A total of 36 individuals from around the North West and West Coast Santo area councils attended Vanuatu’s first Environmental Ranger training program in Penouru village, West Coast Santo.
Hosted by the Santo Sunset Environment Network, with funding support from the IUCN Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and the Eden Hope Foundation, the aim of the hands-on training was to raise the capacity, practical skills and applied knowledge of local resource stewards to support their chiefs to better manage their community resources.
In many countries Environmental Rangers patrol environmental areas working as government employees, but Vanuatu’s Taboo traditional systems mean that each village is responsible for its own environmental management. For this reason, the communities of Western Santo, with the help of the Santo Sunset Environment Network, decided to nominate individuals to be specially trained to help chiefs with their work of managing biodiversity and protecting the environment.
Rather than classroom-only sessions during the training, the new Rangers were in the field from the first day. The Rangers learned methods to measure and track the flow rate of their rivers. River flow is an important indicator of ecosystem health, and can be affected by a range of factors from deforestation within the catchment area to climate-change related rainfall patterns. By regularly measuring river flow, Rangers will have important information they can use to encourage better environmental use, and strengthen the existing chiefly village by-laws that already manage how rivers are used on Western Santo.
Jacob Revurevu, a newly certified Ranger from Pareo, says the training, “Helped me to put into practice techniques and tools that before only specialists from government could do. Now we can do it ourselves, and make sure that our Environment on West Coast Santo stays healthy.”
Another important indicator of ecosystem health is the bird population. Many species of birds in Santo are endemic and several are endangered. For example the Santo Mountain Starling is only found on the highest peaks of the Santo Mountain Chain.
The Santo Cruz Ground Dove only lives in a few patches of forest in Western Santo and the Solomon Islands. The Vanuatu Scrub Duck (Namalao) is endemic to Vanuatu. All of these birds are declining in number and at risk of being lost, due to habitat destruction and deforestation, as well as direct hunting. It is very common that the youth of the village travel through the forest with slingshots and stones, constantly shooting birds they see.
Rangers learned techniques for undertaking bird point and transect counts. Departing before dawn, the rangers practiced listening and sighting birds and compiling bird counts and abundance estimates. They graphed the results and gave a practice presentation to the Penouru community about the status of their birds and recommendations to increase their numbers.
The final day of the training was focused on land use planning, including avoiding steep, landslide prone areas for gardening and livestock, reducing rubbish and establishing waste management actions, and keeping good records of hunting and fishing by people in the community.
Each ranger was provided a training booklet written specially with tools and techniques for Vanuatu village resource champions.
The new Rangers received certificates of achievement by the chairman of the Santo Sunset Environment Network, Allan Taman, who said, “Western Santo is one of the most special parts of the country for the environment, and we are proud that people have decided to manage and protect it by ourselves, without depending always on the government or outside NGOs. Santo Sunset is here to help us help ourselves for a better future.”
The 36 Rangers made work plans going forward, including discussing with their chiefs a possible 10 year ban on Namalao hunting and eggs, a full ban on turtle eggs as well as limits on the harvest of juvenile fish, locally called Napana, which go from the sea up to the rivers each year.
The next meeting of the Rangers will take place in December this year, where each one will report back to the Santo Sunset Environment Network on the progress they have made in supporting their communities to protect and better manage the environment in the Santo Mountain Chain Biodiversity Hotspot area.