Preserving the World Heritage

Posted October 21, 2021

“This is the story of my life; the story of my community,” says George Taiuka when we met him near the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Lake Tegano. East Rennell was selected for the World Heritage List in 1998 for a number of reasons. It has a remarkable ecosystem with thousands of plant species, and it is an important site for the science of island biogeography. Lake Tegano is the largest lake in the insular Pacific, and most notably, East Rennell is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. It was the first natural World Heritage List property under customary ownership and management, with approximately 1000 people of Polynesian origin living in the area and depending on it for their livelihood.

Geographically, Lake Tegano was the former lagoon on the atoll; it is briny and contains many rugged limestone islands and endemic species. The site includes approximately 37,000 hectares, mostly covered with dense trees, and the surrounding karst landscape has a thick cover of indigenous forest. The forest itself has a rich biodiversity which includes four species and nine subspecies of land and water birds.

When in February 2019, an oil spill occurred just outside the World Heritage site, there was a concern for potential impacts on the property and local communities. To help villages to recover quickly and reinforce income-oriented activities to empower the community, the UN Development Programme through the GEF Small Grants Programme, provided support to four selected projects: focusing mainly on food security, including fishery, piggery and beekeeping, but also on sustaining livelihoods and improving water security and sanitation.

Climate change remains a key point of concern in East Rennell. The area is known for strong climatic effects with frequent cyclones, which can have severe consequences for the local people and the biota. Rising lake water levels from climatic change adversely affect some staple food crops, including taro and coconut.

Only recently in 2020-2021, Tropical Cyclone Harold and persistent heavy rains severely impacted the food security of the communities through the disruption of farming activities. Moreover, increasing water levels and salinity in Lake Tegano, induced by sea-level rise, adversely affects some plant growth.

Another important challenge is the disruption of monthly shipping services from Honiara due to poor road conditions. As a result, people lack access to basic services and, therefore are not able to fulfill their essential needs.

Guided by the rule “take care of your home”, George Taiuka, the Chairman for the Tegano Lake World Heritage Association and his fellow community members prioritized the development of sustainable livelihoods to prevent the effects of climate change. “Our lake is certainly an enormous wealth, and it needs us [people]. Investing in it means investing in our safe and sustainable future,” he says.

“With the support provided by the UNDP Small Grants Programme, we can sustain our livelihoods, maintain and promote the World Heritage not only at the provincial level but globally.”

Projects already have something to show off. As part of the fishery initiative, the community sends about 300 kilograms of fresh fish to the capital Honiara every month. It generates “a reliable income, and we [the community] can buy what we need, including medicines or educational materials for children,” says George.

Mr Barnabas Bago, National Programmes Coordinator, Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM) sees East Rennell as an important site given in UNESCO WHS listing and projects implemented within this region as “those that have great potential to influence and strengthen community livelihoods and sustainable development initiatives within the area and in the province as a whole.”

“Recognizing that protecting nature underpins sustainable development, the Government works with UNDP and other development partners to preserve and restore natural ecosystems and develop cost-effective initiatives to strengthen community resilience and adaptive capacities against climate change threats.”

Through the Small Grants Programme, UNDP supports the advancement of climate-resilient livelihoods and resilient agricultural value chain development of vulnerable communities in the Solomon Islands, leaving no one behind.

The Small Grants Programme is being implemented by the UN Development Programme and executed by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) with the financial support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).


Photos, videos and story by UNDP Solomon Islands