Paradise lost? The status and future of East Rennell World Heritage Area, Solomon Islands (13062)
East Rennell World Heritage Area is part of Rennell Island, the southernmost island of the Solomon Islands Group. Rennell Island is the largest raised coral atoll in the world. The property occupies the southern third of the island and includes a marine area that extends 3 km offshore. A prominent feature of the property is Lake Tegano, the former lagoon of the atoll, which is the largest lake in the insular Pacific. The lake’s brackish waters harbour numerous endemic species including an endemic sea snake. The surrounding karst terrain has a dense cover of forest that has a rich biodiversity with many endemic species; four species and nine subspecies of land and water birds respectively, one bat and seven land snails. All land, islands and marine reefs within the property are under customary ownership.
At the time of listing in 1998 East Rennell was considered to have a high degree of ‘integrity’ as a property demonstrating outstanding universal value (OUV). This integrity was largely due to its oceanic isolation, high forest cover with little human disturbance, no significant invasive flora or fauna, generally high water quality in Lake Tegano and a relatively small semi-subsistence human population in four villages near the lake.
There are now many threats to the integrity of East Rennell. Logging in West Rennell has the potential to impact on East Rennell through habitat fragmentation and degradation especially near the boundary, together with increased risk of invasive species becoming established on the island. Consequently, in June 2013, the World Heritage Committee adopted a decision to place East Rennell on the ‘List of World Heritage in Danger’ due to serious impacts from logging and associated invasive species (e.g. rats).
Climate change is another threat. Increased salinity of Lake Tegano (via subterranean connections to the ocean) is likely to impact negatively on taro and coconuts crops in low-lying areas around the lake where better organic soils may be found. The future conservation integrity of East Rennell is intimately connected to the maintenance of the local community’s sustainable livelihoods.
My paper will provide an overview of my recent field trip to Rennell Island where I documented firsthand the impacts of logging on the Property’s OUV. My presentation will also discuss what needs to be done to achieve a desired state of conservation for the removal of East Rennell from the list of world heritage in danger.