Sea Women of Melanesia

The Coral Sea Foundation aims to raise awareness of  the ecological importance of the reefs of the Coral Sea, through sustainable ecotourism partnerships with Melanesian communities in PNG and Solomon Islands. The first phase of our strategy involves selecting intelligent and determined young Melanesian women and training them in conservation theory, scuba diving and marine biology survey techniques so they have the skills to communicate the need for marine reserves to their local communities and are able to identify areas suitable for marine protected areas on their own coral reefs.

    In most island nations around the Coral Sea rim, human populations are growing rapidly and there is already great pressure on coral reefs to provide fish for food. In order for the human population and the coral reef ecosystem to coexist sustainably into the future, two things must happen. First - it is vital that birthrates come down. Second - the reefs must be managed in such a way that avoids total depletion of the fish stocks. Most reefs close to villages are already over-fished, yet there are very few effective marine protected areas in Melanesia. Marine protected areas can sustain fish catches even in the face of high fishing pressure, but in Melanesia it is vital that these marine protected areas are established by consensus in the community, and managed by the community members.

    Several UN studies have shown that educating girls and young women is a very practical way to achieve lower birthrates and positive outcomes in environmental management, along with a slew of other social benefits. At the Coral Sea Foundation, we are committed to implementing that that strategy in a way that benefits both the people and coral reefs of Melanesia.

    Funds raised here allow us to bring our students to Magnetic Island on the Great Barrier Reef for direct education. Several marine scientists on the the Foundation team are based on the Island, and it has scuba facilities and easy access to fringing coral reefs which allow an immersive educational experience and rapid, economic training.
We are also using the funds to send our team into PNG to train women in country and directly engage with the local communities and encourage their participation in the marine reserve process.

   Our fund has already raised over $13,000 and we currently support 4 women from PNG. Our first student, Lorie Pipiga from Ferguson Island, completed 12 weeks of training on Magnetic Island, going from novice snorkeller to Dive Master and able to accurately identify fishes and corals and conduct underwater surveys of coral reefs. Lorie's experience was vital in securing the Nua Marine Reserve Network  in the waters of Ferguson Island, which has some of the best reefs in the whole Eastern Coral Triangle. A short video of our recent expedition to Ferguson Island can be seen here - Coral Sea Visions 6 .

   Our two newest trainees, Martha Eimba from Alotau and Naomi Longa from Kimbe, just completed their PADI Open water course at the Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative  facility in the beautiful Louisiade Archipelago of PNG. These ladies are graduates of the Biological Sciences program at UPNG, and with the additional skills they have acquired in their dive course, they are now well placed to begin effective marine conservation work in Papua New Guinea.

Martha wrote of her experience:

Being underwater is surreal. The moment you become submerged it’s like you’re in outer space and everything becomes weightless underwater. It’s like looking through the rear view mirror of a moving vehicle or the lenses of a telescope into outer space but this time it’s through your masks with a kick of the flippers to propel you forward in the open ocean.

I was nervous on my first open water dive at the Conflict Islands but the moment I opened my eyes underwater the whole area was teeming with life! Corals of different shapes, size and colours, colourful fish and sting rays, anemones and giant clams, sea cucumbers and turtles. A diverse array of marine life that can rival that of a tropical rainforest. It was truly an amazing sight. One that is worth protecting!

I think that you need to truly have a passion for something in order to excel or thrive in it. I love marine science and I love ocean conservation and not only do I get to see a beautiful part of the earth that many people never get to see in a life time but I can help save it. If you’re interested in marine science you should go for it, we need more people who are into marine conservation because every individual can help make a difference.

A wise person once said that little girls need to see role models in whatever career they want to pursue just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see. I am truly grateful to be a Sea Woman of Melanesia thanks to Dr Andy Lewis and the Coral Sea Foundation team who made this dream a reality. I'm looking forward to expanding the work of the Sea Women of Melanesia in PNG and helping to protect and preserve our marine resources for the next generation.

With your support we can keep this program running and make a difference to the lives of these young women and their home communities, and of course the incredible reefs and islands of the Coral Sea.


Andy Lewis
Nelly Bay QLD

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