Sea Women of Melanesia: Female divers push to save endangered coral reefs in South Pacific

Sea Women of Melanesia is teaching local women scuba diving and biology skills so they can monitor the health of coral reefs and create and restore marine protected areas that surround a group of island nations in the South Pacific.

The Sea Women work in what’s known as the Coral Triangle, which covers some 5.7 million square kilometres between the Great Barrier Reef and the island archipelagos of Melanesia and South East Asia. Brimming with marine life, it is one of the world’s premier destinations for underwater tourism and home to a major fisheries industry.

Since 2018, the Sea Women initiative, which is run by the Coral Sea Foundation, has worked across the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to promote restoration of coral reefs and support the establishment of no-fishing areas. It also supports marine protected areas in the two countries, to ensure there is abundant fish life for villagers to rely on in future.

The NGO Sea Women of Melanesia, which won last year;s UN’s Champion of the Earth for Inspiration and Action, are simultaneously changing narratives about a woman’s role in her community and her opportunities for leadership.

Andy Lewis, the executive director of the Coral Sea Foundation, said: “Having a woman in the community who can advocate for the marine reserve process and marine conservation, in a local language, is important to get the initial messages out about the importance of marine protected areas. There can be no conservation work done in these countries without explicit recognition of indigenous culture.”

For the Sea Women, combining indigenous knowledge with science is central to their engagement with communities. Learning from community members about where fish are most plentiful at a certain time of year, or matching the colour change in coral reefs with underwater survey data, or understanding how tides may shift as a function of climate change is important to the outreach they do to demonstrate the value of preservation and marine protected areas.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living

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