a conservation program, proposed and championed by a visionary local community can succeed in Melanesia.
A raised coral island of superb natural beauty and rich biodiversity, Tetepare has received international recognition for its conservation and archaeological significance.
Experts from around the world, including renowned ornithologist and author Jarrod Diamond, have recommended the island be conserved. A dazzling variety of plants and animals make their home in the island’s 120 square kilometres of primary lowland rainforest – some of the last remaining in the Melanesia.
A total of 73 bird species, 24 reptile, four frog and 13 mammal species have been recorded including several rare and endemic species. And scientists are still discovering new species on Tetepare. In recent years, researchers discovered three new species of fish, one new fish genera and one potential new fish family in the freshwater rivers that wend through the forest, beneath the towering canopies of Tetepare’s banyan trees.
In 2006, scientists found 33 new taxa of butterflies and a recent bat survey indicated there are likely to be as many as 18 different bat species on Tetepare. Other species flitting through Tetepare’s skies include the Tetepare white-eye – found nowhere else in the world – as well as hornbills, pygmy parrots, sea eagles, kingfishers and a population of horseshoe bats.
Tetepare lies within Birdlife International's Solomon Group Endemic Bird Area, which is recognised for its outstanding avian endemism.
Frigate birds are regularly seen soaring above the island and fishing in the surrounding waters and large flocks of Island Imperial and Nicobar pigeons can be spotted winging their way from Tetepare to nesting areas on the adjacent Hele Bar islands.
Of particular note is the absence of cane toads and scarcity of cats and dogs on Tetepare, which may account for the nesting records of the rare ground nesting white-throated nightjars.
Underwater, Tetepare is no less remarkable. Three species of marine turtles, including the critically endangered leatherback and hawksbill and the endangered green, nest on Tetepare’s volcanic black sand beaches. Sharks, dolphins, crocodiles and an extraordinary diversity of colourful fish species make the island’s reefs their home. The coral reefs of the region support one of the highest diversities of fish and coral in the world, second only to Raja Ampat in Indonesia. The area is part of the Coral Triangle - the global centre of coral diversity.
Luxuriant seagrass meadows in the island’s sheltered lagoons provide a nursery for juvenile fish and food for resident dugongs. Nine of the 10 species of seagrass known to occur in the Pacific have been recorded in a single lagoon in the Western corner of Tetepare. Dugongs are frequently seen in the Tetepare’s coastal waters. These rare creatures feed on seagrass in the shallow lagoons, either singly or in small groups. Numerous recent sightings have been made of mother and calf pairs. Dugongs can live up to 70 years. A threat to their survival is siltation of seagrass beds by logging and mining.
Culturally important tambu sites are scattered across the island along with burial shrines and abandoned village sites, remnants of the time when Tetepare was home to settlements of people with a unique culture and language.
No one knows why the people of Tetepare fled their island 150 years ago, but local people and archaeologists believe headhunting and disease played a role. Tetepare continues to play an important role in the spiritual lives of Tetepare descendants throughout the Western Province.